Overview

In May and June 2018, the construction program of the Ministry of Labour conducted a working at heights health and safety initiative that was organized in two phases.

During Phase 1 (May 1 to May 31) the Ministry of Labour worked with the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) to promote and distribute resources that workplaces could use to talk to their workers about preventing falls in the workplace and working safely at heights.

During Phase 2 (June 1 to June 30) inspectors conducted a number of targeted proactive field visits focusing on the enforcement components of the health and safety initiative, namely to ensure that workers exposed to fall hazards and using a fall protection system:

From June 1 to 30, 2018, Ministry of Labour inspectors:

  • conducted 788 field visits including 88 field visits with support role activities footnote 1
  • visited 707 construction projects
  • issued 2,158 orders and requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations, including 191 stop work orders

Inspectors checked that workers had been adequately trained on inspection and use of fall protection equipment used on the job, and that they had a valid “Working at Heights” training certificate, as required.

Inspectors checked that employers were complying with the OHSA and its regulations at construction projects. This included checking that employers were taking appropriate action to assess and address hazards to protect workers.

The goals of the inspection health and safety initiative were to:

  • raise awareness of health and safety hazards resulting from working at heights
  • verify regulatory requirements are being met, namely the training requirements and proper use of fall protection equipment
  • increase workplace compliance with the law
  • help to prevent injuries and illness that could arise from unsafe work practices

Working at heights

Over the past decade, there have been a number of serious incidents involving workers falling at construction workplaces in Ontario.

In 2017, there were seven fatalities and 66 critical injuries attributed to working-at-heights in construction. During that same year, inspectors issued 12,649 orders involving working-at-heights violations at construction projects.

Mandatory fall protection training for people working at heights was a priority recommendation of the Expert Advisory Panel on Occupational Health and Safety. In 2015, the ministry implemented a workplace training standard to prevent falls and improve safety for workers who work at heights.

  • Workers on construction projects must take working at heights training if they may use, or are required to use, any the following methods of fall protection:
    • travel restraint systems
    • fall restricting systems
    • fall arrest systems
    • safety nets
    • work belts or safety belts

Both the training program and program provider must be approved by Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer.

The working at heights training requirements are outlined in O. Reg. 297/13: Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training.

Additional training requirements exist in O. Reg. 213/91: Construction Projects. For example, the employer of a worker using a fall protection system must ensure the worker is adequately trained in its use. Employers must also ensure workers using a fall protection system receive both oral and written instructions by a competent person on the specific system being used at the project. In order to be adequate, the training and information must include how to inspect the various components of the system and anchorage connectors prior to their daily use, the system’s limitations, and the fall distance should it occur.

Full report

Workplace inspection health and safety initiatives

Inspection health and safety initiatives are part of our Safe At Work Ontario compliance strategy. We announce to the sector, in advance, that we will be doing a health and safety initiative, although individual workplaces are not notified in advance. The results of the health and safety initiative are typically posted online, within 90 days. Inspectors' findings may impact the number and level of future inspections of individual workplaces.

Inspectors may also refer employers to health and safety associations for compliance assistance and training.

Health and safety initiative focus

Phase 1 of the multi-phase health and safety initiative took place in the month of May. During this phase, Ministry of Labour inspectors provided additional compliance support resources and referrals to the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) during regular inspections. Also during this period, the ministry promoted Ontario’s first ever week-long Falls Awareness Week. The week focused on bringing awareness to the importance of working safely at heights. From May 7 to 11, workplaces were asked to stop work for 15 to 30 minutes to have a safety talk around falls hazards on the worksite.

Throughout Phase 1 of the multi-phase health and safety initiative, ministry inspectors were asked to distribute scannable QR (Quick Response) code cards which directed individuals to downloadable information on fall prevention and working safely at heights. On one side of the QR code card, the scannable code led workers and workplaces to the Guide to Construction Health and Safety Legislation, and on the other side, the scannable code linked to the IHSA Fall Prevention webpage.

The QR code cards were part of a larger resource kit developed by the IHSA on working at heights safety. In support of Falls Awareness Week and Phase 1 of the working at heights enforcement health and safety initiative, the IHSA kit contained informational material developed by the IHSA to support construction workplaces, and other workplaces where workers often work at heights. Importantly, the kit had resources to help workplaces hold effective discussions about safely working at heights. Resource kits were made available to workplaces upon request at the end of April 2018. Between May and June 2018, more than 100 resource kits on the topic of falls prevention were distributed to workplaces via the IHSA.

Free safety information on falls prevention and working at heights, which is available on the IHSA website, was also promoted by the ministry throughout the Phase 1 period. This occurred in the lead up to, and during, Falls Awareness Week. During the Phase 1 period, the IHSA’s webpage containing falls prevention and working at heights resources received more than 6,000 page views. Between April 1 and August 6, the webpage received more than 19,000 views.

During Phase 2 in June 2018, inspectors visited construction projects across Ontario to check that workers were adequately trained to:

  • ensure the falls protection system they are using is properly configured to protect them from falls
  • ensure the components they are using are compatible and in good condition
  • inspect the system components and anchorage connectors for defects prior to each day’s use
  • know what to do in the event of a fall

Inspectors took appropriate action if violations were found under the OHSA or its regulations, including:

  • writing orders to employers, supervisors and workers for matters of non-compliance with the legal requirements
  • issuing stop work orders requiring employers to comply with legal requirements before work could continue

In instances where the falls protection system in use was not clearly in compliance with the legislated requirements or manufacturers’ instructions, inspectors issued requirements for employers to provide additional information to ascertain the adequacy of the system and ensure that the workers using it were protected.

Initiative activity summary

Visits to projects

  • 788 field visits including 88 field visits with support role activities footnote 2
  • 2,158 orders and requirements issued
    • 2,119 orders issued for violations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and its regulations
    • 39 requirements issued to provide an inspector with workplace information
  • an average of 3.05 orders and requirements issued per workplace visited
  • an average of 2.74 orders and requirements issued per visit

Most frequently issued orders

The most frequently issued orders under O. Reg. 213/91: Construction Projects, and O. Reg. 297/13: Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training were for:

  • failure to wear protective headwear (s. 22) – 217 orders or 10.1% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to provide guardrails or protective coverings as required (s. 26.1(1) and s. 26.3) – 79 and 118 orders respectively or 9.1% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to provide the highest ranked method of fall protection when guardrails were not practicable (s. 26.1 (2)) – 113 orders or 5.2% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to provide a notice of project as required (s. 6) – 89 orders or 4.1% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to wear adequate protective footwear (s. 23) – 82 orders or 3.8% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to ensure that a worker using a fall protection system is adequately trained in its use as required, and given adequate oral and written instructions by a competent person (s. 26.2 of O. Reg. 213/91 and s. 7(1) of O. Reg. 297/13) – 80 orders or 3.7% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to wear protective footwear (s. 23(1)) – 80 orders or 3.7% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to comply with the requirements outlined for a scaffold platform or other work platform (s. 135) – 70 orders or 3.2% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • failure to comply with the requirements outlined for a portable ladder used as a means of access and egress between levels of a building or structure or between ground or grade level and a building or structure (s. 82) – 69 orders or 3.2% of the total orders and requirements issued

The most frequently issued orders under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) were stop work orders (for a total of 188) associated with serious contraventions, mostly related to fall protection:

  • orders that work be stopped until the order to stop work is withdrawn or cancelled by an inspector after an inspection (s. 57(6)(b)) – 115 orders or 5.32% of the total orders and requirements issued
  • orders that a place, equipment, machine, device, article or thing or a process or material not be used until the accompanying order is complied with (s. 57(6)(a)) – 73 orders or 3.4% of the total orders and requirements issued

Observations

A total of 256 contravention-related orders accompanied 188 stop work orders issued. These orders were issued for violations that posed an immediate hazard to workers’ health and safety. Of the 188 stop work orders that were issued:

  • 91 orders involved a serious contravention related to fall protection in general: lack of a fall protection system, inadequate fall protection system or system component, or inadequate training (s. 26 to 26.9 included) – this represents 48.4% of the total stop work orders issued under the OHSA during this health and safety initiative. Some examples include:
    • 36 orders related to training under s. 26.2 of Reg. 213/91: Construction Projects or s. 7(1) of O. Reg. 297/13: Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training (respectively 25 and 11 orders) – constituting 19.1% of the total stop work orders issued for lack of or inadequate training or instructions pertaining to the specific fall protection system in use, or for non-valid working at heights (WAH) training provided by a Chief Prevention Officer-approved training provider; 16 orders related to the specific system in use while 20 related to the validity of the WAH training.
    • 32 orders issued for lack of or inadequate guardrails (s. 26.1(1)) and 12 orders issued for lack of guardrails or floor covering (s. 26.3(1)) – constituting 17% of the total stop work orders issued.
    • 5 orders issued for not using the highest ranked method of fall protection where guardrails were impracticable to use (s. 26.1(2)) – constituting 2.7% of the total stop work orders issued.
  • 37 orders involved inadequate access to or egress from the work area, including the use of improper ladder, ramp, or stairs or their unsafe use (s. 71 to 82) – this represents 14.4% of the total stop work orders issued under the OHSA during this health and safety initiative.
  • 43 orders involved inadequate use of built up scaffolds or work platforms (s. 128 to 138) – this represents 19.7% of the total stop work orders issued under the OHSA during this health and safety initiative.
  • 17 orders involved inadequate use of suspended platforms (s. 141.5 to 142.04) – this represents 9% of the total stop work orders issued under the OHSA during this health and safety initiative.

Conclusion and next steps

The results indicate falls hazards continue to be a key concern at construction projects. Inadequate training or a lack of training is an important contributor to such hazards. Constructors and employers are encouraged to promote engineered solutions to eliminate falls hazards and the need to use personal fall protection equipment. In addition, workplace parties should focus on implementing use of the highest ranked practical method of fall protection when engineered solutions are not possible to address the task to be performed, and when guardrails are not a practical solution.

The ministry will continue to raise awareness of falls hazards, encourage the establishment of a strong internal responsibility system in every workplace, and be receptive to stakeholders’ suggestions and input towards achieving safer and healthier work environments.


Footnotes

  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph Activities in which professional services staff (for example, a hygienist, ergonomist, engineer etc.) or another inspector accompanies an inspector on a field visit to provide professional support and/or expertise.
  • footnote[2] Back to paragraph Activities in which professional services staff (for example, a hygienist, ergonomist, engineer etc.) or another inspector accompanies an inspector on a field visit to provide professional support and/or expertise.
Updated: June 22, 2021
Published: November 06, 2018