Falling from heights

Background

Working at heights can pose a serious risk of injury or death from falling. This includes working on or climbing a telecommunications tower or pole, a grain elevator, a ladder, a scaffold or a vehicle. Between 2010 and 2014, the Labour Program recorded 16 fatalities in the federal jurisdiction involving falls from heights.

The following sectors under federal jurisdiction experience a high rate of disabling injury as a result of falling from heights:

  • longshoring (e.g. falling from ladders or non-moving vehicles);
  • road transport (e.g. falling from non-moving vehicles or loading docks);
  • telecommunications (e.g. falling from ladders, towers, poles, non-moving vehicles or down stairs); and
  • air transport (e.g. falling down stairs, from lower floor levels or from scaffolds).

Hazards

Factors that can lead to an accident while working at heights include:

  • improperly maintaining safety devices and equipment (e.g. guardrails, ladders, fall-protection system);
  • failing to use safety devices provided (e.g. fall-protection equipment, railings);
  • working in poor weather conditions;
  • climbing on material (e.g. warehouse racking) or machinery not intended for climbing;
  • carrying items in an unsafe manner while climbing;
  • placing a ladder or scaffold footing on unstable ground;
  • extending a ladder beyond the sections’ minimum overlap so that it is no longer stable;
  • leaning sideways from a ladder or over the edge of a floor opening to perform work;
  • working at heights for a prolonged period; and
  • failing to wear proper non-slip footwear.

Controlling and Eliminating the Hazard

Employees and employers should follow these measures to help prevent accidents or deaths from falling from heights.

  • Work from the ground using an extendable tool when possible.
  • Install guardrails where possible.
  • Use fall-protection equipment when working from locations over 2.4 metres high, such as:
    • an unguarded structure;
    • a ladder or vehicle;
    • above moving parts of machinery; or
    • above any surface or object that could cause injury.
  • Establish safe work procedures based on hazard assessments.
  • Use proper safety devices and equipment for the job (e.g. scissor or bucket lift, fall protection, ladder).
  • Follow manufacturer’s operation and maintenance instructions for safety devices (e.g. ladders, scaffolding, fall-protection system and guardrails).
  • Train employees on the use of all safety devices.
  • Maintain three points of contact (two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand) at all times when climbing and working from a ladder, tower or pole.

Regulatory Requirements

To protect the health and safety of employees working at heights, employers must:

  • identify and assess hazards associated with working at heights;
  • implement adequate control measures to address the assessed hazards;
  • use personal protection equipment only when a hazard cannot be eliminated or controlled within safe limits;
  • develop safety procedures for working safely at heights;
  • implement emergency and rescue procedures; and
  • train employees adequately.

The following parts of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations ( COHSR ) contain requirements that may apply when working at heights:

The Hazard Prevention Program, found in Part XIX of the COHSR , requires employers to identify hazards in the workplace. The Labour Program’s Hazard Prevention Program Guide provides assistance in implementing a hazard prevention program that meets Part XIX of the COHSR.

Hazard Alerts! are messages, notices or warnings for employees, employers and Canadians in general. They provide information about the risks associated with, for example, the handling of hazardous substances, the presence of toxic products or the use of products or objects. Employers must comply with the minimum standards established by Part II of the Canada Labour Code and associated regulations.

For further information please contact the ESDC Labour Program office nearest you or visit our website.

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