November marks Fall Prevention Month in Canada: an annual reminder that the safety of workers at height is a shared responsibility. Preventable falls remain a sobering reality, with rooftop environments presenting their own unique set of challenges. As Skyline Group delves into a month dedicated to fall prevention, we explore how building managers can combine awareness and action to transform the current narrative surrounding rooftop falls.
This important month reminds us that falls are not just accidents; they are a global concern that can lead to devastating outcomes. Some recent statistics highlight the importance in creating preventative strategies for hazards that can lead to a fall from heights:
- Falls rank as the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, making it clear that this issue transcends borders and industries (World Health Organization, 2021)
- Fall-related emergency department visit rates have increased from 58 to 64 per 1,000 older adults in the past decade (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2022)
- The average cost to a roofing company when an employee falls from an elevation is approximately $106,000 per injured employee (Occupational Safety and Health Administration – US)
Each fall is not just a statistic; it represents an individual whose life has been profoundly affected, along with their families. However, while these figures may seem daunting, the encouraging fact is that the vast majority of falls are preventable.
Changing the Narrative Through Awareness & Action
Whilst we all face a shared responsibility to maintain health and safety, building managers hold a pivotal role in preventing rooftop falls. One of the most effective tools in the fight against falls is the Hierarchy of Controls, highlighted in the infographic below.
At its core, the Hierarchy of Controls is a systematic approach to risk mitigation, emphasizing prevention as the cornerstone of safety. It categorizes control measures into five distinct levels, each building upon the other to create a comprehensive safety net.
In the fight against rooftop falls, real change can be achieved by integrating an understanding of this hierarchy with the implementation of a robust safety infrastructure. As you review each element of the safety hierarchy, take the time to think on how this methodology can be applied to your rooftop environment.
Hierarchy of Controls Explained
At the highest level of the hierarchy of controls lies “Elimination.” This is the most comprehensive and effective approach to mitigating hazards in the workplace. In essence, elimination involves removing the hazard entirely, thereby removing the associated risks.
The principle of elimination aligns with the fundamental concept that the safest way to deal with a hazard is to make sure it no longer exists. In an ideal scenario, elimination results in a workplace where the hazard is no longer present, and consequently, no risk of harm remains.
While elimination is the most effective control measure, it’s also the most challenging to achieve. It often necessitates a fundamental rethinking of processes, systems and infrastructure. However, when successfully implemented, it offers unparalleled levels of safety and protection for workers.
While elimination is the most effective control measure, it may not always be achievable in every situation. In such cases, organizations must move down the hierarchy to consider other control measures like substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment. Nevertheless, the pursuit of elimination should always be at the forefront of safety planning, as it represents the gold standard in risk reduction.
Substitution is the next level in the hierarchy of controls when elimination is not feasible. It involves replacing a hazardous material, equipment, or process with a less hazardous alternative. The essence of substitution is to swap out the hazard for something safer, thereby reducing the risk to workers.
The process of substitution begins with a thorough assessment of the hazard, its associated risks, and the potential alternatives. It is crucial to ensure that the replacement is genuinely less hazardous and does not introduce new risks or hazards that may be equally or more harmful. Careful consideration must be given to assessing the comparative risk levels between the existing hazard and the proposed substitute.
Substitution can significantly enhance workplace safety by reducing the inherent risks associated with a particular task or process. However, it’s important to recognize that substitution may not always be straightforward, and careful consideration is required to ensure that the alternative is genuinely safer. When done correctly, substitution is an effective means of risk reduction, promoting a safer and healthier work environment for employees.
3. Engineering Controls
When elimination or substitution are not viable, engineering controls come into play. These can be physical changes to the rooftop environment that reduce the risk. They can also be process-driven. The safety solutions designed and installed on the rooftop separate the roof worker from nearby fall hazards. The solution is applied to the site of the hazard before the hazard comes into contact with the roof worker. By controlling the exposure of the hazard you are able to lessen its impact. Examples of engineering controls from a product based solution is the inclusion of roof guardrails, dedicated walkways, work platforms or non-slip surfaces to mitigate the potential fall hazard. The guardrail will not remove the fall hazard as you are still working on the rooftop, but it will create a fixed barrier between you and the hazard, ultimately separating you from it. Keep in mind that an important element of an engineered control system is that it does not rely on the worker to be trained like you would in order to use a fall protection lanyard.
- Skyline recommends: Guardrails/Barriers and Access Ladders are the two most common inquiries. Designed to be robust and reliable, our guardrails and barriers create a formidable protective barrier, ensuring that rooftop perimeters and openings are safeguarded against falls. Meanwhile, our access ladders provide secure vertical access, a crucial engineering control in preventing falls during ascent and descent. Coupling these solutions with walkway and crossover systems/platforms, building owners can create safe passage while walking and working around the rooftop.
4. Administrative Controls
Beyond physical modifications, administrative controls focus on changing work practices and procedures. This might involve scheduling rooftop work during favorable weather conditions, implementing comprehensive training programs, and establishing clear protocols for rooftop access.
- Skyline recommends: Hazard Reviews are a great means of understanding your roof layout. Our expert assessments and audits offer building managers valuable insights and recommendations. This service supports the development of effective administrative controls and policies to enhance rooftop safety. Aside from helping building managers create a comprehensive safety plan, our experts will assist in devising various procedures and policies on working safely on worktops or at heights. This not only enhances your administrative controls – it fosters a culture of safety throughout your organization. In our experience administrative controls should always be considered, even when engineering controls are in place it is never a bad idea to understand if improvements can be made to your work processes and procedures while on the rooftop.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE represents the last line of defence in the hierarchy, providing an extra layer of safety and a strong preventative measure against injury. It includes safety gear like harnesses, helmets, and safety glasses. While vital, PPE should not be the first or sole method of protection; it should complement other controls. For instance, in a scenario where a worker is maintaining a HVAC system near a roof edge that has a guardrail, the guardrail represents an engineered solution. However, PPE solutions such as gloves, helmets, high-vis vests and fall arrest systems (lanyards) can be combined with the guardrail to enhance the safety at the core of your rooftop operations. If we focus our attention to lanyards and fall arrest solutions, PPE is at the bottom of the hierarchy because it is only in use when a fall occurs. Nobody wants to test out their PPE, a roof worker would prefer not to fall at all, which is why it can be viewed as complementary.
- Skyline recommends: PPE solutions need to be carefully reviewed, while taking into consideration the requirements of your work environment and the workers that use them. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to PPE. Instead, it is crucial to work with your safety partner to identify opportunities where the addition of PPE can complement other safety controls. Whether through our Annual Inspection Service or our Lunch and Learn Training Program, Skyline’s experts are on-hand to review your rooftop environment, and recommend where PPE would be a vital solution.
Applying the Hierarchy of Controls on Your Rooftop
You might be asking yourself, “how can I use the hierarchy of controls in my application”? We recommend starting with identifying those hazards present on your rooftop. Once defined you want to spend time with your team and those that work on the rooftop, brainstorming how you can block the path between the worker and the hazard. One hierarchy at a time starting with elimination, you want to create a list of actions that should be taken to solve the hazard. Ideally, you want to list out all of the hazards and actions you could take within each hierarchy. When doing this activity, ask the team involved:
- What are the benefits and disadvantages of each action within each hierarchy level?
- Are the controls you are looking to set out even feasible? For example, substituting a chemical for a safer option may not be an option as it will alter the final product you are producing.
- This is one that is often missed, but will this action create new unforeseen hazards? We don’t want to solve one hazard by creating a new one.
This process does take time, and you may require a quicker solution. If it will take time to implement one or many of the actions, use one or more of the lower hierarchy options to get started. For example, you may use PPE equipment while waiting for delivery and installation of the ‘engineered controls’ safety solution in order to urgently create a safer environment.
This Fall Prevention Month, Drive Positive Change
Looking for a worksheet to start from when applying the hierarchy of controls? Download our one-page template here to get started.
Safety is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and at Skyline Group, we provide tailored solutions to address the unique challenges of each rooftop environment. To start playing your own role in changing the narrative of rooftop safety, contact us for a complimentary consultation or browse our full range of safety solutions.