Safety Guidelines for Working at Heights
Falls while working at heights are the leading cause of serious or fatal accidents suffered by employees in the public works and building sectors. In Quebec alone, according to the province’s occupational health and safety board, the CNESST, there are more than 700 falls per year just in the construction sector. And this figure doesn’t even take into account falls incurred in other sectors such as vehicle maintenance, where workers may need to work on the roof of a truck trailer, a snow plow, or a tanker truck, railroad loading where cargo needs to be sampled and analyzed, maritime transport, and so on.
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Occupational health and safety is a provincial jurisdiction. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Canada’s national resource for the advancement of workplace health and safety, while the basic elements of occupation health and safety legislation – such as the responsibilities of employers and supervisors and the rights and responsibilities of workers – are similar across Canada, the details of the legislation and how laws are enforced vary from one province or territory to another.
Common to all legislation is the responsibility of the employer to go through the process of risk assessment and to implement a fall prevention program designed to mitigate the risk of falling when working at heights. On any given work site, the first step is to secure work zones and access routes by installing protective guardrails or other containment systems that serve to define circulation zones and safely channel the movement of workers. The next step is to provide employees with the appropriate safety equipment for working at heights. Depending on the work to be accomplished, such equipment includes elevating platforms, horizontal rigid rail trolleys, lifelines, roof anchors, safety/debris netting, and safety harnesses along with other fall protection equipment. The final step is for workers to follow the safety guidelines established by the company, the equipment manufacturers, and the health and safety board.
Fields that may require working at heights
These safety guidelines apply to all companies active in the public works and building sectors. Public works companies specialize in the construction of infrastructure (such as roads and pipelines) and civil engineering works (such as bridges, dams, and airport runways). Building sector companies build houses and residential and office buildings as well as warehouses and. factories In addition, construction companies may also be required to complete the interior design and decoration of these buildings. Fall prevention is also necessary for workers in the telecommunications field, in several areas of the agricultural sector, in forestry and arboriculture, and in tree trimming and removal services.
General guidelines for working at heights
While employers must ensure that the methods and techniques used to perform required work are safe, workers must take the necessary measures to protect their own safety. This means employers and supervisors must ensure the work-floor is stable and equipped with a protective guardrail. In addition, at heights greater than 3 meters, workers must be attached to a fall arrest and restraint system.
Guidelines for ladders
Ladders are not stable work-floors. A ladder is, above all, a means of access to which the following 4 security rules apply:
- The base of a ladder should be secure and on stable ground.
- The worker’s hands must be unencumbered while climbing.
- The top of a ladder must exceed its upper support point by at least 900 millimeters (35 inches).
- The ladder must be securely attached to prevent accidental movement.
In Quebec, if the use of a ladder as a workstation proves necessary, the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety allows such use exclusively for work lasting less than one hour. In this exceptional case, 2 security measures are added to the 4 rules mentioned above:
- Workers must be able to complete their tasks without straying beyond the sides of the ladder.
- If the task exposes a worker to a fall greater than 3 meters, the worker must be equipped with a fall protection system.
Guidelines for elevating platforms
Elevating platforms provide stable work-floors and are equipped with guardrails. When compared to ladders, elevating platforms offer the following advantages to workers:
- Workers are protected from falling at all times, from the moment they leave the ground.
- The work area is less restrictive and the work position less constraining.
- Workers have greater flexibility to accomplish their work and better access to confined spaces.
To ensure worker safety, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using elevating platforms. General site conditions must be taken into account along with the overall work environment. In particular, avoid having electrical wires too close to the work area. The worker must be attached to the platform by means of a safety harness according to industry and labour standards. It is of utmost importance to avoid overloading the elevating platform with too many materials, tools, or workers. Never exceed load capacity.
Preventive maintenance and inspection of elevating platforms are fundamental to the ongoing safety of workers. The provisions in section 5 of CSA B354.2-01 must be followed in addition to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Essentially, this requires:
- A daily inspection.
- An inspection after 200 hours of use.
- An annual inspection.
- A complete inspection supervised by an engineer in 3 specific cases: 10 years after the construction date of the equipment and every 5 years thereafter; following an incident causing damage to the equipment’s structure; and at the moment of sale and transfer of ownership of the equipment.
For more information on tips for using elevating platforms, hazards to look for on the job site, and what should be inspected before use, see the CCOHS fact sheet on elevating platforms. An overview of CSA B354.2-01 is available on the Standards Council of Canada website, where you can also buy a copy.
Guidelines for warning lines
With regard to ensuring the general safety of all employees working at heights in a given area, article 2.9.2 of the Safety Code for the Construction Industry in force in Quebec prioritizes the use of a guardrail, but also allows for the use of a warning line for a few specific types of work. Warning lines are used to delineate work areas at heights and must be installed at least 2 meters from any place where a worker could fall, such as the edge of a flat roof. If, however, access to the work area originates at the roof’s edge, a 3-meter long guardrail – starting at the roof’s edge – must also be installed on each side of the access route.
The expertise of Équipements JPB
Specializing in fall protection systems for working at heights for over 23 years, Les Équipements JPB offers industrial safety solutions tailored to your needs.
To find out what advantages our guardrail system provides, we invite you to read our blog post about the benefits of a freestanding guardrail system.
To discover how our innovative rigid rail system – a continuous anchoring system – is a better solution for certain needs in terms of safety and mobility than other types of systems, we suggest you consult our post on the horizontal rigid rail.
Finally, when it comes to fall protection for roofers, why not take a look at our post on how to choose the best fall restraint anchor system?
Remember that training on the use, maintenance, and storage of personal fall protection equipment is included with all our collective protection implementation services. Contact us to get your personalized quote.