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When your team is working at elevated heights, there’s always a chance that one of your tools could fall and injure a co-worker below. Getting struck by a falling tool or object can easily cause a serious injury and may even be fatal in some cases. That’s why it’s best to use some sort of tether for tools and other loose objects. This includes safety lanyards, pouches, buckets, bungee cords, tool belts, and bags. You’ll find a range of tool fall protection items below, so you can keep your tools on your person where they belong.
A dropped object is an object of any size that gets accidentally knocked down from a higher level to a lower one. However, dropped objects aren’t always as obvious as a wrench flying out of someone’s hand and dropping to the ground. They also come as small tools or piles of screws laying near an at-height edge, small enough to be accidentally kicked or blown down by the wind. Tools stored in unsecured pockets, pouches, or bags can also become dropped object hazards if they fall.
There are two primary types of dropped object hazards that workplaces need to control:
Direct impact hazards result from tools or objects that are dropped straight down. Depending on the weight and shape of the object in question, direct impacts can reach fatal levels of force. This is the case even when everyone on the level below is wearing a hard hat. Hard hats are typically not designed for extremely high impacts. An 8.3-pound (3.6 kg) wrench that’s dropped from ten feet (three meters) to a lower level can reach 17 MPH (27 KPH) and have an impact force of 332 lbs. (1477 Newtons)—way more of a force than a hard hat can take, and that’s just at 10 feet. Direct impact hazards only get more dangerous as objects fall from higher up because of the speeds they can reach.
Deflections are caused by dropped objects that don’t fall directly downward but can deflect off another surface on their way down. It’s a different type of hazard, but it is still a great risk to workers and passersby as direct impact hazards. Dropped object zones and other administrative controls can be put in place to reduce the risk of these hazards and mitigate some of the damage they can cause, but drop zone barricades typically don’t account for the extra distance that a deflected object can travel. This means that people outside of the work zone are potentially at risk. The same 3.4-pound wrench from before, when dropped from 25 feet (14 meters) that deflects after hitting a bar that’s 20 feet (six meters) off the ground, could travel up to 65 feet (20 meters). This is more than enough to present a hazard even at 20 feet, especially for people outside the work zone who are probably not walking around in hard hats or other safety gear.
Like all workplace hazards, a safety hierarchy helps reduce the chance of dropped object accidents. This hierarchy will likely look familiar because it’s similar to other safety hierarchies, but the levels are as follows:
Hazard elimination or substitution
Passive systems, such as guardrails with toeboards and mesh netting, screens, floor or hole coverings, and tool canopies with side protection
Tool restraints, like transport buckets with closure systems, tool holsters, and tool pouches
Tool arrests, in the form of on- and off-the-body anchoring solutions
Administrative controls, such as creating dropped object zones by barricading the area below the work site
If there’s no way to eliminate tool fall hazards completely, your workplace needs to put fall protection systems in place. The three different types of tool fall protection systems are:
Passive — Creating a barrier to prevent people or tools from reaching the fall hazard.
Fall restraint — Prevents people or tools from reaching the fall hazard by way of a tie-off system.
Fall arrest — Stopping a fall that’s already in progress.
These are very familiar if you’re already using fall protection equipment for workers.
Tool drop prevention systems will include similar components to fall protection equipment. They will include some form of anchorage that secures tools from drops, body support tool attachment points rated for the total weight being carried, and connectors to ensure that the tools remain connected to the anchorage in the event of a fall. The exact form that any of these measures takes will depend on your workplace and the job being done: anchors alone can come in steel, concrete, and specialty systems like vacuum anchors that are designed for an array of industries. The exact job you’re doing might impact the tools that you choose because confined space or descent and rescue systems will have different requirements than those being used in oil rig or construction sites.