Worker injuries due to falls from heights declined after Ontario made training standardized and mandatory, study finds
November 3, 2023 (Toronto, Ont.)—In the three-year period after Ontario made working-at-heights training in the construction sector standardized and mandatory, the rate of fall-from-height injuries leading to time off work fell by 19 per cent, a study by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) has found.
According to the study, published today in the American Journal of Public Health (doi:10.2105/AJPH.2023.307440), this decline was larger than that seen in other Canadian provinces: a six per cent decline in the same types of injuries during the same period. It also stood in contrast to a 12 per cent rise of injuries in Ontario due to falls not targeted by the training (e.g., falls down stairs, falls on same level). Other types of acute traumatic work-related injuries in the province saw no change.
The study compared lost-time injury rates between the three-year period before the training standard was first implemented (2012-14) and the three-year period after it came into full effect (2017-19).
Although a 19 per cent drop may seem modest, previous research tells us that a reduction of this size would be considered typical of a well-planned training program, says IWH Scientist Dr. Lynda Robson, who led this study, a follow-up to a study published in 2019.
In our analysis, this reduction in injury rates amounts to four deaths and 320 lost-time injuries avoided during the three-year period after the change went into effect, she adds.
The new study also followed up with a sample of 600 construction workers who took working-at-heights training in 2017, and found they continued to maintain fall protection practices two years after.
In the first study, we first looked at the practices of construction workers four weeks after taking the mandatory training in 2017. We found meaningful improvements in fall prevention knowledge and practices after the training, says Robson.
Two years later, among the 300 workers who took the follow-up survey, those improvements in safety practices had not slipped or eroded even though knowledge had.
Construction is one of the most hazardous sectors in the Canadian economy, and the leading cause of traumatic deaths and a major cause of traumatic injuries in this sector is falls from heights. In 2017, the province of Ontario implemented mandatory working-at-heights training in the construction sector. This change was in response to a recommendation in the 2010 report of an expert advisory panel led by Tony Dean, which was tasked with reviewing Ontario’s occupational health and safety system. The panel was convened by the provincial government in the wake of the December 2009 swing-stage collapse that resulted in four migrant workers falling to their deaths.
To arrange an interview with Dr. Lynda Robson, please contact:
Institute for Work & Health
Institute for Work & Health
About the Institute for Work & Health
IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives. iwh.on.ca