In April 2015, the Ontario government rolled out new legislation affecting height training requirements for employers and workers in the construction industry.
Changes were prompted by the alarming number of injurious or fatal falls that were occurring on construction sites province-wide, due largely to unsafe work practices.
As falls from heights continue to be the leading cause of death and injury on work sites, the purpose of working at heights training has been to reduce these incidences by educating construction companies and their workers. The phasing in period of the new legislation ended in October 2017.
Is working at heights training mandatory? For those providing construction services on a construction site, the answer is yes.
Furthermore, to meet ministry standards the training must be refreshed at regular intervals. Here’s everything you need to know about working at heights training in Ontario.
WHAT IS WORKING AT HEIGHTS TRAINING?
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OH&S) requires employers to provide their workers with a Working at Heights (WAH) training program through companies that have been approved by the Ministry of Labour Prevention Office.
The WAH certification educates participants on workplace safety and the appropriate use of fall protection equipment. Participants must complete the training before working at heights and using a fall arrest system.
Government regulation now requires employers to provide workers with WAH training before allowing them to use any fall protection equipment, including safety belts, work belts, safety nets, fall restricting systems, fall arrest systems, and travel restraint systems.
Employers must then ensure that all WAH-certified workers are protected with the appropriate systems. That may include installing guardrails where possible, and providing appropriate fall arrest equipment and/or safety nets.
Employers are also responsible for developing a thorough written procedure for worker rescue. This must be in place before allowing workers to use fall arrest systems and safety nets.
Employers must also ensure that workers are wearing the appropriate equipment and that they understand how to use it properly and safely. The OH&S Act also places responsibility on employers to ensure that their workers’ training is up to date and meets all legal requirements.
Height training requirements also require supervisors to support proper workplace practices by ensuring that workers are properly using the appropriate fall protection equipment in compliance with government standards.
Supervisors are also responsible to advise workers on a construction site of any potential or actual dangers including fall hazards.
Under the OH&S Act, workers are held responsible for complying with appropriate requirements regarding the wear and safe use of any protective equipment on a job site. Workers are also required by regulation to report to their employer or supervisor any dangerous situations or observed violations of government standards.
The Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC), made up of representatives from both workers and management, is responsible for identifying dangers on job sites, investigating accidents or a worker’s refusal to work, and making recommendations directly to employers.
If presented with an identifiable hazard that goes uncorrected, workers have the right to refuse to work and can report this to health and safety representatives, the JHSC, or – if the situation remains unchanged – directly to the Ministry of Labour.
HEIGHT TRAINING REFRESHER COURSES
The initial working at heights training is valid for three years.
Employers must provide WAH refresher programs through a Ministry approved partner every three years following the initial training to ensure continued compliance with health and safety regulations.
Employers are also required to provide regular reports to the JHSC to ensure ongoing safety on job sites.
As fall protection systems continue to evolve and new equipment is developed, it’s easy to understand just how important it is for companies to provide updated training accordingly.
Refresher courses also provide important updates on how to best implement fall protection systems in the workplace. Participants are brought up to date with all legislative requirements relating to fall protection.
This includes how to recognize and assess fall risks, and how best to manage dangerous situations. The training is hands-on and interactive. Participants are expected to dress appropriately and bring their own certified protective gear and equipment.
Refresher courses also give participants the opportunity to inspect fall protection equipment and practice identifying malfunctions or damage to the gear.
SITE-SPECIFIC HEIGHT TRAINING
In addition to providing WAH training and concurrent refresher courses, employers must also ensure that workers are given training that is specific to their job site and covers all relevant instructions to maintaining safety on that site.
While the OH&S Act has begun to address critical issues of workplace safety, fall hazards continue to be the leading cause of injury and death on construction sites.
It is for this reason that site-specific training is so critical. This training includes making workers fully aware of all fall hazards on the site and giving thorough instructions – both orally and written – on the equipment that will be used.
The site supervisor is also required to conduct a hazard assessment and develop both a fall rescue plan and fall protection plan according to the assessed level of risk.
If specific hazards are identified during the hazard assessment, possible solutions to these risks should be developed and then included in the fall protection plan.
These solutions might include avoidance measures like installing guardrails, or finding ways to control risks by assessing which fall arrest system would be most effective in the situation and locating appropriate anchor points.
Both the hazard assessment and the protection and rescue plans should be reviewed with workers before work on the site commences, and a physical copy posted on the job site in a conspicuous, easily accessible place for workers to review when needed.
Height training is just the first step toward building safer teams. Workers require not only the basics of height training, but a thorough understanding of the specific risks of their job site and an assessment of all related hazards.
When it comes to safety on construction sites, knowledge is key, and height training is knowledge that will prevent tragedies and save many lives.