An elevator technician conducting weekly maintenance on a moving walkway at a Montreal university never returned home from his job. After his arm was caught between the cylinder and the walkway belt, it tore from his body and the worker died.
Accidents like this, which made headlines last year, keep happening across Canada, with trades, transport, equipment operators and related industries recording the most deaths. The latest overall statistics show 852 fatalities in 2015, a number that hasn’t reduced much over the past two decades. Meanwhile, facilities continue to lack rigor in identifying risks and checking worker training and compliance. As a result, many face legal and financial consequences, along with a damaged reputation.
An investigation report, released by the Committee on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST), reveals that the university and owner had not visited the mechanical room to identify hazards associated with the maintenance job and didn’t ensure effective controls were in place to safeguard workers performing maintenance on the walkway belt. The owner generally knew that a hazard would be present with this type of maintenance work, but didn’t ensure proper guarding of moving parts or publish a procedure on de-energizing equipment.
As for the elevator contractor, it had not provided specific training on de-energizing equipment, such as the lock-out tag-out procedure. The CNESST blamed both the owner and contractor for not identifying, controlling and eliminating hazards.
The CNESST stated that even though the university had a contract stating the technician’s company was responsible for the health and safety of workers, the university was still to blame for not identifying, controlling and eliminating hazards associated with maintaining equipment.
“Incidents such as this should not be happening in 2017,” says Anne-Sophie Tétreault, senior expert, HSSEQ Compliance & Risk Management Processes at Cognibox, a global company that provides digital tools to help facilities complete all contractor qualification processes online using a single platform. “This worker’s life could have been saved. Whether it’s maintaining equipment in a large facility, or completing construction, repair or renovation work, we have to foresee the hazards associated with the tasks we need to do or have done to us.”
She says once facilities identify hazards and define how to control them, managers shouldn’t assume workers are using these controls. Supervisors need to check for compliance, and if something goes wrong, they should assess what was missing and make changes in future contracts. This process becomes “more daunting when tasks pile together.” Documenting work becomes vital because managers need to show due diligence if an accident occurs.
Technology Advances Safety Management
Information technology is helping safety management in big ways, notes Tétreault. To simplify the process, rapid advances in cloud computing and data management technologies are helping to safeguard facilities that often manage multiple tasks. Rules are in place, but most facilities need better implementation and enforcement procedures.
“The digital revolution is happening; we finally have a way to reach hundreds of people fast and effectively with cloud software,” she says. “We’re not inventing new processes on what to do, it was just more complicated before with spreadsheets, paperwork and emails.”
Technology like Cognibox connects live to both facilities and contractors. Facilities can effectively control outsourcing risks, and contractors can ensure compliance with the requirements of facilities.
Manage contractors. Safeguard compliance
The technology centralizes and archives all employee training files, no matter where training takes place or which company provides the training. Facility managers can access this online database on a mobile phone or tablet and see a worker’s training qualifications. They can also do background checks and view a company’s health and safety statistics. Sometimes, in order to complete a job, there are several tasks that must be completed by different contractors. Facility managers can list all jobs needed, from repair to delivery, and alert contractors about hazards, written procedures, required training and permits and necessary personal protective equipment.
This information is dispersed to hundreds of contractors and their workers in real time over the cloud application, without the need for recording. Contractors receive this information and direct qualified workers to do the job.
Facility managers can export the whole task on a print-out copy for floor supervisors who are not equipped with a mobile device. In turn, floor supervisors can see a picture and name of each maintenance worker, their specific task, when and where it is happening, a checklist of their training, and what permits and protective gear they need to have on the job site. The report also highlights when training expires, alerting the manager or supervisor that this needs to be resolved by the time the worker arrives on site or throughout the contract duration.
“We all agree that front line supervisors need to be out there on the floor checking that workers are performing their jobs safely,” says Tétreault. “But what exactly should they be checking? You cannot assume that all your supervisors will know about all safety controls that workers should implement. By providing them with a checklist that has been though out carefully, you can rest assure that front line supervision checks will be simple and thorough, and that you’ll have valid proof of it.
She adds that with this piece of paper, the supervisor can sign and date it, without “guessing what the requirements should be.” The worker also has to sign the document in order to receive the permit.
Era for Zero Accidents
Regarding the escalator maintenance incident in Montreal, a missing checkmark in a comprehensive safety job analysis would have shown the worker wasn’t trained in de-energizing equipment. Improper lighting, no cell reception in the basement, a missing safety guard removed years before and no button to slow or stall the escalator were all hazards that played a role in the accident, but were not proactively identified.
With sub-contracting on the rise, facilities may assume workers are properly trained through their company, but this isn’t always the case. Facility managers are responsible for showing that both workers and supervisors have required training, even if a contractor is hired to complete work.
The Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada says at last count there were 232,629 claims accepted for lost time due to a work-related injury or disease, including 8,155 from young workers aged fifteen to nineteen.
Because these statistics include only what is reported and accepted by compensation boards, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says the total number of workers impacted is likely much higher, in turn affecting coworkers, friends and family.
“Technology is going to change performance and prevent less injuries,” says Tétreault. “There is a real opportunity to bring technological advances happening in all aspects of the economy to help make a major difference in reducing workplace accidents.”
Rebecca Melnyk is the online editor of Facility Cleaning & Maintenance