OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 9 Fall Protection

Section 139 General protection

Subsections 139(1) and 139(2)

Subsections 139(1) and 139(3) refer to “temporary work areas” and “permanent work areas”. For the purposes of this Part, the words “temporary” and “permanent” describe the nature of the work being performed, not whether the work area is a temporary or permanent structure.

At fall heights of 3 metres or more, at lesser heights if there is an unusual possibility of injury, or if the fall is through an opening in a work surface, subsection 139(1) requires that workers be protected from falling, regardless of whether the work area is a temporary or permanent work area.

Situations involving an “unusual possibility of injury” may include work performed above moving water, operating machinery, open vessels containing potentially harmful substances, extremely hot or cold surfaces, etc. An unusual possibility of injury refers to the potential for a worker to sustain injuries more serious than those likely to result from landing on a solid, flat surface.

At fall heights of 1.2 metres or less, the OHS Code does not require the use of a fall protection method unless there is an unusual possibility of injury.

The concept of temporary and permanent work areas applies between the fall heights of 1.2 metres and 3 metres. When originally created, the distinction between temporary and permanent was intended to address fall safety at heights of less than 3 metres at elevated work areas such as loading docks and mezzanines.

In the OHS Code, differentiating work areas on the basis of whether they are temporary or permanent links the likelihood of injury to the concepts of exposure to a hazard and frequency of exposure to that hazard. Applying the concepts tries to place practical requirements on where and how workers are to be protected from falling. For example, a flatbed trailer may have a deck height of 1.3 metres above grade. It may not be reasonable to expect all such flatbed trailers to be equipped with perimeter guardrails or some other fall protection option given how infrequently a worker is expected to be on the deck and exposed to a fall hazard.

In some situations it may be very difficult to distinguish between a temporary work area and a permanent work area for the purposes of applying section 139. Unfortunately there is no way that a frequency of exposure can be stated for each and every possible situation involving worker exposure to a fall hazard between the fall heights of 1.2 metres and 3 metres. The following examples are intended to help readers assess their own work areas and determine if the area is a “temporary work area” or a “permanent work area”.

Example 1
Any work area at a construction site is considered to be a temporary work area.

Example 2
A worker at a chemical plant stands on an elevated platform at a height of 2.1 metres above grade, adjusting a valve once a month. The work area is a temporary work area because the work activity is done infrequently. If the valve is adjusted weekly or more frequently, then the work area should be considered to be a permanent work area.

Example 3
A worker does work while standing on the deck of a flatbed trailer that is 1.3 metres above grade. Normally, workers do not need to go onto the deck to adjust the load, straps, tarpaulins, etc. In the rare case that a worker must work while standing on the deck, then this should be considered to be a temporary work area.

If the worker is frequently on the deck, then the deck should be considered to be a permanent work area and subject to the fall protection requirements applicable to permanent work areas.

Example 4
A worker is working from a loading dock that is open on three sides and the height of the loading dock is 1.6 metres above grade. If the worker is frequently on the loading dock i.e. once every few days or more often, then the loading dock should be considered to be a permanent work area. The worker frequently accesses the loading dock as part of a routine work activity.

Example 5
A worker performs work from a highway billboard platform that is at a height of 2.1 metres above grade. The worker performs work from the platform once in every four to eight weeks, making the platform a temporary work area.

Determining the fall distance

The three metre fall distance is measured from the point on the platform, stair, working surface etc. from which a worker may fall, usually measured from the position of the feet if the worker is standing, to a lower level. Lower levels include, but are not limited to, those areas or surfaces to which a worker can fall such as the ground, floors, platforms, ramps, runways, excavations, pits, tanks, material, water, equipment or structures.

On a sloped roof, the 3 metre fall distance is measured in two ways:

(1) if the worker is upslope from the eave and more than 2 metres away from a gable end, the fall distance is measured from the top of the eave to a lower level. Lower levels include, but are not limited to, those areas or surfaces to which a worker can fall such as the ground, floors, platforms, ramps, runways, excavations, pits, tanks, material, water, equipment or structures. The vertical height that a worker may roll or slide down the sloped roof before he or she loses contact with the roof is not considered to be part of the “fall distance”;

(2) if the worker is within 2 metres of a gable end at any point upslope of the eave, the fall distance is taken as the vertical distance from the worker’s feet to a lower level. The assumption here is that the fall hazard is the worker falling off the gable end – the worker is much less likely to roll or slide down to the eave and then lose contact with the roof.

In the case of multi-level sloped roofs, if a worker falls from one level to the next, a distance of 3 metres for example, and then continues to fall to the next level, an additional 2.5 metres for example, the need to provide fall protection is based on the overall fall distance of 5.5 metres. The sloped roof onto which the worker falls is not considered to be a safe lower level i.e. one from which a further fall would be prevented.

Subsection 139(3)

Subsection 139(3) states the most general case for fall protection – that workers need to be protected from falling by the use of an engineering control such as a guardrail. Engineering controls eliminate the hazard of falling rather than control the hazard. Examples of other engineering controls include eliminating the need to work at height by making equipment, lighting, controls, valves, etc. accessible from ground level or from a location where there is no hazard of falling.

Guardrails are listed as an example in subsection 139(3) because they are often the preferred first choice for fall protection purposes. Guardrails become a permanent part of the installation, eliminating the need to equip workers with personal fall protection equipment and training those workers at periodic intervals. As such, guardrails are a type of passive fall protection system that is available at all times and does not require workers to do anything special. Guardrails can be used at any height.

If a guardrail is used, it must meet the design requirements listed in section 315 i.e. position and location of horizontal and vertical members, strength of design, etc. In the world of fall protection, guardrails are similar to a travel restraint system because they prevent a worker from getting to an edge or work location from which the worker could fall.

Subsections 139(4), 139(5), 139(6), 139(7)

These subsections specify a hierarchy for protecting workers against falling. They are intended to address the general case for preventing falls as required by subsection 139(1). The hierarchy is shown graphically in Figure 9.1.

Figure 9.1 Hierarchy of fall protection

Subsection 139(4) applies to permanent work areas in which the vertical distance a worker can fall is more than 1.2 metres but less than 3 metres. This requirement is intended to address fall safety at heights of less than 3 metres at permanent elevated work areas such as loading docks and mezzanines. While guardrails are the preferred method of preventing a worker fall, guardrails are not always practicable.

The employer’s second choice is to protect workers by having them use a travel restraint system. If a travel restraint system is not practicable, the employer must ensure that workers use an equally effective means that protects the workers from falling. While a personal fall arrest system is mentioned in subsection 139(6), it will rarely be used in this height range of 1.2 to 3 metres because of lack of sufficient clearance distance to prevent worker contact with a lower surface in the event of a fall.

Subsection 139(8)

This subsection clearly states the worker’s duty to use or wear the fall protection system the employer requires the worker to use or wear.

For more information

Ellis, NJ. Introduction to Fall Protection, 2nd edition. American Society of Safety Engineers, Des Plaines, II; 1993.
 
Sulowski AC. Fall-Arrest Systems – Practical Essentials. CSA International, Toronto; 2000.