Working at heights is a daily reality for many Canadian workers. Whether on a roof, using ladders or scaffolding, relying on aerial work platforms or using other equipment, people working at heights are doing some of the most dangerous jobs around. Working at heights regularly exposes workers to risks such as falling, slipping, tripping and being injured by falling objects.

These dangers can have serious consequences for workers and companies. It is crucial to do everything possible to protect people who are working at heights.

Enviro Urgence industrial cleaning services explains the risks, preventive measures, and regulations concerning working at heights in Canada.

Risks involved in working at heights

Unfortunately, accidents involving work at heights are still common in Canada. According to statistics from the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), falls from heights are a leading cause of death in the workplace. Workers in construction, utilities, agriculture and mining are those most frequently affected.

The dangers associated with working at heights are numerous. These vary depending on the job and the environmental conditions.

Falls pose one of the greatest risks associated with working at heights. Workers can be injured by a fall of more than 3 meters or as a result of falling objects. Slippery surfaces (resulting from a hazardous material spill, for example) can also lead to serious falls. Workers can also stumble or lose their balance due to fatigue or faulty equipment.

The consequences of work at heights accidents

There are many ways that construction work can impact workers’ health. Consequences can be dramatic, especially when dealing with the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals or accidents related to working at heights. In most cases, both workers and companies will be affected. Common consequences resulting from working at heights include:

- Physical injuries: fractures, contusions, head injuries, etc.

- MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders): joint pain, back pain, herniated discs, etc. resulting from the repeated movements and awkward postures required when working at heights

- Permanent or temporary disabilities: a worker may have temporarily or permanently stop working following a workplace accident

- Financial costs: medical expenses, victim compensation, the cost of replacing the worker, and administrative penalties must all be covered by the company

- Company image: a company's image can suffer, lowering customer and investor confidence.

Reduce the risk of accidents by doing work at heights training 

To minimize the risks associated with working at heights, set up an intervention strategy, prepare equipment properly, and plan tasks carefully. Limit the time spent working at heights by working on the ground as much as possible.

Employers must adopt safe work methods and ensure that these methods are respected in the field. A company should also set up a collective liability program that adheres to the Meredith Principles. Compliance with the Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety (LSST) is crucial to avoid charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

If an organization does not have the resources to train or prevent risks linked with working at heights, they can rely on an external firm. Training employees for the risks associated with their work is mandatory according to section 51 of the LSST

Standards and regulations for work at heights

In Canada, each province and territory has unique laws and regulations for working at heights.  

These laws and regulations generally address training, certification, inspection and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.

Safety working at heights: a responsibility shared by workers and employers 

In Canada, employers have a legal obligation to protect the health and safety of their workers, including when working at heights. Employers must:

- Develop fall prevention programs 

- Provide personal protective equipment

- Provide workers with adequate training. 

Workers also have a responsibility to follow safety procedures, use personal protective equipment and report any risks or hazards to their employer. 

Penalties for non-compliance with safety standards and regulations can include fines, criminal prosecution and suspension of work permits.

Personal protective equipment for working at heights

The Regulation respecting occupational health and safety (RSST) describes what companies need to do if their employees are working at heights. Companies are obliged to enforce rules to protect workers from falls onsite:

- Guardrails: check the National Building Code to learn about the minimum loads a guardrail should support

- A safety harness: required for all work at heights, including work performed on scaffolding or in a confined space

- Anchor: to secure the safety harness, this must be installed following an engineering plan

- Safety belt: should only be used to restrict a worker's movement and not to prevent or stop a fall

- Safety nets: must be checked regularly and replaced after two years or if damaged

- Safety helmets

- Safety shoes

- Collective protection equipment (CPE)

To further prevent the risk of falls, a warning line can be installed to indicate safe work areas.

Enviro Urgence is Quebec’s leader in hazardous waste management

Working at height poses a significant risk to the health and safety of workers. Companies and workers must join efforts to take all necessary precautions and enforce all regulated standards for working at heights safely.

We can ensure a safer future for workers by adopting a culture of safety. Let’s work together to improve safety practices for jobs that involve working at heights.

Enviro Urgence specializes in risk assessment and identification in emergency spill response situations. Contact us for more information on our services.