Working From Heights: The Value Of Proper Training
Insight In mid-April, 44-year old construction worker William Cerqueira slipped while trying to peel back a piece of plywood on the third floor of a Toronto job site. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
In March, bricklayer Luigi Cudini died in Toronto after the scaffolding he was working on collapsed. Two living, breathing humans – both married, both with kids – erased from the world while on the job.
“There is no way you can measure the cost of a tragedy,” says George Gritziotis, Chief Prevention Officer of Ontario. “And it’s immeasurable for everyone, whether it’s family, coworkers or the community.”
According to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), an average of four workers die each day in Canada, and that number has been steadily rising over the past 15 years. Tragically, falling from heights is one of the leading causes of workplace injury and fatality in Ontario.
“In construction in particular it is a significant cause, and it happens more often in construction then we may see in other sectors,” he says.
“From an employer perspective, I’d look at this as an investment – it’s part of the competencies you’d expect of an individual.”
Creating new safety standards
It’s what spurred the CPO to implement new regulations that make working from heights training mandatory for any workers using travel restraint systems, fall restricting systems, fall arrest systems, safety nets and work belts or safety belts. As of April 1, 2015, workers need to have completed the training from a CPO-approved program.
Workers already meeting the existing fall protection training requirements, have a two-year transition period to re-up their training via an approved program.
“It creates not just a spotlight on the importance of this but that we’re ensuring that the individuals that work at heights are getting quality training,” says Gritziotis. “From an employer perspective, I’d look at this as an investment – it’s part of the competencies you’d expect of an individual.”
John VanLenthe, a consultant at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services’ Greater Toronto Area West team, says one of the biggest challenges he’s seen in his three-and-a-half decades in the industry is changing that mindset. Old habits die hard, as they say.
He points to a construction worker who’s been using the same techniques for years without injury as the toughest mindset to shift. The key isn’t saying “this is the law, so change,” it’s “this is why it’s the law” says VanLenthe.
“Then employees will get away from the resistance of ‘but I’ve always done it this way’,” he says. “This is not yesterday, it’s today, it’s tomorrow – this is making sure that you go home, we have to make these changes together.”
The true value of protection
According to the Ministry of Labour, the direct cost of Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premiums for a new lost time injury in 2007 was on average $21,300. When you take into account the indirect cost – re-hiring, re-training, lost productivity, etc. –that number climbs to $85,200.
But the costs are more penetrating than that, it has an effect on culture, as injuries are incredibly demoralizing. On the other hand, putting the processes in place to protect workers sends the message that they’re valuable.
He points out that while the rules state anyone working ten feet or higher must wear fall protection, some companies have gone above and beyond, implementing eight or six foot rules.
“One of my clients the other day, said ‘corporately, we’ve established a four-foot rule, you work anywhere off the ground greater than four feet, you have to protect yourself’,” says VanLenthe.
He points out the new regulations are about changing the trends, about preventing the tragedies like those that happened in Toronto, or the four a day that happen in Canada yearly.
“I don’t get the success stories, I don’t get people calling me saying, ‘you know what John, I got home at 4:30 today, I wore my fall protection gear and nothing happened’,” says VanLenthe. “We’ve got to start changing the mindset – rather than saying you know it’s a risk, it’s time to say it’s a risk I face and I need to manage it both personally and as an organization.”