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Alert: Falling Ice on Construction Projects

  • Issued: April 4, 2016
  • Content last reviewed: April 2016

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.

Recently in Ontario a worker succumbed to injuries after being struck by ice that fell from an excavation wall.

Hazard

At a construction project, overhead ice can accumulate on different surfaces such as the roof of a residential or commercial building, or an excavation wall, or even formwork. Large icicles can form on eaves, window frames or gutters. The accumulation of ice overhead represents a significant hazard to workers if not removed in a timely way.

Ice can accumulate after a weather event, such as an ice storm, or when the temperature conditions are suitable for the freezing of water that has accumulated on the surface of a structure or object. Ice also develops when the heat from one surface partly melts the ice or snow; the water then attaches to that surface and freezes again, which creates a layer of ice in a relatively short period of time. Icicle formation is more common (and dangerous) in milder winter weather conditions, when the sun warms the area enough to melt the ice during the day but gives way to freezing temperatures at night.

While ice falling long distances can be fatal, ice doesn’t have to fall from tall structures in order to cause damage. Icicles detaching from two-storey homes or lower levels of a multi-storey apartment or office buildings can often be enough to cause lacerations, head injuries, broken bones, and even death in rare cases. In addition, dripping water from melting icicles may pool on the ground below and refreeze, creating a serious slip-and-fall hazard.

Purpose

This alert is intended to increase awareness about the safety requirements under the Construction Projects Regulation, O. Reg. 213/91. It is intended to help constructors, employers, supervisors and workers be aware of the potential hazards associated with falling ice at a construction project and ensure that the necessary precautions are taken to prevent workers from being exposed to the associated dangers.

Protective measures

Obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Construction Projects Regulation

It is the responsibility of the constructor, the employer and the supervisor to ensure that all of the sections of the Regulation for Construction Projects are complied with on a project under construction during wintertime conditions. Special attention must be paid to the accumulation of ice both as a slip hazard for workers and when it is present as an overhead hazard.

  • Section 232 (1) of O. Reg. 213/91 states “the walls of an excavation shall be stripped of loose rock or other material that may slide, roll or fall upon a worker.”

The above section would include accumulations of ice that might form on trench walls or on the shoring system during the wintertime.

The following O. Reg. 213/91 sections may also apply in varying degrees:

  • Section 14 (3) requires a supervisor to “inspect all […] buildings and other structures, temporary supports and means of access and egress at the project to ensure that they do not endanger any worker.”
  • Section 34 (1) states “if material may fall on a worker, overhead protection shall be provided, (a) at every means of access to and egress from a building or other structure under construction; and (b) above every area where work is being carried out.”
  • Section 72 states “a work area, a route to and from a work area and a scaffold platform on which work is being performed shall be maintained at all times in a condition that does not endanger workers and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, (a) shall be kept clear of obstructions; (b) shall be kept clear of snow, ice or other slippery material; […]”

For more information

Infrastructure Health and Safety Association

Contact the Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre at 1-877-202-0008.

This is not a comment on any situation currently under investigation.

Remember that while complying with occupational health and safety laws, you are also required to comply with applicable environmental laws.

Permission is granted to photocopy Ministry of Labour alerts. Please distribute them widely and post them where people will see them.

Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.

It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.

While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.