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Working Wise: Preventing Falls at Work

Dear Working Wise,

I noticed some roofers on my neighbour’s house the other day and they were not using any ropes. Are roofers supposed to use safety equipment in case they fall?
Signed, Nervous Neighbour

August 3, 2016

Dear Nervous,

Anyone working at a height of 3 metres or more is required to use fall protection equipment.

Falls from any height are a common cause of serious injury and even death in the workplace. Around 20% of the workplace incidents reported to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety since January 2012 involve falls.

Workers must be equipped with a full-body harness attached to an anchor point if a worker might fall a vertical distance of 3 metres or more.

Fall protection is also required over an unusually dangerous surface, such as uncapped rebar or other construction materials. Guardrails must be installed if a worker might fall a vertical distance of more than 1.2 metres and less than 3 metres.

The 3-metre fall distance is measured from the point from which a worker may fall. The distance the worker would fall must be less than the distance to the nearest object/surface below the worker. The vertical height that a worker may roll or slide down the sloped roof before they lose contact with the roof is not considered to be part of the "fall distance." If the worker is working close to the gable end of a roof (in residential construction) then that height is included.

It is the employer's responsibility to ensure their workers are protected as much as possible. That includes having the proper equipment on site and ensuring all employees are trained in its use. Employers should ensure only competent, trained workers are up on the roof or other structure.

Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) officers actively patrol worksites to ensure all workers and employers are being safe. For some who aren’t working safe, it could mean a $200 to $500 ticket.

In fact, OHS officers issued 1,605 orders from April 2015 to April 2016 and more than half of them were related to fall protection.

If you come across a worksite where workers are up high and clearly not protected, you can call Occupational Health and Safety at 1-866-415-8690 (780-415-8690 in Edmonton). You can also file a complaint online on the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety website. This website also provides more information on fall protection plus any other workplace health and safety issues.

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/Zog

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (, a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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