Canadian Rental Service

Safety First and Last: May 2015

By Jeff Thorne   

Features Business Intelligence

Falls are the leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry. For those of us that have worked at height, the actual and potential dangers are ever-present and the environment is always changing. Staying alert and paying attention to your surroundings is paramount.

On a sunny fall day last October a young worker (23 years old) was working on the 12th story of a building, assisting in the delivery of concrete blocks to the roof. A tower crane had lifted the skid of concrete blocks to the roof and placed the skid onto wood planking. The way it was placed caused the skid to rest on an angle creating a potential hazard, as the bricks weighed approximately 3,500 pounds. The workers on the roof decided that the skid of blocks should be re-landed, flat on the roof. The load was re-strapped and lifted up and out. Upon lifting the skid, it suddenly propelled toward an exterior parapet wall that surrounded the rooftop.

The young worker was situated between the parapet wall and the skid of blocks. He hung on to the skid of blocks, which proceeded to trolley out and crashed through the exterior parapet well, knocking the worker from the top of the roof. The young man fell four storeys, or approximately 43 feet.

The young worker was trained in fall protection but was not using any form of fall protection at the time of the incident. The parapet wall was only 23.5 inches tall and did not constitute a properly designed guardrail. The young worker sustained head and leg injuries and later died as a result of the fall.

This is only one example of many where there was a failure in this organization’s internal responsibility system that will have lasting effects on the company, the young worker’s family, the community that he lived in and the workers he worked with. This individual had his whole life ahead of him but worked for an organization that did not have the commitment, systems or structure to ensure that he arrived home safely to his family and friends at the end of the day.


When fall hazards are present, there is a specific order or hierarchy that should be considered prior to selecting personal protective equipment. If this organization had given thought to the changing environment and the protective measures required, the young worker would still be alive today.

Here is a logical thought process when performing tasks at height.: thought must first be given to eliminating the fall hazard.  If we cannot eliminate the fall hazard, the next best control to protect a worker is the installation of a properly constructed guardrail to protect them from falling over a leading or open edge. If a guardrail system is not feasible, thought must be given to the use of a travel restraint system, preventing the worker from reaching the edge. If a travel restrain system is not feasible then fall arrest is the last resort!

If the young worker was tied off to a certified temporary or permanent anchorage point and the system was designed and set up correctly, he would have survived.

When working at heights, your life is always on the line – literally! Tasks when working at heights should be planned and the fall hazards and protection systems identified. The plan must be in writing, shared with and understood by the workers, uniformly enforced and under the supervision of a competent person.  

The message is simple: working at heights can be dangerous and this accident should not have occurred. Workplace accidents are far too common and there needs to be a renewed commitment to workplace safety and the prevention, elimination and control of workplace hazards. There must be a shift in the way we think about safety.  

Jeff Thorne is manager of training and consulting at Occupational Safety Group.

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