For a 90-day period between March 20 and June 22, 2016, the public and stakeholders in the Construction industry were invited to comment on a proposal document submitted by the Ministry of Labour. At the time, the Ministry of Labour's proposal recommended several amendments to the Construction Projects Regulation, O. Reg. 213/91 (the "Regulation") under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the "OHSA") which targeted health and safety requirements related to suspended access equipment such as suspended scaffolds. Most of those amendments are coming into force on January 1, 2017.
Those amendments were prompted by the 2009 collapse of a swing stage that resulted in the death of four workers who were restoring the balcony of an apartment building in Toronto. The employer, the company manufacturing the platform and its director were fined under the provisions of the OHSA.
For the purpose of understanding what type of equipment is covered by the Regulation, it must be noted that suspended access equipment can be defined as one or more work platforms or a seating surface which is suspended by wire riggings or ropes from an overhead anchorage. An individual using the equipment must be able to lower or raise the platform or seating surface alongside a building or a structure's façade - boatswain's chair, mast climber and swing stage are all examples of suspended access equipment.
In 2015, the Government of Ontario brought forward a proposal to amend the Regulation's requirements regarding the use of suspended access equipment in order to strengthen and clarify their application. At the time, the government proposed those changes apply to all buildings and structures where: a) suspended access equipment is or may be used and b) where the Regulation applies. Notably, the proposed amendments did not apply to activities covered by the Window Cleaning Regulation, O. Reg. 859.
The key amendments proposed by the government include:
- A new reporting structure to the Ministry of Labour when suspended access equipment is installed for the first time at a project site;
- Mandatory training requirements for workers using and/or inspecting suspended access equipment;
- Rigorous requirements in relation to the inspection, testing and maintenance of suspended access equipment;
- Improvement of design, engineering, operational and technical requirements; and
- New roof and site-specific work plan conditions.
While the above-mentioned amendments were approved by the government, they also create new obligations for first-timers and for existing users of work platforms.
For example, when suspended work platforms are used at a project site for the first time, a constructor must complete a notification form and submit it to the Ministry of Labour at least 48 hours prior to the platform's use. The 48-hour notice may only be waived if a suspended work platform is necessary to prevent injury to people or damage to a property. Nonetheless, even in such circumstances a constructor must still give oral notice to an inspector of the Ministry of Labour in the vicinity of the project site and will still be required to provide a notification form within 24 hours from the beginning of its use.
As for the new design requirements, the amendments add specific supporting and resisting capacity applicable to the suspended structures which are based on an equation determined by the Ministry of Labour. This may have an effect on live load limits. An additional requirement is that the Ministry of Labour has mandated that professional engineers must report and confirm that all work platforms designed prior to January 1, 2017 have been tested and are in compliance with the new standards.
For contractors and employers, they must ensure that the workers using the suspended access equipment or the workers that are responsible for its installation and its inspection are sufficiently trained, through oral and written assessments. They must also complete a training program as often as is necessary but, at least every three years after the first use. All workers will be required to keep written proof that they have completed the requisite training at the project site.
Finally, the new non-destructive testing of suspended access equipment appears to be extensive. This will likely result in additional costs for contractors and employers. For example, most pieces of equipment will require their own serial number for tracking and testing purposes. Surely, this will significantly increases the number of pieces of equipment to monitor by contractors which in turn may bring higher maintenance costs.
Prior to January 1, 2017, contractors and employers should verify whether the new requirements will have any effect on their operations at a project site. Given the increased testing that will now be required, equipment should be closely expected to ensure compliance. Only time will tell if the new requirements will be successful in preventing accidents and improving the safety of individuals on a project site.