Working at height poses a series of unique risks to the workplace. Height safety requires more than just protecting workers from the risks of working at height. Objects dropped from height can result in personal injury to workers and others at a worksite, as well as equipment damage and tool loss, yet these hazards are often overlooked in planning for workplace safety. Remember, fall protection is about you; dropped object prevention is about those around you.
Identifying a dropped object hazard can be as simple as noticing a small tool or pile of screws laying near an at-height edge—any of which could be accidentally kicked or blown by the wind, falling to a lower level. However, hazards are oftentimes less obvious, such as tools precariously stored in pockets, pouches or bags with insecure enclosures. There are two primary types of falling object incidents: direct impact and deflections.
Depending on the weight and shape of the tool or object that is dropped, the forces of a direct impact can reach fatal levels—even when a hard hat is worn. Using the chart available for download below, note the speed and impact force that can be generated when dropping an 8.3 lb. (3.6 kg) wrench from heights. To visualize the effect of this on a hard hat-wearing worker, watch the video. The hard hat—which is not typically designed for such high impact—is unable to withstand the blow.
Dropped objects that deflect off of a surface can pose just as great a risk to workers as objects that do not bounce or deflect. That’s because, while designated “Drop Zones” may keep workers and others outside of a designated at-height work area, tools like the 8.3 lb. (3.6 kg) wrench referenced in the illustration download below could theoretically deflect and travel horizontally for hundreds of feet. It’s unlikely that distance would be accounted for by a “Drop Zone” barricade, so potential victims would be unsuspecting and unprepared.
Similar to a personal fall arrest system, which incorporates some form of anchorage, body support and connector(s), a drop prevention system should include the same type of components.
Attachment points function similarly to a worker’s safety harness in that it must be a secure point on the tool that is load-rated for at least the total weight of the tool. Once a tool contains an attachment point, it’s considered “tether-ready.” Types of Attachment Points;
Just like lanyards or personal self-retracting lifelines for personnel, tools require a connector to ensure they remain securely attached to an anchorage in the event the tool is dropped. There are two common types of connectors for tools: retractors and tethers.
The final component of the 3-point system for securing tools from drops is the anchorage. A tool anchorage can take many forms because of the wide variability of sizes and weights of the most commonly used tools, but at a high-level there are two types of anchorages for tools: off the body for any tool over 5 lbs. (2.3 kg), and on the body anchorages (only for tools under 5 lbs.), such as;
Download the Tool Room product selection guide, which provides information and examples of how to tie off a variety of tools.
Gain an introduction to the core concepts of fall protection for tools in our free online video series.