There’s a big difference between meeting the letter of the law and applying due diligence, a recent court case demonstrates.
An Ontario auto manufacturer was hit with a $325k fine for failing to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker from a fall which took his life, including ensuring that the worker wore fall protection.
Two workers had been replacing a pneumatic cylinder on a milling machine, with one working from the inside and the other working on top. The worker on top of the machine, who was not wearing fall protection, fell 2.86 metres onto a concrete floor and died.
“The fact that the fall was below 3 metres is notable,” says WSPS Consultant Stephanie Smith. “While Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) specifically requires employers to provide a fall arrest system for workers at risk of falling more than 3 metres (10 feet), the employer’s duties don’t end there.”
“Many workplaces focus solely on meeting the 3 metre compliance target,” says Stephanie, “without understanding that workers can also be injured or die from falls of less than 3 metres, and taking appropriate prevention measures.” That’s where a company’s due diligence comes into play.
Stephanie explains how the law works and what steps you can take to prevent falls from heights of less than 3 metres.
The 3 metre rule
All health and safety regulations across Canada require employers to provide fall protection for employers working ‘above 3 metres.’ However, several jurisdictions, including Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories, also spell a duty to protect workers from falls of less than 3 metres.
While this wording is not included in Ontario’s OHSA, the intent remains. “Some employers interpret the absence of language around falls of less than 3 metres to mean they don’t have to provide fall protection in these situations,” notes Stephanie. “But they do, as you need to focus on the risk.”
“There is an overarching duty in the OHSA for employers to take all reasonable precautions to prevent injuries or incidents in the workplace. “This duty extends to situations that are not specifically addressed in the OHSA, such as falls below 3 metres,” explains Stephanie.
Providing adequate protection against injury from short falls starts with a full hazard assessment. “You need to look at every single circumstance, job and task that could result in a fall of less than 3 metres and assess the risk of harm. The type of surface below the worker needs to be considered as well.” As in this case, a fall to a cement floor can result in serious harm or death.
Next come controls. Can the job be done on the ground or from an elevated piece of equipment? Can guardrails be put in place? If not, what kind of fall protection should you use: a fall arrest system or a fall restraint system?
Working on top of equipment
Working on top of equipment, where a fall of less than three metres may occur, provides special challenges in terms of controls, notes Stephanie. “Unfortunately, equipment does not come with a place to attach a fall arrest or fall restraint system.”
“You have to get creative to find ways to protect the worker. Assemble a team to explore ideas, check out new technologies, and talk to fall protection or equipment specialists to find a solution that eliminates the risk of a fall.”
Once you’ve found a solution, follow up with written procedures, education and training, and enforcement by supervisors. “Workers need to be aware of the risks of shorter falls, and how to protect themselves.”
If the task is not considered part of the day-to-day operations and is carried out rarely, consider using a non-routine work permit, suggests Stephanie. This will ensure that hazards are assessed and controlled before work proceeds.
“In the event of a prosecution, the court will consider how diligent you have been by assessing all the steps you have taken to prevent injury,” says Stephanie.
How WSPS can help
Speak to a WSPS consultant about how to assess the risks of falls from heights and set up a fall protection program.
- Job Aid - Working at Heights
- Working at Heights Regulation and Information (article)
- Employer Due Diligence Checklist
- Due Diligence in Occupational Health & Safety (1 hour, eCourse)
- Supervisor Responsibilities & Due Diligence (3-4 hours, eCourse)
- Working at Heights: An Introduction (eCourse, also available in French)
The information in this article is accurate as of its publication date.