Workers Health & Safety Centre

Regulated working at heights training works and needed: studies

WHSC instructor helps small group of participants in Working at Heights training class
Two recently released Ontario studies demonstrate why mandatory, standardized working at heights training is so critical to worker well-being.
One study undertaken by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) conducted an evaluation of the impact the province’s working at heights training standard had on workers and their work sites. A second and earlier probe prepared by the Ministry of Labour (MOL) for the Chief Prevention Officer undertook root cause analysis of worker deaths from falls from heights.

Significant results from WAH training standard

The IWH evaluation consisted of surveys with working at heights training participants, training providers and employers in construction. Interviews with MOL inspectors, an examination of MOL administrative records and lost-time workers’ compensation claims were also taken into account.
From their findings researchers concluded the training standard achieved what it set out to do.
  • Among construction employers with six or more workers, 92 per cent were found to comply with the requirement to ensure affected workers were trained in an MOL-approved training program. By the October 1, 2017 deadline approximately 420,000 workers had completed training.
  • Employers also reported improvements to the work site in the form of new equipment purchases, guardrail implementation, development of fall rescue plans and more frequent inspection of equipment.
  • Ninety per cent of workers surveyed found the training to be useful or very useful. While the vast majority also reported improvement in their confidence levels. 
  • Working at heights safety practices substantially improved too, including checking for fall hazards and maintaining 100 per cent tie-off.
  • Most important, lost-time injury claim rates owing to falls decreased by 19.6 per cent, with the most dramatic impact among employers with less than five workers in their employ and in those sectors with the highest claim incidences. Researchers estimated some 220 lost-time injury claims were prevented as a result of the standardized working at heights training.

“The improvements are what we expected,” explains Lynda Robson, Institute for Work and Health (IWH) scientist and co-author of this study. “They are consistent with what we have seen in other research examining occupational health and safety training interventions.”
Just the same, survey respondents indicated there is room for improvement with the training standard. Many felt more hands-on training is in order. Many also noted a seeming lack of concern from the Ministry when it comes to compliance with requirements for refresher training. Respondents pointed out the need for an MOL media campaign for refresher training similar to the ones they engaged in for the original working at heights training. Certainly, this feedback is consistent with feedback from Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) constituents, clients and instructors.
IWH researchers also noted the full impact of the training standard has yet to be realized, as at the time of this evaluation only 2017 worker compensation claims data was available, and only 54 per cent of the respondents had been trained at the beginning of 2017.
Further, consideration of worker deaths related to falls from heights could not be factored into the IWH evaluation. The report explained, “From a statistical point of view, the number of fall fatalities each year is too few to allow the detection of ‘true’ year-to-year change.”

Lack of training and falls from heights fatalities

Consequently, for a better understanding of the causes or factors contributing to worker deaths from falls from heights and by extension what would prevent this unnecessary suffering, Ministry of Labour (MOL) staff undertook a different kind of study. Information was extracted from files prepared by MOL inspectors detailing the deaths of 92 workers between 2009 and 2016.
Highlights of their findings included the following.
  • Two-thirds of all deaths (60) happened on work sites covered by Ontario construction regulations. Another third (31) however, happened in workplaces covered by the industrial sector regulations, but not covered by the mandatory, working at heights training standard.
  • Workers employed by roofing contractors accounted for the greatest number of deaths (21), followed by workers employed in residential construction (13).
  • The most common fall location was from the roof edge (20 deaths), followed by falls from ladders (19 deaths).
  • The most common height of fatal falls was from six metres (16 deaths). But falls from three metres were nearly as common (14 deaths) and 12 falls occurred from less than three metres.
  • Small work sites realized the greatest number of worker deaths, 52 on work sites where less than four workers were present.
  • Workers who had been in their role for less than one year experienced the greatest number of deaths (29). Of these 14 died in their first month in the role. This finding is consistent with extensive research that concludes “newness”, lack of experience are key factors when workers suffer injuries or die at work.

When it came to other “contributing factors”, “whose presence increased the likelihood of a fall”, MOL staff found 13 factors “based on common hazards and themes”. Their summary results revealed the following.
  • Lack of work site instruction was the most common contributing factor – in 44 of 92 deaths from falls.
  • An absence of fall arrest equipment was involved in 39 deaths.
  • Lack of falls training was associated with another 29 deaths.
  • Improper wearing of fall arrest equipment, improper guarding and harmful conditions were the next three highest contributing factors.

Reflecting on the findings of both the IWH and MOL studies, Dave Killham, WHSC Executive Director observes, “The facts speak for themselves. Quality, standardized training works. When proper training is absent, workers pay with their lives. Or to put it another way, quality training saves lives.”
Killham adds, study findings support calls for an extension of a mandatory, working at heights training standard to workers in many other sectors, and for that matter, mandatory training standards to help protect workers against other significant hazards.
“Short cuts like shoving videos, PowerPoints and passive online information at workers just doesn’t cut it. As a next step, how about a mandatory training standard for WHMIS? After all, occupational disease and exposures to hazardous materials is the single biggest killer of workers in this province,” says Killham.

WHSC training can help!

By law employers must ensure construction workers complete a MOL-approved working at heights training program before they start work at heights and use fall protection equipment.
This initial Working at Heights training is valid for three years from the date of successful completion of an approved program. For continued compliance, employers must ensure workers they employ complete an approved WAH refresher training prior to the expiration of this three-year period.
Workers Health & Safety Centre is a leading provider of MOL-approved WAH and WAH Refresher Training. Our comprehensive programs are:
  • priced competitively,
  • designed to ensure critical learning is achieved,
  • delivered by experienced instructors from the trades, and
  • supported by complete training records and replacement cards when needed.

To ensure access to this life-saving and mandatory training, the WHSC continues to schedule training dates in cities across Ontario. Be sure to register today. Don’t see a date that works for you, give us a call at 1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training services representative. We offer as much training again at individual work sites and training facilities.