March 4, 2013 by Don Procter
Many construction workers in Ontario die or are seriously injured from falls –often from roof tops. Most of those tragic mishaps wouldn’t have happened if the workers had been in safety harnesses properly tied off at anchor points.
But it is common to find workers who don’t know where or how to properly secure themselves, even though they passed a course in fall protection – a Ministry of Labour requirement for anyone working at heights
The problem is that most fall prevention training is set in a classroom where textbooks and slide presentations “are not getting through” to all students, explains Dan Maksymiu, health and safety field consultant of the Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA).
That is the reason the IHSA is taking a different teaching approach to its Working at Heights course. Training includes climbing on a 20 by 20-ft. fully framed roof a few feet off the ground.
It is a simulation of a “real construction site” experience that the IHSA has brought to its training facility in Etobicoke, Maksymiu says.
Maksymiu, who broke both his legs falling from a 20-ft. ladder six years ago, designed the training roof in December. Carpenters Loc. 27 donated the labour and materials to build it.
It is a one-of-a-kind idea in the province, he says.
“When it comes to understanding, retaining, and correctly applying best practices with respect to safety, there is no substitute for hands-on learning,” says Cristina Selva, executive director, Carpenters’
Local 27 Training Centre.
Selva says most tradespeople are “kinesthetic learners, not textbook learners. There is something about the physicality of actually performing the task – such as tying off to a roof – that commits it more solidly to memory so that the worker will recall what to do and how to do it properly once on site.”
Selva says safety is the union training centre’s number one priority. “If the roof that our instructors built for the IHSA helps to prevent even one worker from suffering a fall related injury, then it was
well worth it.”
“The days of learning about falls and fall protection in a classroom are hopefully coming to an end,” adds Al Beattie, president and CEO of the IHSA. “The unions have been saying forever the classroom is only
part of the learning process.”
Last year the IHSA put on about 70 fall protection courses for a dozen or so students at a time. “Because the injury and fatality numbers haven’t gone down over recent years we hope to exceed those numbers this
year,” explains Makysmiu.
The province’s home building sector has the highest number of fatalities and lost time injuries from falls but Maksymiu says every sector of construction is guilty of improper fall protection procedures.
There are 86,000 firms in 27 different rate groups including construction, electrical, utilities and transportation which have access to the IHSA’s training program on fall prevention.