Protecting Workers from Falling Objects

Published On: January 17, 2020By Categories: Safety, Safety Matters

It’s important to have a fall protection plan to keep workers safe at the jobsite.

By Alexandra Walsh

For all objects situated at a height—this includes workers—the focus should always be on preventing things from falling rather than catching objects or limiting the damage after they fall.

Many workers have no idea how much force something like a falling hammer generates, even when dropped from a moderate height. Simply put, most workers underestimate the dangers of dropped objects.

There are more than 50,000 “struck by falling object” OSHA recordable incidents every year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s one injury caused by a dropped object every 10 minutes.

Struck-by injuries occur when a worker comes into forcible contact with a flying, falling, swinging, or rolling object. Struck-by hazards are the second highest cause of fatalities among construction workers.

According to OSHA, struck-by injuries in 2016 accounted for 93deaths of construction workers, which accounted for almost 10% of the 991 fatalities that were caused by construction site hazards.

This was and is due to the numerous hazards that can create struck-by injuries. There are four common struck-by hazards in construction: flying objects, falling objects, swinging objects, and rolling objects.

Despite OSHA’s statistics—and the fact that many of these violations could have been prevented with the proper safety equipment—some company owners do not take the necessary precautions.

Fall Protection for Tools and Equipment

People are not designed to work high up off the ground. They don’t have a natural “connection point” to tie off to. That’s why workers must wear a fall protection harness—to provide that connection point.

Tools are not designed for use up high either. That’s why a fall protection harness and connection point for tools is also needed—so they easily can be tied off too.

A harness for a worker acts as the primary component of a personal fall protection system. But when it comes to tools, we typically rely on secondary systems such as nets to catch debris. A primary system for tools and equipment is rarely deployed.

Most operations have deployed a fall protection program for workers—but not a drop prevention program for their tools and equipment. Expanding an already existing fall protection program to include tools and equipment is far easier for companies than creating a completely new program to prevent dropping tools or equipment.

Tethering Tools and Equipment

The primary system to prevent tools and equipment from falling and striking someone is to tether tools and equipment with connectors, connection points, or anchors. Many tools today have built-in connection points affixed by the manufacturer for tethering. Tools and other equipment can also be retrofitted with connection points.

These tools are then connected to an attachment point by means of a tethering device. Tools can be connected to a worker through a tool belt, a harness, or a wristband. Tools can also be anchored to a fixed structure.

These solutions don’t just apply to small hand tools, but also can be used for tools and equipment weighing more such as crowbars, metal tape measures, or power tools.

Tools or objects heavier than 5 pounds should never be tied off to a person. If a heavier object gets loose, its weight and force when falling could dislocate someone’s wrist or shoulder, or even pull a worker over a ledge or off the scaffolding.

If a worker has a tool attached to themself and needs to pass it to a coworker, the coworker should connect to the tool first before the passing worker disconnects from it. This ensures the tool is 100% tied off and never has the opportunity to become a drop hazard.

For smaller items such as screws and nails, many buckets, bags, and pouches come with closure systems that significantly reduce any likelihood of these small but dangerous items falling out. Some even close automatically when turned upside down. This answers a problem with many popular plastic buckets as they frequently fall over and spill their contents.

Employees should be properly trained on how to use tethered tools. They must be taught how to attach a connection point to the tools, properly use lanyards as connecting devices, and respect the weight rating of the lanyards.

Fall Protection Planning

Following is a look at best practices and solutions for companies when it comes to preventing objects from falling:

  • Raise workers’ awareness of drop hazards.
  • Require risk assessments before performing work with drop hazards.
  • Use energy-absorbing lanyards that reduce the force associated with a dropped tool.
  • Workers at height should only bring up the tools they need to do their job.
  • Hoist up items and then transfer them over with different lanyards to other workers or to fixed anchor points. This can be done in a bucket which can hold the extra tools.
  • Keep all materials at least 3 feet from a leading edge, other than materials specifically required for work in process.
  • Remove items from loose or unsealed shirt pockets such as phones, pens, and tools.
  • Do not hang objects over guardrails.
  • Secure all objects when working on an elevated surface and stack materials securely to prevent them from sliding, falling, or collapsing.
  • Require hard hats and other required personal protective equipment for every person in areas at risk for falling objects—no exceptions.
  • Rope off the area where fall or drop hazards may exist.
  • When working with machines or power tools that can produce flying particles, wear safety glasses, goggles, or face shields.
  • Inspect tools prior to use and be sure all guards are in place and in good working condition.
  • Allow only properly trained workers to use power tools.
  • Avoid working underneath suspended loads.
  • Inspect cranes and hoists prior to use to ensure all components are in good working order, including wire rope, lifting hooks, and chains.
  • Never exceed the lifting capacity of cranes and hoists.

Employer Responsibility

The employer needs to provide a competent person to manage safety protection from falling hazards. It is the responsibility of every safety manager, site superintendent, supervisor, and worker to make sure they understand the dangers they face when working at a height.

Start by creating complete fall protection plans for tools and equipment as well as workers, and ensuring that workers both on and off the ground are always safe. You might even regularly schedule “hazard hunts” to drive awareness of drop hazards.

Conduct an audit of your work sites by using a checklist designed to help make you aware of potential hazards that can lead to situations with falling tools.

Employers and employees should work as a team to avoid complacency and remain vigilant of safe practices and procedures to follow at all times.

DACUM Codes
To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers, pump installers, and geothermal contractors. DO refers to the drilling chart, PI refers to the pumps chart, and GO represents the geothermal chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers: DOK-8, 9, 10; DOL-1, 2; GOI-8, 9, 10; GOJ-1, 2. More information on DACUM and the charts are available at www.NGWA.org/Certification and click on “Certification Exams.”

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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