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Fall protection tips that won't keep you hanging

By Nestor E. Arellano
| www.cos-mag.com

Construction worksites are among the most dangerous workplaces in Canada. For instance in British Columbia alone, of the 139 job-related deaths last year, 30 were construction workers killed in the workplace. Last September, the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Safe-At-Work campaign focused on industrial workplaces that have high tendencies for fall hazards.

Safety experts offer these life-saving tips to keep your workers from falling.

The welder working on a high elevation construction platform turns around and says he’s working overtime in order to take his family on a nice vacation, but adds that they’ll soon get a call informing them that he was killed in an accident.

“But hey, I’m wearing a busted harness here, and the company should check these tanks,” the welder says as his torch ignites leaking gas from tank and blasts him off the platform.

After falling to the ground, the man is run over by a construction truck.

Of course the scene was just one of the stomach-turning TV ads posted by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) last year to “shock people” into action against workplace fatalities. However, the numbers behind the graphic dramatization are all too real.

According to recent statistics from Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD) Canada, one in every 50 workers was injured on the job in 2006. In the same year, more than 100 workplace fatalities were recorded by the WSIB.

Although workplace injuries have gone down by as much as 20 percent in Ontario over a four-year period, former Minister of Labour Brad Duguid says lost time injuries still cost each company an average of $98,000 in 2006.

This, he says, underscores the point that workplace accidents are not merely a worker issue but a business concern as well.

Construction falls

Construction worksites are among the most dangerous workplaces in Canada. For instance in British Columbia alone, of the 139 job-related deaths last year, 30 were construction workers killed in the workplace. Last September, the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Safe-At-Work campaign focused on industrial workplaces that have high tendencies for fall hazards.

With 32.2 work-related injuries per 1,000 workers, the construction industry ranked number two in a list of 16 job sectors monitored by the HRSD. Manufacturing with 36.3 work-related injuries per 1,000 workers, is at the top of the list.

Falls account for a large number of construction site injuries and deaths, according to one Ontario-based safety technician.

“Falls make up for 22 to 24 percent of loss time injuries in the Ontario construction industry,” says Enzo Garritano, manager of technical services for the Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO).

Of all fall accidents, Garritano says, more than 30 percent can be attributed to falls from ladders.

“All this can be easily avoided but there is lack of training and very little awareness of the hazards and regulations in the industry,” he explained.

A Canadian Occupational Safety survey in 2005 on workplace accidents echoes Garritano’s concerns.

More than 52 percent of the respondents cited fall protection as an area needing the most attention. However, the quotes provided by the respondents were more telling:

“Commercial construction poses more hazards and is watched closer than residential…”

“Residential construction – this is a rogue industry. The workers are often paid by piecework and rushing/cutting corners on safety allows them a bigger pay cheque…”

“There is a deficiency of fair requirements for safety and health protection for all contractors regardless of size.”

“Young workers are either taught directly or learn by watching the bad habits and short cuts made by the journeyman they are working with.”

Spotting fall hazards

Fall injuries and deaths can easily be avoided by vigilant identification of fall hazards and strict implementation of appropriate workplace safety measures and policies, according to industry insiders.

“Workplace safety codes and regulations need to be followed. But it also boils down to common sense,” says Tom Schoenholz, assistant training coordinator for the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America – Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario.

For example, a construction foreman can designate an individual or team to inspect the worksite regularly for fall hazards, Schoenholz says. Once the danger areas are identified, a written fall protection plan can be developed and the appropriate remedial measures taken.

Safety and personal protective equipment should also be regularly checked for wear and tear and job worthiness on frequent and brief intervals, he says.

General and job specific fall prevention information and training sessions that include instructions on the proper use of safety equipment should be conducted with workers on a regular basis.

Typically, construction site fall hazards include: surfaces and floorings; hole and gap covers; roofs, ladders and stairs; scaffoldings; elevator shafts; aerial lifts; illumination and signs; footwear and safety harnesses

Most statistics show that around 60 percent of falls occur on the same level, which result in slips and trips. The remaining 40 percent are falls from a height or elevation such as roof, ladders, stairs and platforms.

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Here are some tips on how to avoid common construction site falls:

Slips and trips

Slips usually happen when there is too little traction or friction between the footwear and the walking surface. Trips occur when a person’s foot strikes or gets snag on an object causing the individual to lose balance and eventually fall.

•    Make sure work area and walkways are clear of obstacles

•    Mark spill and wet areas and immediately clean up oily surfaces, spills or weather hazards

•    Use industry recommended mats were appropriate

•    Anchor loose rugs or mats

•    Keep walkways and work area well lit

•    Make sure workers wear regulation slip resistant footwear appropriate for the job and work area

Stairways

The vast majority of stairway falls result from loss of balance. A most common contributing factor is the absence of or neglecting to use handrails.

•    Optimal stair construction to prevent falls would involve a 30 to 35 degree slope, 80 to 90-cm handrail height, 12.5 to 20-cm riser height, minimum 56-cm step width and 17 to 24-cm tread depth

•    Glue on coarse material such as sandpaper or secure traction mats to steps

•    Glue reflective and highly visible tape to riser

•    Handrails should provide secure and firm grasp. Ideal diameter is 4 to 5 cm

•    Install guardrails 40 cm above the surface of the stairs to prevent falls off the side

•    Illuminate area to a maximum of 50 lux

Holes and Gaps

Make sure surface holes and gaps are securely covered or planked over with material that will sustain the weight of individuals or equipment passing over the surface. Illuminate and provide visible signs that warn of the gap or hole, or direct people to an alternate route.

Roofs

Installing permanent rooftop anchors or temporary safety rails for workers to hold on to, secure harness on or arrest their fall can prevent injuries and death.

Guardrails  

For elevated areas, guardrails are the first line of defense in fall prevention. These should be installed along the open sides of an area where a worker may fall 2.4 meters or more into water, operating machinery or hazardous substance. Guardrails are available in wood, wood-slat, wire rope or wire mesh. Guardrails for protection are typically found on floors and floor openings, balconies, rooftops, scaffolds and platforms, runways and ramps, and bridge surfaces.

Fall arrests, SRLs and travel restraints

Fall arrest system includes a CSA-certified full body harness, lanyard with locking snap hooks or D-clips, rope grab, lifeline and lifeline anchor. This must be worn when the worker is on a rolling scaffold that is being moved or when the worker is boarding or getting off a suspended platform.

Travel restraint systems prevent falls by restraining a worker from getting too close to an unprotected edge. The system consists of a CSA-certified safety belt of full body harness, lanyard, rope grab, lifeline and lifeline anchor.

Self-retracting lines (SRL) are designed to allow workers to move about to handle and install material. It is designed to arrest a fall but not restrain travel. The SRL allows a worker to move along the full length of the line but the system stops and locks at any sudden pull.

Aerial lifts

These include boom-supported aerial platforms such as cherry pickers and bucket trucks.

•    Ensure workers are properly trained to operate the lift

•    Maintain equipment in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions

•    Do not let workers position themselves between overhead hazards. Maintain at least a 3-meter distance from overhead hazards

•    Always use harnesses

•    Set brakes and use wheel chucks when on an incline

Scaffolds

•    Inspect scaffolds and parts daily before each shift

•    Make sure power lines near scaffolds are de-energized and at least 3 meters away

•    Check footings. Do not use cross braces for ladder

Ladders

•    Avoid electrical hazards

•    Inspect ladder for damages and stability before use

•    Maintain a 3-point (two hands and one foot) contact with the ladder and keep body close to the ladder

•    Ladder must be free of slippery material

•    Do not use a self-supporting ladder as a single ladder or in a partially close position

•    An extension or straight ladder must stand at least 3 feet above the point of support

•    Do not stand on the three top rungs of a straight or extension ladder

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