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Safety first and last: There’s no question when it comes to training your staff on lift safety

Not training on lift safety is not an option.


January 20, 2020
By Jeff Thorne

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If you have lifting devices in the workplace you may be tempted to ask the question: do my operators require training or refresher training? The answer is always a resounding “Yes.” However, many employers tend to get caught in the legislative trap: if it doesn’t say it, I’m not going to do it. From a health and safety management and risk mitigation perspective, that just doesn’t cut it.

“But wait,” some say, “the legislation doesn’t list my specific type of equipment.” Or, “The legislation doesn’t say anything at all about lifting devices, so I don’t have to train.” Those statements may very well be true depending on your province. Unfortunately, the legislation may not be clear cut.

For example, British Columbia regulations specifically state that cranes and hoists be operated by a qualified person who has been instructed to operate the equipment, but you’d be hard-pressed to find specific clauses pertaining to operator training for other types of lifting devices. However, the regulation also requires all machinery and equipment to be used and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and safe work practices. Manufacturers’ instructions always indicate the need for operator training. Alberta’s requirements are similar: an employer must ensure that a worker is trained in the safe operation of the equipment the worker is required to operate. This makes it pretty simple for Albertans.

Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick all speak to lifting devices or work platforms being operated by a competent person. A competent person is commonly defined as an individual that is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience, has familiarity with the legislation applicable to the work and has knowledge of the actual and potential hazards.

Some provinces require the equipment be operated in accordance with the applicable Canadian Standards Association (CSA) standard. CSA standards outline the requirements for operator knowledge and practical testing requirements. A word to the wise: if your province references the applicable CSA Standard, that standard may be enforceable by the regulatory body having jurisdiction. Therefore, it’s always a great idea to build lifting device programs around these standards.

Whether your province references CSA standards or the specific lifting device, the spirit and intent of the legislation and the duty imposed upon the employer is to provide a healthy and safe work environment. Labour laws in Ontario, for instance, include a general duty to take reasonable steps to protect the safety of workers. In practice this means that, in the event of an incident where the Ministry gets involved, the court will have to determine what could reasonably be expected of your company. How will it do that? You guessed it: by referring to the relevant standards. Following CSA and provincial regulations for training is not a guarantee of avoiding penalties if someone gets hurt, but you are pretty much assured to take fire if you do not. Since penalties for not safeguarding workers can extend to jail time, there’s really no question remaining as to the right course of action.

The first step towards improving lifting device safety is the development and implementation of a lifting device safety program. It’s important to recognize that training, although essential, is not enough to reduce lifting device incidents. To be most effective, operator training should be part of a larger, comprehensive lifting device program. Beyond operator training, a lifting device program should include hazard identification, assessment of the operating environment, proper equipment selection, inspections, preventative maintenance, safe operating practices and supervisor involvement.

To train or not to train really isn’t the question. No matter how you spin it, operators require training. Elements supporting operator training allow the operator to make informed decisions, assess and navigate hazards and allow those around them to work safely and successfully.


Jeff Thorne is manager of training at Occupational Safety Group.