The Rise and Fall Protection for the Oil Sands Industry

With the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, the Canadian oil sands play a crucial role in the economy. If estimates are accurate, oil sands production will rise by 15% during the remainder of the decade.

Yet, the oil sands industry is one of the most demanding and hazardous sectors, with workers frequently exposed to significant fall risks. These may include elevated platforms, derricks, rooftops, open pits, and tailings ponds. The terrain can be treacherous, and working conditions are often cold, wet, slippery, or windy.

To counteract the risks and comply with regulations, employees must implement compliant fall protection solutions such as barriers, using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and providing practical training.

Room for Rooftop Safety

Buildings at oil sand mines, such as upgrader plants, towers, and offices, often have heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and other services equipment on the rooftop. These systems need frequent inspections and maintenance, exposing workers to various hazards. The Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety requires fall protection when the work-at-height distance is at least 3 metres (approx. 10 feet) above the lower level.

An unprotected roof edge is an obvious hazard. For workers within 2 metres (approx. 6 feet) from the edge, a perimeter guardrail system is the preferred fall protection method for flat and low-sloped roofs. It will protect multiple workers without special equipment or training.

Roofs can also be cluttered with ductwork, piping, cables, conduits, and other obstacles that present trip hazards. Anti-slip, self-draining roof walkways and crossover platforms enable workers to traverse the rooftop safely.

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Stand Up for Platforms

For pump houses, large equipment, and other elevated areas, a modular work access platform is safer and more productive than a ladder. It combines sturdy frames and anti-slip, self-draining treads for roof walkways and crossovers with guardrails. Static work platforms are designed for permanent installation. Mobile work platforms are fitted with heavy-duty locking casters for station-to-station portability.

On Guard for Railings

Docks at tailings ponds, stairs, mezzanines, open pits, and other areas where a fall can result in a severe injury or fatal accident can be protected by a modular handrail system. Constructed of aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance, pipe-fitted railings are installed without welding or drilling.

Extended Options for Lifelines

For reaching confined spaces, working on sloped roofs, scaling towers, and other areas not conducive to guardrails, a lifeline and anchorage system offers compliant fall protection.

  • Cable-based vertical lifelines are a practical—and cost-effective—fall arrest system for fixed ladders. The assembly includes a ladder davit with a self-retracting lifeline, track system, and anchorage.
  • Rooftop horizontal lifelines feature galvanized and stainless steel components and will protect up to three workers across nearly 12 metres (39 feet).
  • Overhead horizontal lifelines are ideal for areas with ample clearance and a firm anchorage. They provide continuous protection in runs of 60 metres (200 feet).
  • Pipe rack horizontal lifelines provide continuous protection across the entire length of the pipe rack, protecting workers along slippery, uneven surfaces.

Anchors for Lifelines

Different types of anchors are available to use with appropriate lifeline systems:

  • Single-point anchors are installed overhead on a roof or inside a structure. They are used for work and rescue operations.
  • Tieback anchors are installed permanently into the building’s structure. They have various mounting options for different types of buildings and roofs. Attachment posts can be U-bar, forged D-ring, swivel D-ring, or horizontal lifeline components.
  • Freestanding mobile anchors with counterweight bases can be placed and repositioned as needed and do not penetrate the roof membrane.
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Midwest and Western Provincial Regulations

Shine a Spotlight on Fall Protection Railings in the Film, Television, and Theatre Industries

Some actors become wildly successful typecasts in roles, such as Jim Carrey for comedy, Neve Campbell for horror, Pamela Anderson as the blonde bombshell, and Keanu Reeves as the stoic hero. On the flip side, Rachel Adams and the late Christopher Plummer became known for their versatility—hero or villain, romantic comedy, musical, or intense drama. Modular, pipe-fitted railings are typecast to provide fall protection in compliance with regulations. Yet, they can also show their application versatility whether on the set, screen, or stage.

Regulations in the Lead

Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan join the chorus line with various regulations specific to guardrails. In general, they specify that guardrail systems:

  • Top rail height of 36 to 42 inches (900 to 1060 mm) above the walking/working surface.
  • Mid-rail height of 18 to 22 inches (450 to 530 mm) above the walking/working surface.
  • Constructed and secured to withstand a static load of 900 Newtons (200 lb. force) applied in any direction at any point along the top rail and any intermediate rail.
  • Include a toe board at least 5 inches (125 mm) tall if there is any danger of objects falling from the work surface to a level below.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour’s Safety Guidelines for the Film and Television Industry, notably Guideline No. 21 on Working Heights, emphasizes the necessity of fall protection measures to mitigate the risks associated with working at elevated locations. According to the guidelines, guardrails play a crucial role in providing a barrier against potential falls, thereby safeguarding the well-being of personnel involved in production activities.

Supporting Cast Construction

Metal-cast railing components include a wide range of “slip-on” pipe fittings (e.g., straight, slope, swivel, in-line, base) to join metal pipes and form a safety railing system. They are readily assembled on-site using only simple tools—like a hex key—and are installed without welding or drilling. Toe boards and infills can be included for added slip and fall protection. A self-closing gate can be integrated into the guardrail system at stairs and other access points, or for crowd control.

The pipe and fittings are aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. They are easily customized to adapt to various set configurations or specific locations regardless of the unique requirements for each production. Modular railing systems can also be assembled and disassembled—or reconfigured—quickly, making them ideal for temporary sets or quick transitions between scenes.

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Where Do Railings Star In Fall Protection?

Guardrails are designed to prevent accidental falls by displaying a highly visible and tangible boundary that alerts cast and crew members to the potential hazard of working near an edge and falling. They also provide set boundaries and behind-the-scenes protection for the stunt doubles. Railings are typically used for:

  • Elevated platforms
  • Catwalks
  • Mezzanines
  • Stairs
  • Multi-level sets
  • Scaffolds
  • Rooftops
  • Camera and lighting set-ups

More Than a Bit Part for Elevated Platforms

Elevated work platforms expand upon the modular railing concept with pipe-fitted frames and guardrails plus anti-slip treads to build stairs and floorboards. Stationary or static platforms are ideal for work or set areas accessed often or that require a custom solution. Mobile platforms are equipped with heavy-duty, locking casters to move around the set or stage.

Other Behind-the-Scenes Roles

Guardrails are important for fall protection; however, the pipe-fitted components can be used to build other useful structures in the film, television, and theatre industries.

  • Sturdy frames that can be covered with fabric, flats, or other materials for backdrops and scenery.
  • Rigs to mount lighting equipment and hold stage lights, spotlights, or elaborate special effect lighting.
  • Mounts for cameras or other filming equipment that can be adapted for achieving specific camera angles or movements.
  • Supports for rigging equipment for actors, props, or scenery. They provide a reliable anchor point for harnesses and pulley systems used in aerial performances or special effects.

The Star Power of Railings

Although guardrails for film, television, and theatrical productions are common behind the scenes, they often step out front to shine in the performances. They can be built to provide anything from an old industrial ambiance or powder-coated for a futuristic look.

Pipe-fitted railings can be seen in productions of iconic films or TV shows such as, “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Breaking Bad”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Star Trek.”

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The Credits

Fall protection railings provide a physical barrier to keep people safe and enable production companies to comply with standards and regulations. They also give cast and crew members a strong sense of security so they can focus on their tasks and performances without the distraction or worry of potential hazards. This not only enhances productivity but also fosters a positive work environment conducive to creativity and collaboration.

Oil and Gas Industry Safety from the Ground Up

When you think about the oil and gas industry, you might envision the grandeur of an oil rig or simply filling up your tank at a gas station. However, there’s a vast infrastructure network in between, including pipelines, refineries, and storage tanks, which make up a complex industry where safety regulations are paramount.

The Government of Canada has established the Oil and Gas Occupational Health and Safety Regulations to ensure safety across all industry sectors, spanning upstream, midstream, and downstream operations. Given the range of hazards workers face, from exposure to hazardous materials to working at significant heights, these regulations are some of the most comprehensive in any industry.

Upstream operations (exploration, drilling, and extraction)

The upstream sector, involving exploration, drilling, and extraction, poses numerous hazards. Climbing derrick ladders and working on the derrick presents inherent dangers, especially in harsh weather conditions where surfaces can become slippery from snow or ice. Grease, rain, and wind create slip-and-fall risks even under favourable conditions.

Workers on derricks must wear full-body harnesses with shock-absorbing or self-retracting lanyards attached to fall arrest anchor points capable of withstanding significant loads. In case of a fall, a descending device should be available to lower or raise the worker safely. Suspension straps are essential to mitigate the risk of suspension trauma.

Ground-level piping and lines also present trip hazards. Using pipe step-over platforms with anti-slip steps can prevent falls. Larger crossover platforms with safety railings are necessary for more complex piping and changes in elevation.

Offshore rigs, which constitute about 25% of upstream operations in Canada, require extensive safety railings made of aluminum or galvanized steel pipe and fittings to resist corrosion and eliminate the need for on-site welding.

Crossover Platforms
Lifeline

Standards and regulations for upgrader plants

Upgrader plants at oil sand production fields are intricate facilities that demand regular inspections, maintenance, and repairs, including work on rooftop equipment. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or “tie-off” systems like those used on derricks are commonly employed. Permanent horizontal lifelines are an effective option that can accommodate multiple workers simultaneously. Portable lifelines with freestanding roof anchors are ideal for temporary work.

Midstream operations (transportation and storage)

Oil pumping and gas compressor stations—spaced every 30 to 160 kilometers along pipelines—are elevated to prevent flooding and snow accumulation. Modular work platforms, constructed from aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance, facilitate station servicing. Platforms feature non-slip treads for steps and surfaces and include guardrails.

Static work platforms are typically installed for permanent placement, while mobile platforms feature heavy-duty locking casters for station-to-station versatility. Customized platforms can accommodate specific configurations, adjustable heights, and other requirements, ensuring adaptability to changing worksite conditions.

Static platform
Ballasted guardrail

Downstream operations (refineries and production plants)

Refineries and production plants necessitate extensive inspections, maintenance, and repairs of building systems and equipment housed on the rooftop. Fall protection systems, such as vertical and horizontal lifelines with permanent or mobile anchors, offer personal fall protection.

Collective fall protection, like non-penetrating, ballasted perimeter guardrail systems, safeguards workers on roofs without requiring personal fall arrest equipment or special training.

Applications for warehouse and storage functions

Work access platforms are ideal for inventory management tasks, including loading and unloading goods, picking and packing, and organizing, checking, and labeling goods on shelves and storage racks. They can be used in staging and fulfillment areas for distribution centers and the installation, maintenance, and reconfiguration of pallet racks, cantilever racks, and conveyors.

Platforms also allow workers to perform service tasks on material handling systems, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, lighting, and other building services equipment. They facilitate cleaning services, fire inspections, and safety compliance checks.

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IRATA - Rope Access

Training and Safety Protocols

Training in working at heights is crucial for worker safety. The International Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) was established to provide safety standards for rope access techniques, originally developed by oil and gas companies for offshore operations. Rope access training not only equips workers with self-protection skills but also prepares them for rescue operations in the event of a fall. It is imperative that workers are fully trained in the inspection and use of fall protection devices.

Midwest and Western provincial citations

 

Work Access Platforms and Their Major Applications by Industry

Whether a contemporary fashion statement or serving a practical purpose in history, Platform shoes raise individuals above the ground or floor level.

In Ancient Greece, platform shoes elevated the stature of public speakers and actors in the theatre. Five centuries ago, they became all the rage in Venice because they helped wearers avoid wet feet. Platform shoes lifted pedestrians above the muck of unpaved streets throughout the ages. On the downside, they add weight to the shoe and can be unstable, causing weariness that may result in slips and falls.

Work access platforms are just the opposite. They provide stability and fall protection, enabling workers to perform critical tasks at hazardous heights.

Easy to install, work-at-height platforms are constructed of aluminum or galvanized steel for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. They feature anti-slip steps and platform space. Modular in design, they can be expanded or modified on-site. Compliant guardrails complete a work platform with fall protection measures, the way shoes complete a wardrobe.

Types of work access platforms:

  • Static Access Platforms: Often designed as a permanent work platform, static access platforms are ideal for frequent tasks in a particular area or for a specific machine or transportation equipment.
  • Mobile Access Platforms: Have all the features and utility of a static work platform but are fitted with heavy-duty casters to move from station to station. They offer superior safety and worker flexibility compared to ladders. Total-lock brakes on the casters provide stability.
  • Crossover or Stepover Platforms: Feature steps on two sides to access a workspace from either direction. Crossover platforms are ideal for rooftops to reach a change in roof level or step over obstacles such as ductwork, piping, and cables.
  • Bespoke Work Platforms: These are static, mobile/portable, or crossover platforms customized with services such as shop air and electricity and added safety features such as bumpers to protect equipment and self-closing gates.

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Applications for machinery and equipment at height:

Work access platforms are used extensively in factories, processing plants, and other facilities with large or difficult-to-access machinery and equipment that require maintenance, inspection, cleaning, and repairs.

They accommodate workers for assembly line operations, material handling, welding, painting and coating, packaging and shipping, equipment installation and replacement, and inventory management. Work platforms can also provide emergency access to elevated areas in case of equipment failures or other incidents.

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Applications for fleet and vehicle maintenance:

Work platforms can be used for routine maintenance, inspection, diagnosis, and repair on trucks and other large vehicles and fleet operations. This includes oil changes, tire rotation and replacement, and service on brake, electrical, exhaust, suspension, and other systems. Work platforms are also ideal for bodywork, including cleaning, detailing, repairs, and painting.

Applications for aviation and aircraft maintenance.

Work access platforms are essential in the aviation and aircraft industry. Workers must perform frequent inspections, maintenance tasks, troubleshooting, and repairs on virtually every plane component: engines, avionics, fuel systems, wings and tails, emergency exits, cabins, and the exterior body.

Work access platforms also make aircraft de-icing, weight and balance checks, emergency repairs, and upgrades (e.g., sensors, Wi-Fi, and satellite communications systems) safer and more efficient.

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rail industry

Applications for railway maintenance.

As in road and air transportation, rail transportation requires regular inspections, maintenance, cleaning, and repairs. Work access platforms facilitate these tasks on wheels, brakes, gears, bearings, electrical systems, interior refurbishment, and emergency repairs.

Platforms provide safe access to rail car roofs to attend to roof-mounted services equipment and for painting, coating, and other exterior bodywork. Access platforms are also used to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo for freight trains, refueling, and fuel system maintenance.

Applications for warehouse and storage functions.

Work access platforms are ideal for inventory management tasks, including loading and unloading goods, picking and packing, and organizing, checking, and labeling goods on shelves and storage racks. They can be used in staging and fulfillment areas for distribution centers and the installation, maintenance, and reconfiguration of pallet racks, cantilever racks, and conveyors.

Platforms also allow workers to perform service tasks on material handling systems, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, lighting, and other building services equipment. They facilitate cleaning services, fire inspections, and safety compliance checks.

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Platforms rise to the occasion.

Work access platforms may not be a fashion statement like platform shoes, but they are just as elegant. They give workers easy, safe access to machinery, inventory, and transportation equipment for frequent and essential tasks. They improve efficiency, productivity, and worker morale in several industries for a wide range of applications.

What are Fall Protection Systems, and Why are they Required?

The Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada reported that in 2022, there were 20,625 accepted lost claim times due to workplace falls in the Midwest to Western Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. This resulted in an unfortunate 26 fatalities. While 72% of the claims were for falls on the same level, 85% (22 of 26) of the fatalities were from falls to a lower level.

Clearly, preventing workplace falls on all levels is a major concern, but protection against falls to a lower level, especially from a rooftop, is critical to reducing the fatality rate. That is why these provinces have specific regulations and guidelines for employers to follow regarding fall protection. Fortunately, engineered fall protection systems enable employers to follow the regulations and protect their workers.

 

Collective (passive) and Personal (active) Fall Protection

A collective fall protection system—such as a guardrail—protects multiple workers at once without special equipment or training. Since a collective system provides fall protection with no extraordinary measures, it is also called “passive” fall protection.

A personal fall arrest system—such as a lifeline and roof anchor—protects an individual worker throughout a rooftop. It involves qualified training and requires equipment inspections before and after each use. This hands-on aspect of protecting a worker makes it an “active” fall protection system.

active vs passive
Safer Roof Access

Rooftop safety begins with safe access to the roof. Roof hatches are a common means to access commercial, institutional, and industrial roofs. A modular roof hatch railing system will fit all standard hatches and configurations, has no “snag points,” and features a grab rail to aid workers climbing onto the roof.

The railings can be constructed of galvanized steel or aluminum for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. They are fitted with a self-closing gate to prevent workers from falling back into the hatch.

Hatch / Fall Protection
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Safety at the perimeter

The roof edge is the most apparent hazard on a rooftop. A compliant perimeter guardrail system protects workers from falling over the edge and can be counterbalanced, attached to parapets, or fitted to metal roofs. They are modular systems that adapt to the roof layout and are installed easily without penetrating the roof. Like roof hatch railings, they are constructed of galvanized steel or aluminum for strength, durability, and corrosion resistance.

Safety Demarcation Zones

Workers that access the rooftop to perform uncomplicated, infrequent tasks (no more than monthly) and temporary (less than two hours) can be protected by a compliant warning or demarcation line. Depending on the circumstances (Is a perimeter guardrail in place? Is the worker wearing a personal fall arrest system?), a warning line can be used within 1.8 meters (6 feet) of the roof edge). In other situations, the warning line must be at least 4.6 meters (15 feet) from the roof edge.

An ideal warning line system features heavy-duty bases that do not penetrate the roof, galvanized steel uprights, and stainless steel cables with high-visibility warning flags every 1.8 meters (6 feet). It can be set up and moved for each task at hand.

Rooftop Warning Line
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Safe Travels on the Roof

Rooftops are slippery in wet weather and are typically filled with obstacles, trip hazards, and hard-to-reach areas. Anti-slip roof walkways and crossover platforms enable roofers to avoid trip hazards as they traverse the roof. They also protect the roof’s surface from worker traffic.

Lifelines Anchored in Safety

Lifeline systems—vertical, horizontal, overhead—are often used to protect individual workers on the rooftop. They provide fall restraint, but in the case of a fall, they also provide fall arrest. Lifelines give workers the range and flexibility to perform tasks on virtually every type of roof. A variety of harnesses, lanyards/ropes, and connectors are available for a worker’s lifeline system; however, it must be completed with a compliant roof anchor system.

Rooftop Horizontal Lifeline

Safety Regulations Summary

 

Provinces issue standards and regulations for fall protection compliance that have more in common than they do differences. In general, they call for building owners and employers to have a fall protection plan and safe work procedures that apply to heights of 3 meters (10 feet) or more.

The regulations cover many specifics, including roof access, guardrails, lifelines and anchors, travel restraints, fall arrest, rescue plans, and proper training. Details can be found as follows:

Top 5 Considerations When Choosing An Overhead Fall Arrest System

There are a variety of ways to address safety at height. The key to choosing the right form of fall protection requires a clear understanding of two main factors (1) the risks & hazards associated with the work at height and (2) the dynamic and technical differences between solutions that exist to address those risks & hazards most effectively.

Once an overhead fall arrest system has been determined to be the best method to protect your work at height needs, there are two system types…Rigid Rail and Horizontal Lifeline (HLL).

Horizontal Lifelifne - Figure 1

When properly designed, engineered, installed, and maintained, Rigid Rail and Horizontal Lifeline systems are both capable of providing reliable and compliant fall protection. But which one is better? Which one is right for you?

These are the Top 5 considerations that you should consider when selecting the right type of overhead fall protection for your application.

#1 Cost

The biggest driving factor when selecting a system is typically its cost as you may only have a certain budget to work within. Cost is naturally the first factor that goes into the decision-making process. While it is often true that HLL systems have a lower cost of entry than Rigid Rail systems, there are multiple additional factors that determine initial system cost and that ultimately influence the cost of ownership over the lifecycle of the system. However, some budgets and facilities are ideal for a HLL system.

# 2 Facility Layout

What most don’t consider is their facility layout, which plays a huge part in how the system will be installed, the working height, how the system performs, and the cost of the system. The roof of a typical facility is made up of frame rafters and purlins, and this is the structure that the fall arrest system will be installed onto.

Facility Layout - Figure 2

Rigid Rails are versatile and can be installed onto either the purlins or the frame rafters, in any 360 degree direction. HLLs on the other hand, are usually only installed onto the frame rafters, unless additional structure is installed between two sets of frame rafters to allow for installing perpendicular to the purlins. This additional steel may end up making the fall arrest system more costly than just a standard Rigid Rail!

# 3 Working Height

One big disadvantage of HLLs is the larger fall clearance distance required, due to what is known as sag, as HLLs are not rigid like their counter part Rigid Rails. There are two types of Sag, Initial and Dynamic. Initial Sag comes from the weight of the system trolley, Self-Retracting Lifeline (SRL), and the weight of the wire rope. You can see initial sag in the figure below. When you add the weight of a falling person, you get the dynamic sag as seen in the figure below. Rigid rails by design do not have these sags and as such can be used in lower clearance areas.

Working Height - Figure 3

#4 Worker Falling Safety

Both rigid rails and HLLs act as a fall arrest system, which means a worker can still fall but the fall protection system will stop the worker from hitting the ground. However, falling when using a HLL system comes with its own complications. Firstly, if a worker were to fall, the dynamic sag in a wire rope system will cause the trolley to roll into the middle of the HLL span, which in turn means the worker is exposed to a swing fall and potentially additional injuries. Lastly, if you have multiple workers using the HLL at the same time and one were to fall, all the slack in the system is removed and a sudden pull on the wire rope occurs resulting in the other workers being put at risk.

# 5 Rescue Plans

Rigid Rail and HLL systems should be regularly inspected, maintained, and repaired by a competent person to ensure the system is in good working order. This inspection is typically carried out annually, with a full engineering design review conducted every five years to ensure that the systems meet or exceed local and federal regulations. Should a fall occur both types of systems will require an inspection by a competent person to check for damages. Rigid Rail Systems typically will withstand a fall with minimal, if any, damages. However, Horizontal Lifeline Systems will often need part replacements (energy absorber, tensioner, wire rope, etc.) and in some cases you could end up having to replace the entire system!

About Us

The High Engineering team has a firm grasp of OSHA, CSA, ANSI standards and has decades of experience designing and installing fall protection systems for a range of applications including Rigid Rail and Horizontal Systems. Contact us with your questions and get help with choosing the perfect system!