The men look happy and without a care in the world as their feet dangle over 256 meters of open air. The joy of the photo is dampened somewhat however when you learn at least three workers fell to their deaths during the construction of the Rockefeller Center. It’s estimated that one worker died for roughly every million dollars spent during the 1930s skyscraper construction boom.

We’ve come a long way since then, thanks to the introduction and constant improvement of fall protection technology. “We’ve gone from nothing to body belts to full-body harnesses where the forces on the body are much less dynamic than they used to be, and we’re now including things like dual-line lanyards and self-retracting lifelines,” says Andrea Martin, Fall Protection Sales Specialist at 3M Canada, who have recently expanded their leadership role in fall protection with the 2015 acquisition of Capital Safety, including DBI-SALA and Protecta. “The technology and equipment have really improved.”

“You’re going to continue to see trends of focusing on things like better weight distribution systems and improving the comfort level of the worker.”

Still, falling incidents killed nine construction workers in Ontario and injured thousands more in 2015 alone. The equipment exists to prevent these accidents, but increased awareness and proper training is essential. There are a lot of factors workers have to understand for proper fall protection — from fall clearances to the dynamics of falling — to ensuring proper fit and proper inspection of equipment. “We always say that training should be the number one product that a company purchases for their employees’ protection,” says Martin. “You can have the best equipment in the books, but if you’re not wearing it or not wearing it properly, it’s not going to prevent you from getting injured.”
New safety standards improving outcomes

Last year, Ontario introduced new legislation raising the safety training standards for all workers who work at heights. Evidence of improved safety awareness is already mounting. “With the new Working at Heights legislation for the construction industry, employers are now required to set aside time for their employees to take this eight hour training that’s mandated by the government,” says Martin. “We get a lot of phone calls from guys who have just completed their training and realized that they don’t currently have the right equipment or just having a 6’ lanyard in their job box isn’t going to cut it.”

As safety standards are improving, equipment manufacturers are constantly seeking ways to further improve their technology.  “There are always lots of additional technologies being developed to improve the workplace experience and keep workers safe,” says Laura Brown, Fall Protection Marketing Manager, also at 3M. “You’re going to continue to see trends of focusing on things like better weight distribution systems and improving the comfort level of the worker.”

There is a growing awareness that fall protection is not just about protecting the workers above, but also the workers below, using specialized tool lanyards to prevent dangerous objects from falling from heights. “Dropped objects protection is a trend that is just emerging now,” says Brown. “It’s something people are becoming more and more aware of.”

Looking to the future, there is a sense of optimism that the converging paths of better training and better equipment will move us towards the goal of bringing every worker home safe at the end of the work day.