The Ontario ministry of labour is targeting the leading cause of workplace deaths and critical injuries in the construction sector with new training requirements. In 2013, nearly half of the 21 workers who lost their lives in incidents on construction projects died due to falls. The working at heights training requirements that become mandatory starting April 1 are designed to prevent falls, and ultimately improve worker safety, on construction sites.
Employers are already obligated to ensure that workers who use fall protection systems have adequate training under Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) regulations for construction projects, per section 26.2 (1) of O. Reg. 213/91. The new working at heights training, introduced in an amendment to the OHSA’s occupational health and safety awareness and training regulation (O. Reg. 297/13), is meant to beef up this existing requirement by establishing a consistent, high-quality standard for the sector.
“Anybody that works in that environment, we know it’s a high hazard activity,” said Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn. “We need new training that allows us to set a baseline, where everybody’s on the same standard.”
The new training standard covers topics including use of personal protective equipment, hazard identification and rights and responsibilities related to working at heights. It applies to construction workers who are required by regulations for construction projects to use any one of six fall protection systems: travel restraint, fall restricting and fall arrest systems as well as safety nets and work or safety belts.
Employers will be responsible for ensuring these workers have completed a chief prevention officer (CPO)-approved training program delivered by a CPO-approved training provider. They will also need to keep records for workers, including the worker’s name, the training provider’s name, the training program’s name and the date the worker completed training, and be able to produce them on request for ministry of labour inspectors.
The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) is making resources available as needed to the more than 100 builders it represents. Andrew Pariser, vice president, RESCON, noted that the association’s members have known the training standard was coming for a while. Now RESCON is watching to see that the standard is applied consistently and the training delivered effectively.
“As it gets into the spring season, our members are obviously going to get busier and busier, and so it’s just making sure that we are able to stay on top of the health and safety concerns and stay working,” said Pariser.
“We’re extremely committed to working with our safety partners: the health and safety inspectors, IHSA (Infrastructure Health & Safety Association) and MOL (Ontario Ministry of Labour), because safety is number one in this industry.”
A two-year transition period will give construction workers who meet OHSA regulations for construction projects before April 1, 2015, until April 1, 2017, to meet the new requirements. Training is valid for three years, after which workers will need to complete an approved refresher course.
The rollout of the new training requirements in Ontario follows a ministry of labour blitz of fall hazards in the construction sector last summer. Aimed at increasing awareness of and compliance with existing requirements, the blitz saw ministry inspectors target workplaces that had been the subject of complaints, had a history of non-compliance and were known to have a high frequency of injuries involving falls.
Over the course of the blitz, ministry inspectors issued 584 stop work orders. Apartments and multiple housing projects accounted for 16 per cent of the stop work orders, behind commercial building construction projects, which accounted for 19 per cent of the stop work orders, and single family housing projects, which accounted for 39 per cent of the stop work orders.
In total, inspectors issued 6,458 work orders under the OHSA during 2,038 visits to 1,670 workplaces. The top three violations resulting in work orders concerned failure to use personal protective equipment, failure to erect guardrails, and failure to use other forms of fall protection when guardrails were not reasonably possible. By mid-January 2015, around 95 per cent of the orders had been complied with, the ministry reported.
“The blitzes that have taken place over the years told us that there’s more work to be done,” said Minister Flynn, “that we can get better at this and that Ontario business, and especially the construction sector, can get better at this as well.
“We’re seeing [the new working at heights training standard] as a major step forward and we think it is going to make a difference in reducing the number of people that are either killed or injured on the job in Ontario, bring that number down to zero.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of CondoBusiness.