Workers Health & Safety Centre

Standardized working at heights training improves safety, study

A follow-up study looking at the impact of Ontario’s mandated working at heights training confirms standardized training results in safer work. 
In fact, lead researcher for this Institute for Work & Health (IWH) study, Dr. Linda Robson says, “Something special is going on in Ontario.” The something special she is referring to is the significant reduction in fall-related injuries suffered by construction workers following the introduction of mandatory and standardized working at heights training. Though, recognizing workers continue to experience falls on construction projects, Dr. Robson suggests “Other approaches to preventing falls from height incidents should continue to be considered too.”
Working at heights (WAH) training standard took effect in 2015 requiring employers ensure workers on construction projects complete standardized and approved WAH training before they work at heights and use fall protection equipment and systems. To remain in compliance, employers must ensure workers they employ complete approved WAH refresher training every three years.

WHSC WAH training can help now!
An initial 2019 study of this training standard conducted by the IWH found safe work practice improvements on work sites including purchasing new equipment, more frequent equipment inspections, and checking site for fall hazards. Findings also suggest training led to improved safety knowledge and lower falls from heights-related injury rates.
The soon to be published follow-up study looks at the longer-term impacts of Ontario’s training standard. According to researchers, the findings “Strengthen the initial evaluation methods by adding 2 years of observation and a comparison with other provinces.” The findings were based on surveys of training participants, training providers, employers in the construction sector along with interviews with Ontario Ministry of Labour inspectors. Also reviewed were Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) statistics which were then compared to injury rates in other Canadian jurisdictions.

Standardized training works

As pointed out by IWH scientist Dr. Robson, mandatory working at heights training has long been required in Ontario. What changed in 2015 was the introduction of standards for both the training and training providers along with a requirement for additional refresher training every three years.  
Dr. Robson recently presented key findings of this follow-up study as part of IWH speaker series including the fact 90 per cent of training participants surveyed after two years of the initial training believe mandatory training made working at heights on construction projects safer.
This belief was substantiated by claims data from Ontario’s WSIB specific to falls that were targeted by the new training standard. Lost time injury claim incident rates from 2017 through 2019 declined by 19 per cent compared to rates in 2012 through 2014 prior to the introduction of standardized training. The researchers estimate the introduction of these standards resulted in 320 fewer lost time fall from heights injuries between 2017 and 2019.
When compared to other Canadian jurisdictions which saw just a six per cent decline over the same period, Dr. Robson explained these findings are “highly significant” and suggests “Training standards introduced in Ontario are proving extremely effective.”
Andrew Mudge, Executive Director, Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) is equally enthusiastic about these research findings. “As Ontario’s government-designated training centre, we are proud to be part of the solution, lending our expertise to the development and implementation of this important training standard. Our experience with this standard demonstrates the power of mandatory training standards. We look forward to helping to develop many more. For instance, occupational disease is the leading cause of worker death in this province, a mandatory training standard for WHMIS in this province would go a long way to preventing this suffering.”

Refresher training wanted and needed

Despite the evidence of training effectiveness, many have questioned the need for mandatory WAH refresher training or perhaps extending the time frame before it is required. The findings of this most recent study suggest the requirement for WAH refresher training should stay the course.
For instance, while much of the improved safe work practices experienced following initial training were maintained over the two years of this study, WAH knowledge eroded during this same period.
More telling is the response to a question posed to training participants surveyed who took the initial training in 2017 asking, “Would taking a half-day WAH refresher training in 2020 benefit your safety?” Almost 80 per cent answered yes to this three-year renewal.
“The response of these training participants is a pretty good argument the current time frame for refresher training is justified,” says Dr. Robson.
Like the 2019 study, consideration of worker deaths related to falls from heights could not be factored into this follow-up IWH evaluation. As noted in the original report, “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.”
Want to know more about the IWH follow-up WAH training standard study?   
Preventing falls from heights in construction
Want to know more about WAH from the Workers Health & Safety Centre?
Regulated working at heights training works and needed: studies
WHSC working at heights resources

WHSC training can help!

Workers Health and Safety Centre (WHSC) is a leading provider of MOL-approved WAH and WAH Refresher Training. Conducted in-person, training participants:
  • explore hazards of WAH, basic rights and duties along with relevant regulations governing fall arrest hazards, fall protection equipment and WAH projects,
  • learn about the use, inspection, limitations and storage for travel restraint, fall restricting and fall arrest systems, and
  • gain hands-on experience on fall prevention equipment and systems and key components of a fall rescue plan and emergency procedures too.

The initial WAH 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.

Check out our regularly scheduled training in communities across Ontario!
Be sure to register today. Don’t see a date that works for you or wish to discuss onsite WAH training, connect with a training service representative in your area.