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Construction is the deadliest occupation, as evidenced by 193 deaths reported in 2020 by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada. That represents 21% of the 921 total deaths across all industries. Only manufacturing at 17.5% comes close.
Companies must protect their workers by identifying construction site hazards and taking the proper steps to eliminate or mitigate them. Mitigation begins with education and includes investment in effective and compliant fall protection systems and equipment.
Major risk factors include scaffolds, ladders, rooftops, stairs/walkways, and steel frames. Fall protection must be in place for workers performing tasks at heights of at least three meters (3m) or more.
Scaffolds may look lean and mean, but they are complex structures that should be built under the supervision of a “competent” person who has the knowledge to identify a hazard and the authority to correct it.
Leveling legs or baseplates, scaffold jacks, stacking pins, braces, access ladders, scaffold boards, outriggers, railings, toe boards, gates, and tie-offs are standard components that need to be assembled correctly. The completed scaffold should be inspected before use.
Railings are preferred over tie-off methods for workers. They provide the greatest freedom of movement and least worker involvement because barriers are in place. It is essential not to overlook that railings should cover the length of the scaffold behind the workers and the widths to the sides.
Scaffolds are temporary, so once the building envelope is complete, a scaffold can be replaced by a permanent fall protection system, such as a roof perimeter guardrail system.
It is easy enough to lose one’s footing on solid ground, let alone on a ladder. Worker training and adherence to safety standers are critical to preventing falls from ladders. The proper equipment and accessories are also necessary.
Fixed ladders often have a cage to protect workers; however, a vertical lifeline should be used. The lifeline has a cable with a shuttle that connects to the worker’s harness D-ring. The shuttle is a mobile anchor point. If there is a slip, the lifeline provides fall arrest.
Volumes can be written about fall protection measures for portable ladders. In short, ensure the proper ladder is used for the task and that it is in good condition. The ladder should be positioned correctly on a stable base. Workers should wear clean, anti-slip footwear, use a tie-off where practical, and follow recognized safety procedures when climbing and descending.
Falls from roofs represent an extreme risk for death or severe injury. Collective and personal fall protection systems can protect construction workers on a flat or low-sloped roof.
Collective means that there is a system in place—such as guardrails—that protect all workers collectively without a second thought or need for special training. Personal fall protection is for individual workers, such as a harness and lifeline with an anchor point.
A building under construction may not yet have a permanent perimeter railing system. Portable safety railing systems can be installed temporarily instead.
Demarcation warning lines are another way to protect construction workers collectively on rooftops. They can be installed along the roof's perimeter, around roof openings (e.g., access points, skylights), and to designate areas for safe traverse. Ideally, rooftop railing systems and other permanent fall protection solutions will be installed before the completion of the project.
Temporary stairs and walkways for construction should have anti-slip steps and compliant handrails. Modular pipe-fitting railings provide an easy and versatile way to construct stair railings.
Modular “step-overs” are a handy safety product that enables workers to safely step over obstacles and obstructions such as piping, ductwork, and materials.
An iconic photograph was taken 90 years ago of workers sitting on a steel beam having lunch while constructing a skyscraper. Although this is a compelling, dramatic shot, such practices should be left long in the past.
There are many “pain points” where construction workers can fall from a height while on the job. Railings, tying-off, and anti-slip measures will reduce these risks, but it starts with having a “culture of safety.”
Construction companies should hire and train capable people who will recognize hazards and know how to eliminate or mitigate them. The companies should invest in the best equipment and systems to protect their workers, and the workers must be trained to use their equipment. Regular equipment inspections—from scaffold boards to I-beam anchors—help ensure that the products are up to standard and will not fail.