Not only is today Christmas Eve…it’s also the anniversary of an incredible tragedy that occurred in Toronto, Ontario when 4 migrant workers fell to their deaths from a swing-stage on a highrise building. Many of you will remember the events of a year ago and the outrage that such a preventable event could occur in one of the world’s most modern cities. Here’s a post from my blog with some of the details surrounding the event and links to a news story from The Star.
A lot has happened since that horrible day last year…the creation of the Expert Review Panel on OHS in Ontario…Criminal Negligence causing death charges (C-45) to the owner and supervisor…and, unfortunately, the continuing pattern of workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths in Canadian workplaces. I’m hopeful that the trend to measure safety by the results of disability management is being questioned in a number of provincial jurisdictions. While lost time injuries continue to trend downward, unfortunately we’re not seeing the same trend in workplace deaths.
As you reflect on the events of last year you may want to check out this news release from the Ontario Federation of Labour that I saw on Twitter this morning. I think you’ll find the results of Ontario’s Expert Panel on OHS of interest as well.
Please take a moment to honour the memory of these poor unfortunate souls who lost their lives a year ago. We have a lot to be thankful for in this great country. We also have a lot of work to do to make sure our friends and family members come home after a good day at work.
Season’s greetings to you and your families and best wishes for a safe, healthy and prosperous 2011!
Cause safety to happen in your workplace today…and every day…Andrew…a Canadian Safety Guy
Last year I had the great fortune to spend a lot of time on flat roofs in Alberta, BC and Ontario – mostly on top of large, multi-storey commercial and residential buildings and on some industrial/retail buildings as well. One of the amazing benefits of this activity is perspective…you get an eye-opening and breathtaking view of the city that you’re in. You also come away with an invaluable sense of fear and respect for fall protection, having spent a significant amount of time in proximity to a long way down.
One of the most prevalent types of fall protection used in many of these properties is the use of a Control Zone. While many of these buildings had engineered roof anchors, swing stages, etc., this equipment was predominantly used by HVAC, communications, facade repair and window cleaning contractors. There were other workers that would need to go on the roof for inspections or for access to equipment rooms (elevators, etc) or inboard building equipment. This latter group would not be required to wear and use traditional fall protection; they used the Control Zone. Did they call it fall protection or a control zone? Not really, they basically did their best to stay away from the edge of the roof.
Alberta actually references the use of a Control Zone as a means of fall protection in the Occupational Health and Safety Code. Here are the requirements as they are laid out in the Code:
161(1) If a control zone is used, an employer must ensure that it (a) is only used if a worker can fall from a surface that has a slope of no more than 4 degrees toward an unguarded edge or that slopes inwardly away from an unguarded edge, and (b) is not less than 2 metres wide when measured from the unguarded edge.
161(2) An employer must not use a control zone to protect workers from falling from a skeletal structure that is a work area.
161(3) If a worker will at all times remain further from the unguarded edge than the width of the control zone, no other fall protection system need be used.
161(4) Despite section 139, a worker is not required to use a fall protection system when crossing the control zone to enter or leave the work area.
161(5) When crossing a control zone referred to in subsections (3) and (4), to get to or from the unguarded edge, a worker must follow the most direct route.
161(6) An employer must ensure that a control zone is clearly marked with an effective raised warning line or another equally effective method if a worker is working within 2 metres of the control zone.
161(7) An employer must ensure that a worker who must work within a control zone uses (a) a travel restraint system, or (b) an equally effective means of preventing the worker from getting to the unguarded edge.
161(8) A person who is not directly required for the work at hand must not be inside a control zone.
Now before you start setting one up, it’s vital that you read the rest of Part 9 Fall Protection because there are other things you need to do as well. The OHS Code Explanation Guide is also a good read and will help to further explain the requirements.
Big thing to realize…a control zone cannot be used on a sloped roof…it’s only for flat roofs. In plain language, what these requirements say is that if you’re going to be travelling/working within 2-4 metres of the roof edge you need to put up a warning line to show where the control zone starts. This helps to keep workers aware of the fall hazard. If you stay inboard and more than 4 metres away from the roof edge the warning line is not required – you’re not really exposed to a fall hazard due to your distance from the edge. The Code does allow you some wiggle room as you’re trying to access the roof, possibly from a ladder, etc. If you have to work/travel within the control zone (ie. 2 metres from the edge) then other more traditional forms of fall protection are required (guard rails, travel restraint, etc.).
As always, there are some other things that either can be done or should be done to limit access to the roof edge and/or provide protection from a roof fall hazard:
- During building design and equipment installation, position key pieces of equipment on the roof in such a way that a worker would not have to work/travel within 4 metres of the roof edge;
- Install guard rails meeting applicable OHS requirements where equipment is positioned near the roof edge or where a worker might have to travel close to the roof edge;
- For smaller buildings, consider doing equipment maintenance from the ground using a boom truck and using appropriate fall protection;
- Install engineered roof anchors and use travel restraint or other appropriate fall protection when accessing the roof edge.
Are these all of the possible solutions? Probably not. It’s still important to make sure you have a written fall protection plan, you’ve trained your employees in the plan and the use of any required equipment, posted hazard information at roof access points and that you’re inspecting and maintaining your equipment. You also need to make sure your contractors are doing the right stuff while they’re on your roof.
Never keep your back to the roof edge. You should always have it in your view.
Finally, there are some times when you don’t want to be on the roof, even if you’re not going near the control zone. Make sure your employees conduct a hazard/risk assessment regarding the weather and lighting conditions – high winds, snow (can cover up some trip hazards), ice, power outages, thunderstorms, etc. can make a roof an even more dangerous place.
You are responsible for your people and contractors while they are on your roof. Make sure your hazard/risk assessments are complete and up to date and your fall protection plans are written, appropriately resourced, communicated, maintained and enforced. It goes without saying that you also need to know and follow the specific laws in your region.
I know that BC also provides some guidelines about the use of a Control Zone. Do a search at the WorkSafeBC website for more information. I’d be interested to hear from anyone else if they’re aware of other Canadian regulatory references for this form of fall protection.
Look out for the edge…Andrew…A Canadian Safety Guy
I was searching through the CSSE twitter log just a few moments ago when I came across this news story. It looks like a Calgary siding contractor died as a result of a fall on Saturday, January 23rd. Not much is known about the causes at this time. Alberta Workplace Health and Safety is investigating. Here’s a link to a news story from CTV Edmonton and another from the Calgary Sun.
There’s a reference to the fact that the worker wasn’t wearing a harness and that the regulator couldn’t confirm if a harness was required. From what I’ve seen in my under-construction subdivision it’s not a standard practice.
Andrew…A Canadian Safety Guy
I just looked at my news feeds and came across a new article from the Toronto Star regarding the Christmas Eve scaffolding accident where 4 migrant workers fell to the deaths. It’s a good summary of what is publicly known at the moment, with a few opinions expressed by some experts. You also get to hear from family members and neighbours about the accident.
Having been through a workplace fatality investigation, I know that there’s a lot of information swirling around out there about what the cause was. Its vital to understand that, as we know in the safety field, there are usually multiple causes to a workplace accident. At this moment, the employer and the investigators are exercising hindsight. I know its a cliche, but hindsight is 20/20. Unfortunately foresight never is. The challenge the employer will face is that society, through the regulator’s eyes, will be expecting 20/20 foresight.
Some contributing factors reported thus far:
- the construction, maintenance and use of the swing stage
- the appropriate use of fall arrest equipment (reportedly some of the workers were wearing harnesses, but were not connected to lifelines through the use of a lanyard)
- employee safety training
- willingness of employees to raise concerns
- overall management of the ohs function by the employer
As the investigation continues, I don’t doubt, that they will uncover hundreds, if not thousands, of individual pieces of information and evidence regarding the causes of this tragedy. The ultimate goal of an accident investigation is to gather the facts, identify causes, recommend corrective actions, report and make improvements to prevent a similar event from happening again. The employer and their employees will be focused on this effort. The employer will also be trying to protect their organization from what’s to come.
The OHS regulator, in this case the Ontario Ministry of Labour, is trying to do the same thing. They are uncovering facts, identifying causes and required corrective actions and at some point will get the message out so that others will make appropriate changes to prevent a re-occurrence. I personally know of communications that have gone out to building owners and management firms across the country to check into their equipment, practices and procedures. There has been a protective effect already due to the event on Christmas Eve.
The other thing that the MOL will be doing is gathering evidence and determining their opportunity to hold an individual or an organization accountable for the workplace death of 4 men. Consideration will also probably be given for a charge under the Criminal Code of Canada should the circumstances of this event suggest that there was wanton and reckless disregard for the safety of a worker.
Accountability is a good thing. It reminds us that there is a sense of seriousness about the weighty issue of workplace safety. Workers’ lives are in the balance every day. On this particular day the balance tipped in the wrong direction. Someone will pay for their lack of foresight…for thinking that it’ll be ok today. Afterall, what’s the chance that something can happen?
The safety pro’s will be focusing on the learnings arising from this event and on how to leverage the tragedy to influence required change. Accountability, in this instance, will be the purview of the regulator, the police and the justice system. This is just the start. We’ll all be following this in the days, months and years to come.
Andrew…a Canadian Safety Guy