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The Ontario Ministry of Labour website includes information about Working at Heights training which requires employers ensure that workers on construction projects are adequately trained. As professionals we must follow the rules, and where there is ambiguity or room for interpretation, the architectural community must adhere to the standards of professional conduct. The requirements as stated on the Ministry of Labour’s website, are noted below:
“The working at heights training requirements apply to workers who are required under O. Reg. 213/91 (Construction Projects) to use any of the following methods of fall protection:
Employers with workers who are required by O. Reg. 213/91 (Construction Projects) to use any of the fall protection methods listed above must do the following:
The regulations also clearly describe when fall protection is required i.e.
“where a worker may be exposed to any of the following hazards:
The ambiguity for members of the architectural community regarding required training relates to the statement that “workers who are required … to use any of the follow methods of fall protection” must have working at heights training. Firstly, it has not been consistently stated by the Ministry of Labour if an architect or employee of an architectural practice is considered a “worker” by this regulation. Secondly, according to a strict interpretation of the requirements, if one is not required to use any of the listed methods of fall protection during a site visit, then working at heights training is not required by the Ministry of Labour for that individual in that situation.
In practice however, other factors come into play beyond a strict application of the regulations. Increasingly, general contractors are adopting more stringent safety standards on sites. An obvious step in this direction then is the requirement by some general contractors that all individuals on site at any time are required to have working at heights training as approved by the Ministry of Labour. It is the responsibility of the constructor to ensure that the health and safety of all the workers on the project are safeguarded. As constructors are ultimately in control of their project operations, they can establish their own, more stringent policies that go beyond the legislative requirements. For simplicity’s sake some general contractors are requiring everyone on site to have the approved working at heights training, in order to eliminate the need to audit various individuals who may or may not make their way to areas of the site requiring fall protection. This should be seen as a reasonable approach by general contractors to manage their risk.
In addition, architects and their employees must be aware that should they chose to perform field review in locations where they require a method of fall protection, and they do not have working at heights training, then they are putting themselves or their employers at risk not only physically, but of being charged under the OHSA (Occupational Health and Safety Act). In addition, in the case of injury while working at heights without the required training, WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) coverage may be denied.
The fines for infractions are considerable, ranging from $360 for a worker up to $500,000 for an employer or director, including architects and engineers. The Ministry is taking a zero tolerance position regarding these infractions as they are completely preventable.
Even for persons visiting sites where working at heights training is not legally required, there is a requirement for those people to be suitably trained regarding the hazards to which they are exposed. Earlier this year the OGCA (Ontario General Contractors’ Association) introduced an online safety orientation program,"The Safety Pass". The Safety Pass provides an online orientation of the thirteen most common hazards including:
1. Introduction to OGCA Safety Orientation
2. Workplace Law
3. Hazard Identification
4. Hazard Controls
5. Fit for Duty and Conduct
6. WHMIS 2015 (GHS)
7. Powered Mobile Equipment
8. Ladder and Scaffold Safety
9. Fall Protection
10. Environmental Safety
11. Defensive Driving
12. Personal Protective Equipment
13. Emergency Response
This program is recognized by many general contractors as required awareness training for workers before they begin work. WHMIS and Working at Heights (WAH) certificates continue to be required. Prior completion of the Safety Pass allows any additional contractor provided training to focus on project site specific conditions.
In summary, architects as employers have a responsibility under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act to train themselves and their employees appropriately for the work related hazards to which they may be exposed.