Even as winter comes to an end, workers risk falls due to snow, ice
Falls from heights are responsible for many deaths and injuries at work sites across Canada. In 2011, about 41 per cent of deaths and 60 per cent of critical injuries involved falls from heights at construction workplaces, according to Ontario Ministry of Labour statistics.
Workers are at even greater risk of slipping and falling right now due to snow, ice and frost.
These hazards are mainly at construction sites, rooftops, industrial yards, outdoor shipping areas, building grounds and other exterior locations.
“Workers need to maintain what I call situational awareness,” says Jim LaFontaine, health and safety manager for Dufferin Construction. “This means knowing your surroundings and being diligent about your ‘housekeeping’ by keeping walkways and other areas clear of materials and debris,” LaFontaine says.
In February and March, ministry inspectors are blitzing construction and industrial workplaces. They are checking for any hazards that could cause workers to slip, trip or fall, both outdoors and indoors.
“Slips, trips and falls are major hazards for workers in the construction and industrial sectors,” says George Gritziotis, Ontario’s Chief Prevention Officer.
“Especially in construction, falls remain the number one cause of critical injuries and fatalities,” Gritziotis says. “We’re working to improve health and safety and to prevent injuries and deaths of workers in Ontario.”
LaFontaine says construction and other sites need to be kept clear because a heavy snowfall overnight can bury debris and create tripping hazards.
“You just have to be so sure where you put your foot down,” says LaFontaine, who is management co-chair of Ontario’s Labour-Management Health and Safety Committee.
As well, friction is greatly reduced if workers walk on construction materials like steel and plywood or climb ladders that are covered in frost, snow or ice, he says. The tread on workers’ footwear needs to be in good condition and anti-slip coverings may need to be worn.
LaFointaine says workers also need to be alert to possible falling snow and ice from steel and other materials overhead.
“De-icing is critical on scaffolding and bridges,” LaFointaine says. “Falling ice can be very dangerous.”
Workers can fall from heights as well as on the same level such as on floors, the ground and other surfaces.
“When we look at the history of injuries from falls in Ontario, it’s very rarely the most complicated things that cause an injury,” says Gordon Leffley, an industrial field consultant for Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.
“It’s actually the simple things that cause injuries,” he says. “Sometimes we need a little reminder of the simple things we need to pay attention to in order to prevent those injuries.”