Canadian Rental Service

Safety First and Last: Train, plan and follow-through

By Jeff Thorne   

Features Business Intelligence

In Canada, falls continue to be the number one leading cause of fatality in the construction industry and here is a brief glimpse as to why. It is something we have all heard before.

“Build us what we need. Complete the project on time or ahead of time, as there are lucrative incentives to do so – there is zero opportunity for waste and delays. Complete the project on budget, oh and by the way there is a limited amount of money and resources so it must be spent according to plan. The work has to be of high quality and everything has to look great. And of course, do it safely, don’t kill or harm anyone, because, well, that just wouldn’t be good for business.”

This type of message is a common one regardless of the size of the project. However, project goals of achieving a high level of safety can be realized, especially when working at heights is involved. According to A Lesson from the London Olympics, the London Olympic project was a great example of this as they had zero fatalities over a four-year project. Compare this to Beijing: they had 10 fatalities. Greece had 14. Safety is always possible!

Ensure your workers and supervisors are trained properly. In Canada, training is still a highly unregulated profession, and having a safety designation doesn’t automatically make you a competent instructor. I have interviewed many safety professionals that come highly recommended and have great qualifications, but when it comes to training, they weren’t able to deliver. In many cases in this industry, you get what you pay for. The lowest dollar cost typically is not the best way to go. (I know, tell that to the employer). In my career I have seen a lot of providers out there with poorly designed programs that only provide the basics, delivered by even poorer instructors.

The Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, have standards for approving training providers and assessing an instructor of that provider to ensure he or she has the knowledge, skill, and ability to deliver competently. Those approving bodies have seen a lot of poor instruction. So do your research on your provider, check references and get some testimonials to ensure you are getting what you pay for.


Creating a plan is also key. As Stephen Covey wrote, “Begin with the end in mind.” It’s difficult to achieve a high level of safety without a plan. Some provinces have specific requirements for creating a fall protection plan or safe work procedures when working at heights (Alberta, B.C., Manitoba). Regardless of whether it is written in the law, prior to working at heights a plan should be created to ensure the hazards have been clearly identified and the correct fall protection system is in use. Focus on whether the work must be done at heights. If so, based on the task, follow the proper hierarchy when determining controls. For example, if the fall can’t be eliminated, can we use a guardrail? If a guardrail isn’t feasible, can we use a travel restraint system? Fall arrest should always be a final option. If fall arrest is used, a proper plan will also identify suitable anchor points, and prompt you do calculate your fall distance. Pre-planning will ensure that the workers have the correct equipment for the job.

So many fall fatalities involve workers who were wearing a harness, but failed to tie-off while performing the work, or they weren’t tied-off to begin with. Why would anyone ever don a harness and not tie-off? If we focus on implementing a plan and a competent person oversees the plan, falls should not happen. Aye, there’s the rub. Monitoring and oversight continues to be a gap in many organizations and the term “competent” is not always applicable to the supervisor.

Trained workers that know what to do, when and how to do it and to understand safety expectations will work safely. When plans are created, make sure they are implemented and monitored. 

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