Employee Safety: Working at Heights

Following up on Falls from Heights

It’s the time of year, when the snow is accumulating, and occasionally roofs and other elevated surfaces need to be cleared or inspected. While falls from heights are relatively rare, when they do occur they can have serious consequences.  It’s not just those who climb lift towers and onto roofs that are at risk. Even a fall from a relatively short height, like a step-ladder, vehicle or a few steps, can result in serious injury. Let’s have a look at why these kinds of incidents are still causing injuries to workers at ski resorts.

Download the safety talk: Working at Heights

The winter environment at ski resorts can bring many challenges. Ice and snow buildup on surfaces, along with wind, cold, poor visibility and bulky clothing that restricts movement (especially gloves and boots) all create stability challenges and factors that distract from the task at hand. Even when there aren’t actually any time pressures (as there can be when the lift breaks down, for instance), no one wants to spend more time freezing their butt off than they have to.

Risk is everywhere; we manage it by matching our knowledge and skills with acceptance of the consequences. With a fall from elevation, the consequence can be high – so what makes us ignore the risk and skip the steps that will help to keep us safe? Here is where the human factor arises, including time pressures, ego, and most importantly, not being fully present. It’s easy to be distracted.  Ski resort workers are often cold, tired, hungry or thirsty. You might be thinking about the big snowfall, and how you wish you were out riding.  But getting injured at work, will impact your ability to get out and ride, so it is critical to be alert and ready for the task at all times.

The correct selection and use of fall protection equipment, combined with proper planning for the task, adequate supervision and ongoing staff training, can help to reduce the risk of falling. Mechanical barriers, such as railings, positioning systems (scaffolding) and fall restraint or arrest systems can help to eliminate or control fall hazards. Each of these items need to be inspected regularly for wear or damage, and the workers using them need to be fully trained in their use. While it might be relatively simple to ensure that a ladder is stable prior to use, conversely, fall arrest systems can be very complex and it’s critical to remember the details that make them safe (anchor points, harness use etc.).

Put yourself to the test:  What’s wrong with this photo?

Can you identify all the dangerous work habits shown – both with the worker and the worksite?

Check out this assessment from WorkSafeBC on improper use of ladders.

Click Here for the answers!

Being aware of the potential risk factors is an important component of safety training, and self-assessment should be included in your fall from heights risk assessment. Helping staff stay focused is a critical part of any injury prevention program.

Here are a few ideas from resorts that have had good success with their injury prevention programs:

    • Many ski areas offer safety awards; supervisors can put an employee’s name into a weekly safety award raffle. The winner gets a prize!
    • One resort appoints a different employee to be a safety sleuth each week. The sleuth of the week gets to hand out safety stars that employees can cash in for food vouchers, a free hot wax or some other coveted bonus.
    • Real time events are fantastic opportunities for powerful safety messages to be communicated. Notables or near misses told by the people they happened to are more meaningful than theoretical training materials.

At resorts with a strong safety culture, it’s much easier to make sure that good practices are routinely followed. A successful winter means that everyone has a great season and key to this is that workers do not get hurt on the job. Fall prevention is one place where you can show your workers that you mean what you say. This will go a long way to making sure that the policies and procedures around working at heights will get put into practice.

– Article written for CWSAA by Delia Roberts, Fit for Snow

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