What Happened With The Dangling Worker in Toronto?
The shocking video has been all over the news: a worker dangling 30 stories above ground from a crane-supported load in downtown Toronto. According to the news stories, he became entangled in a tagline and the crane operator failed to notice. So, what went wrong?
As with anything on social media, it's wise to approach exciting stories with a healthy dose of skepticism. To get attention, things are dressed up in a certain way to make them sensational - often at the expense of the truth - so we have to be wary of taking things at face value. However, if this video is authentic, it is quite a spectacle! A worker is lucky to be alive today!
Falls are still the leading cause of workplace fatalities (if we leave out vehicle accidents), so it's amazing (and a near miracle) that the worker involved suffered only minor injuries. When there is a near miss of this magnitude, we are wise to try to glean a lesson from it. Indeed, any fall is worth our attention because as safety professionals, we are still trying to figure out how best to curb fall injuries.
So what is a tagline?
Taglines are important when lifting any critical load. We use taglines because the time-honored practice of guiding multi-ton loads by hand resulted in a grave fatality statistic we call "caught in/between". Safety professionals have figured out a simple principle: tie a rope to a heavy suspended load and guide it from a distance, such that - if it were to fall - nobody gets squished.
Standing aside and guiding the position of a load with a rope is a far safer and pleasingly simplistic solution, but workers still have to be vigilant, aware of entanglement hazards. Things can change fast if you have a hand, foot or torso encircled by a rope! This is a sub-category of "line of fire" hazard. Workers at sea know this one well: never stand in a rope loop, lest you instantly disappear into the deep never to be seen again.
Wrapping a rope around the wrist for leverage is dangerous when the other end is attached to a tower crane that can lift a worker to dangerous heights in seconds.
Nevertheless, in the event of an incident - especially when we're lucky enough not to have a major casualty - the goal is to guess what went wrong in the management system, not blame the worker. Sure, a mistake was made but how do we best equip the industry to prevent a reoccurrence? This is always the focus, or it should be.
Workers should have specific training as spotters just as they would to perform any other task. It is common on construction sites to grab any bystander and assign them "spotter" to tick a box, but some significant acumen is needed.
'Spotters' have to know what the operators can see (and not see), know some constraints of a machine's operation, know how to keep themselves safe as part of the operation, and have an understanding of all of the hazards involved. I don't know that this training wasn't in place, but I do know this is the first question investigators will ask.
All workers involved in a task (including contractors, such as crane operators) need to have the same information going in, and "surprises" spring from the failure to facilitate this communication. A meeting would be held right before a lift like this with all the workers involved. The hazards must be communicated, understood and acknowledged before any work can take place.
And yet, despite the planning, an event like this is unforeseen by anyone can happen. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt, and we can learn from it. fault-finding - as always - is a waste of time.