Protecting Workers from Rollovers

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Many workplaces use mobile equipment, such as forklifts, loaders, graders and skidders. Although these pieces of equipment are useful tools, they’re also dangerous—particularly to the workers who operate them. One of the most common and lethal hazards is rollovers. Mobile equipment is apt to roll over, crushing the driver and others nearby. And because the equipment is so heavy, rollover incidents are often fatal. The OHS laws require employers to take steps to prevent rollover injuries. Many of these steps are designed to protect operators in case rollovers do occur. We’ll tell you how to comply with these mobile equipment requirements. We’ll also give you a chart here spelling out the specific requirements in each province and territory.

What The Law Says

The risk of rollover is partly a function of equipment design and partly a function of the jobs for which the equipment is used. Part of the strategy of OHS laws is to prevent rollovers from occurring in the first place. But because there’s only so much that can be done to prevent equipment from rolling over, the OHS laws of every province and territory also require employers to take measures to minimize the risk of injury when and if equipment does roll over. Let’s focus on these requirements. Although the specifics vary from province to province, this aspect of the OHS laws generally requires employers to adopt engineering solutions. In the context of mobile equipment, employers are typically required to do the following:

Install ROPSs on Specified Mobile Equipment

The main line of defence against rollover injuries: installation of what are called rollover protective structures (ROPSs) on mobile equipment. Most OHS laws spell out which types of mobile equipment must be fitted with ROPSs:

  • Crawler tractors, loaders and skidders;
  • Wheel tractors, dozers, loaders and skidders;
  • Agricultural and industrial tractors;
  • Motor graders;
  • Backhoes;
  • Industrial lift trucks;
  • Self-propelled wheel scrapers;
  • Compactors and rollers;
  • Self-propelled rock drills moved by onboard operators;
  • Wheeled trenchers; and
  • Pipe layers and side boom tractors.

These lists aren’t always the final word on ROPS requirements. For example, in Alberta, a piece of mobile equipment that isn’t listed as among the types that must have an ROPS may still have to be fitted with an ROPS if a hazard assessment of the equipment identifies rollover as a potential hazard. Installing ROPSs on your mobile equipment can be expensive. So you may be tempted to try cheaper alternatives, such as safe work procedures, to protect workers from rollovers. But don’t assume that safe work procedures are an acceptable substitute for an ROPS.

Example: A road roller flipped while going down a steep hill. The worker operating it was thrown and seriously injured. The OHS investigator issued nine orders to the company, one of which required it to install an ROPS on the road roller. The company appealed six of the orders, arguing that forcing it to install an ROPS was a denial of its right under the OHS Act to first institute safe work procedures to resolve the problem. The court rejected the company’s argument. It noted that the company’s procedures had been shown to be unsafe given its history of road roller rollovers and lack of training. So requiring it to install an ROPS was reasonable [Border Paving Ltd. v. Alberta]. You can use ROPSs that have been manufactured for a particular piece of mobile equipment or you can fabricate your own.

Either way, ROPSs must: 

Comply with specified regulatory criteria and/or requirements contained in voluntary standards. Most provinces require ROPSs to comply with the requirements of a specific voluntary standard, such as CSA Standard B352.0-95 (R1999), Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) for Agricultural, Construction, Earthmoving, Forestry, Industrial and Mining Machines, or SAE Standard J1040 MAY94, Performance Criteria for Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) for Construction, Earthmoving, Forestry and Mining Machines. The OHS laws of some provinces, such as NB and ON, spell out criteria that don’t come from a voluntary standard. For example, ON requires ROPS to be designed to withstand impact forces when the mobile equipment is travelling at a speed of 16 km per hour, engages a 30-degree slope and rolls 360 degrees about its longitudinal axis on a hard clay surface. MB takes a hybrid approach: It requires commercially made ROPSs to comply with a specified voluntary standard, but spells out the criteria for custom-made ROPSs.

Be certified. Some provinces and territories—BC, NL, NT, NU, ON and YT—require all ROPSs or only custom-built ROPSs to be certified by either the manufacturer or a professional engineer as complying with the law’s requirements. In QC, an ROPS is deemed to be in compliance if it’s been certified by an engineer. And most provinces and territories require all repairs, modifications, additions, welding or cuts to an ROPS to be recertified by the manufacturer or an engineer.

Contain safety glass or other acceptable material. Most provinces and territories require any ROPS that contains “glazing” to use safety glass, glass that meets the requirements of a specified voluntary standard or a rigid plastic or transparent material that gives at least equivalent protection against shattering. And if the glazing gets damaged or compromised in any way, you must immediately replace it.

Have permanent labels with certain information. Nearly every province and territory requires certain information to be permanently affixed to ROPSs, including:

  • The name and address of the manufacturer or engineer who certified the ROPS;
  • The model number or other means of identifying the machine for which the ROPS was designed;
  • The serial number or other unique identifier:
  • Maximum weight of the machine for which the ROPS was designed; and
  • The standard to which the ROPS conforms. A modified ROPS may need to contain additional information, such as the modifications made, the date of recertification and name and address of the manufacturer or engineer that recertified it.

Provide Seatbelts

Seatbelts help to keep workers from being thrown out of the ROPS and crushed in the event of a rollover. Every province and territory requires powered mobile equipment fitted with ROPSs to have seatbelts. Some even specify the standard those seatbelts must meet, such as SAE Standard J386 JUN93, Operator Restraint System for Off-Road Work Machines. But wearing seatbelts may be impracticable because of the type of work the mobile equipment is being used for or how the equipment is operated. For example, a seatbelt can’t be used in any operation in which the operator must stand to drive the equipment.

In that case, you generally must provide another type of restraining device designed to keep workers from being thrown out of the ROPS, such as a shoulder strap, bar, gate or screen. You must also maintain seatbelts and other restraining devices in good condition. Example: A skidder operator in BC was killed when his skidder rolled over and crushed him. The operator wasn’t wearing a seatbelt because part of the belt was missing. If the operator had been safely buckled in by the seatbelt, there’s a good chance he would have survived the rollover.

Require Workers to Use Seatbelts

Not all rollover requirements are engineering-based. Employers must also implement safe work practices. First and foremost is requiring operators of mobile equipment and passengers to use seatbelts. After all, having seatbelts accomplishes nothing unless workers actually wear them. Example: The WCB in PEI issued a hazard alert reminding workers to wear seatbelts while operating powered mobile equipment after a construction worker was seriously injured when the equipment he was operating rolled over. The worker wasn’t wearing a seatbelt at the time. Again, if wearing seatbelts is impracticable, workers should use another type of restraining device.

Farm Safety & Rollovers

Rollovers are a particular problem on farms. According to the Ontario OHS guidelines for farms, tractors are the piece of machinery most commonly involved in farm accidents—and rollovers account for about half of all fatal tractor accidents in the province as well as many disabling injuries and considerable property damage. Also, between 1990 and 2000, 248 Canadian workers were killed on farms due to rollovers. That’s why many provinces have special OHS regulations for farms that impose additional rollover protection requirements. Studies have shown that ROPSs are effective in reducing farm tractor fatalities. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that ROPSs can essentially eliminate rollover fatalities. In fact, the study noted, in the U.S., the only fatalities associated with rollovers of tractors equipped with ROPSs occurred when the operators weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

Consequences of Violations

Failing to comply with your province’s rollover protection requirements can not only lead to injuries and deaths but also fines or other regulatory penalties for the OHS violation. Example: An MOL inspector issued a stop work order barring an Ontario contractor from using its dozer until the required ROPS and restraining device were installed. The contractor didn’t comply with the stop work order and was convicted of three OHS violations and fined $28,000. The contractor appealed, but the court upheld its conviction and sentence. The whole point of ROPSs is to protect workers from injury if the machine they’re operating topples over. When a rollover occurs, the “risk of serious and likely fatal injury is high,” the court said. By not installing ROPSs and restraining devices, the contractor didn’t give its workers the level of protection to which they were entitled under the law. And the contractor still didn’t get the message even after getting hit with the stop work order. The court concluded that the contractor was either wilfully blind to its obligations or deliberately dismissed the need to ensure the safety of its machine operators at all times [R. v. Mardave Construction (1990) Ltd.].

Conclusion

As a safety coordinator, you need to stress the importance of protecting workers from rollovers when they’re operating mobile equipment in the workplace. Taking steps to make the use of mobile equipment safer can not only protect your workers from unnecessary and avoidable injuries, it can also protect your company from OHS violations and other liability.

Show Your Lawyer

Border Paving Ltd. v. Alberta (Occupational Health and Safety Council), [2006] ABQB 893 (CanLII), Dec. 11, 2006 R. v. Mardave Construction (1990) Ltd., [1995] O.J. No. 4944, Feb. 6, 1995