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Industrial Fall Arrest vs Working at Heights

April 2, 2021 Industrial Safety TrainersHealth and Safety 122 Views

Have you ever gone into a training session and wondered why you were there? I have had that happen more than once personally, and it makes you question why management has decided on a specific course. As a trainer, I get this comment from participants the most regarding “Working at Heights” vs “Industrial Fall Arrest” in the manufacturing sector. Why would your employer pick one course over the other? Why would a construction sector course ever seem appropriate for those clearly working in industrial? The answer I was always given as a worker was “because you have to.” For the most part, I think people are okay with an answer like that, but the longer I have been in the industry, the more it has actually bugged me, so I decided to find the answer.

To start off in the obvious place, we have to look at the training obligations. OHSA S.25 (2) (a) states, “An employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker to protect the health or safety of the worker.” Pretty general statement, wouldn’t you agree? Whatever we as workers need to know to be protected, it is our employer’s duty to provide. That being said, there is a more specific provision that comes beforehand. OHSA S.25 (1) (a) reads as “an employer shall ensure that the equipment, materials and protective devices as prescribed are provided.” If you’ve taken any CPO-mandated course, that word “prescribed” should trigger what comes next – yep – the regulations. So quick recap, the employer has to give the worker any information needed for their safety. They have to use all protective devices or equipment required by the regulation of your industry. With me so far? Awesome.

The next question is partially where we find the answer as to our training requirements – what regulation do we follow? Generally, in manufacturing, it’s an easy answer. Ontario Reg. 851 is titled “Industrial Establishments” which is defined as “means an office building, factory, arena, shop or office, and any land, buildings and structures appertaining thereto” by the OHSA. So if your organization meets the definition of an industrial establishment, then boom, you train according to those regulations. Unfortunately, life isn’t that straightforward though, there is always something else to consider. What type of work is being done in said office building, factory, arena, shop, office, etc.?

The need for the full “Working at Heights” training as per Ontario Reg. 297 occurs in manufacturing when the organization performs work that meets the definition of “construction.” The OHSA defines construction as “erection, alteration, repair, dismantling, demolition, structural maintenance, painting, land clearing, earthmoving, grading, excavating, trenching, digging, boring, drilling, blasting, or concreting, the installation of any machinery or plant, and any work or undertaking in connection with a project but does not include any work or undertaking underground in a mine.” So what to take from that is if you are doing any “alteration, repair, dismantling, demolition, structural maintenance, painting” or “installation of any machinery or plant” there is a good chance your local MLTSD inspector will be looking for compliance with Ontario Reg. 213, and not Ontario Reg. 851 you were expecting. I mention this as I have clients that have been caught in this exact situation.

So what training is chosen by your employer? It seems that both options are appropriate depending on the nature of the work being performed. The requirements of regulation tell us that. But wait! There’s more! Time to talk about due diligence.

The “due diligence” clause of the OHSA, “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker,” is found not only in S. 25(2) (h) for the employer, S. 27(2)(c) for the supervisor but also in Part IX Offences and Penalties. OHSA S. 66(3) states that “On a prosecution for a failure to comply with, subsection 23 (1); clause 25 (1) (b), (c) or (d); or subsection 27 (1), it shall be a defence for the accused to prove that every precaution reasonable in the circumstances was taken.” What this tells us is that ultimately constructors, employers, and supervisors are guilty until proven innocent (realistically) when it comes to ensuring workers are following the law and regulations. If someone is critically injured or killed, they have to prove that there was NOTHING else they could have done to protect that worker. Recent examples include the fines under S. 25(2) (h) for Southlake Regional Centre for $80,000 posted October 16th, 2020, and R.M. Bélanger Limited for $210,000 sentenced February 26th, 2021. It was ultimately proven that there WAS more to be done for these employers to protect their workers. So in terms of training requirements, do we go above and beyond? Do we train our workers in the CPO-approved “Working at Heights” when our operations do not meet the OHSA definition of “construction”? Well, it depends.

Industrial fall arrest is a course designed for those working in non-construction environments. It covers the requirements covered by Ontario Reg. 851 S.85 “where a worker is exposed to the hazard of falling, and the surface to which he or she might fall is more than three metres below the position where he or she is situated…” which is the fall arrest aspect. It also covers ladders (S.73), guardrails (S.13), and EWPs and lifting cages (S.52). So, if your working environment is pretty stable in terms of what fall hazards are present, then selecting a course like this suits your needs perfectly. There isn’t always a need to go too far above and beyond. Sometimes you do need to separate the need to know from the nice to know for information retention.

However, if you are in a dynamic environment where fall hazards are continually changing – due diligence may play more of a role in your training decisions. “Working at Heights” follows the Ministry of Labour’s Working at Heights standard and is approved by the CPO. Topics of this course include categories of falls, control measures, floors and openings, fixed barriers and guardrails, warning barriers and handrails, surface openings, safety belts/lifelines/lanyards/anchorage, specifications of a fall arrest system, horizontal and slope roof fall arrest system, retractable lifeline fall arrest system, fall containment systems, connection devices and tie-off points, inspection and maintenance, and rescue training requirements. While there is a relative amount of overlap, the CPO course is still the gold standard in terms of training for this topic.

So after reading all of this, did I give a straight answer? Not really, if I am, to be honest – but there is a method to my madness. Every employer and every safety culture are unique. I cannot decide for you what training your organization should choose. You know what is best for your workers. We covered the law above, so hopefully, that plays into your decision to keep everyone safe – and yourself in a legally defensible position. I can tell you, based on my own experience as a Safety Trainer, I teach a fair amount of “Working at Heights” in industrial settings as it is the gold standard for training. Whichever option you choose, a worker like myself will still ask, “why am I in this course (perhaps adding an “again”).” Hopefully, you have a better answer than I got back when I used to ask the same thing.

Geoff Rowatt, CHRL

Industrial Safety Trainers Inc.