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Preventing Falls on Construction Projects

Safe At Work Ontario
  • Issued: July 9, 2014
  • Content last reviewed: July 2014
  • See also: Construction

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.

Falls are the number one cause of critical injuries and deaths of workers at construction sites in Ontario.

Workers can be at increased risk of falling due to:

  • missing protective devices (e.g. guardrails)
  • unsuitable and/or poorly maintained guardrails and covers
  • unguarded openings in floors, work surfaces or walls of buildings or other structures, including skylights in existing roof structures
  • lack of appropriate personal protective equipment (e.g. equipment unavailable, unused or misused)
  • equipment that is misused or in poor condition (e.g. ladders, scaffolds, elevating work platforms or suspended access equipment)
  • poor work practices (e.g. unclear job procedures, lack of training or workers rushing to meet deadlines)
  • poor lighting, slippery surfaces, inadequate ‘housekeeping’ (e.g. a messy, cluttered work area) and other deficient working conditions

Appropriate methods for controlling these and other hazards must be included in construction site health and safety programs.

Some methods for controlling hazards leading to falls include:

  • engineering controls
  • personal protective equipment
  • housekeeping
  • use of appropriate and adequate administrative controls

Preventing falls

The regulatory requirements regarding fall protection on a construction project are set out in Sections 26 to 26.9 of the Regulation for Construction Projects (O. Reg. 213/91).

Some control methods include guardrail systems (as opposed to other methods of fall protection — see below) which must be used to prevent falls, unless it is not reasonably possible to install one. Constructors and employers must install guardrails (or take other protective measures), if workers are at risk of falling:

  • more than three metres
  • more than 1.2 metres if the work area is used as a path for a wheelbarrow or similar equipment
  • into operating machinery
  • into water or other liquids
  • into or onto a hazardous substance or object
  • through an opening on a work surface

Sections 26 and 26.1 of the Regulation for Construction Projects (O. Reg. 213/91).

A guardrail system must also be used if a worker is exposed to a fall of 2.4 metres or more and has access to the open side of a:

  • floor, including a mezzanine or balcony floor
  • bridge surface
  • roof while formwork is in place
  • scaffold platform or other work platform, runway or ramp

If it’s not reasonably possible to install a guardrail system, a worker must be protected from the fall hazard by one of the following under the Regulation for Construction Projects:

  • a travel restraint system that meets the requirements of Section 26.4
  • a fall-restricting system that meets the requirements of Section. 26.5 —the system be designed to limit a worker’s free fall to 0.6 metres
  • a safety net that meets the requirements of Section 26.8 — this also needs to be designed, tested and installed in accordance with American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standard 10.11-1989 (Personnel and Debris Nets for Construction and Demolition Operations)
  • a fall arrest system that meets the requirements of Section 26.6, including the following:
    • a full body harness
    • a lanyard with a shock absorber (unless using a shock absorber could cause a falling worker to hit the ground, next level below or any objects below the work area)
    • a system that must be attached by a lifeline or by the lanyard to an adequate, independent fixed support that meets the requirements of Section 26.7 and must limit a falling worker to a peak fall arrest force no greater than eight kilonewtons of force

The components of any method used for fall protection must meet the requirements of any applicable National Standards of Canada (CSA) standard listed in Subsection 26.1(3).

Workers must be adequately trained and given instruction on the proper use of the fall protection system by a 'competent person' who is:

  • qualified through knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance
  • familiar with the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations that apply to the work being performed
  • aware of any actual or potential danger to health and safety in the workplace

Under the Regulation for Construction Projects a suspended platform or suspended scaffold must:

  • be attached to a fixed support or outrigger beam as per the manufacturer’s instructions (Subsection 137 (2))
  • meet all of the other requirements of Sections 137 and 138

A worker who is on or getting on or off a suspended platform or a suspended scaffold must wear a full body harness connected to a fall arrest system as prescribed in Subsection 141 (1).

A multi-point suspended scaffold and all of its components must be designed by a professional engineer in accordance with good engineering practice and must meet the requirements in Section 142.2.

An elevating work platform must be designed by a professional engineer in accordance with good engineering practice to meet the requirements of the applicable National Standards of Canada standards and must be equipped with guardrails as prescribed in Subsections 144 (1)(7) of the regulation.

Scaffolds that meet the requirements of the Regulation for Construction Projects must be used when work cannot be done from the ground, a building or another permanent structure without posing a hazard to the workers (Subsection 125 (1)).

In accordance with Section 80, a ladder used as a regular means of access between levels of a structure must:

  • extend at the upper level at least 900 millimetres above the landing or floor
  • have a clear space of at least 150 millimetres behind every rung
  • be located so an adequate landing surface that is clear of obstructions is available at the top and bottom of the ladder
  • be secured at the top and bottom to prevent movement


The OHSA sets out general responsibilities for employers. Among other duties, an employer must:

  • instruct, inform and supervise workers to protect their health and safety [OHSA clause 25(2)(a)]
  • appoint competent persons as supervisors [OHSA clause 25(2)(c)]
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers [OHSA clause 25(2)(h)]
  • post a copy of the OHSA in the workplace [OHSA clause 25(2)(i)]

An employer with six or more employees must:

  • prepare an occupational health and safety policy, review that policy at least once a year and set up a program to implement it [OHSA clause 25(2)(j)], and
  • post a copy of the policy in the workplace in a spot workers will be most likely to see it [OHSA clause 25(2)(k)]


The OHSA sets out certain general duties for workplace supervisors. A supervisor must:

  • ensure workers work with the protective devices, measures and procedures required by the OHSA and its regulations [OHSA clause 27(1)(a)]
  • ensure workers use or wear any equipment, protective device or clothing required by the employer [OHSA clause 27(1)(b)]
  • advise workers of any potential or actual health or safety dangers known by the supervisor [OHSA clause 27(2)(a)]
  • provide workers with written instructions about the measures and procedures to be taken for the workers’ protection, if required by the regulations [OHSA clause 27(2)(b)]
  • take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers [clause 27(2)(c)]

More information

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Call 1-877-202-0008 any time to report critical injuries, fatalities or work refusals. Call 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, for general questions about workplace health and safety. Always call 911 in an emergency.