Look Out Above

Shutterstock/ Citta Studio
Shutterstock/ Citta Studio

Falling objects kill hundreds of workers each year and injure thousands more. In fact, roughly 5% of all workplace fatalities are caused by falling and dropped objects. Deaths have resulted from dropped items as small as a tape measure. Therefore, special precautions must be taken when storing and handling tools and materials in elevated work areas.

A new American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standard has been developed with the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), ANSI/ISEA 121-2018: Dropped Object Prevention Solutions. It includes active dropped-object prevention controls and outlines four categories of equipment: anchor attachments, tool attachments, tool tethers and containers. The standard includes guidance, specifications and testing methods.

ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 is a voluntary consensus standard, which is not directly enforceable by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. However, because these standards can become best practices, OSHA can reference ANSI and other consensus standards under the general duty clause or through a letter of interpretation to cite a company.

Tethering prevents tools from falling or being dropped from elevated surfaces. The three primary parts of a tool-tethering system are the tether point, the tool lanyard and the anchor point. Light tools can be tethered directly to the person using them. Heavier tools are attached to a fixed anchor point.

Tool-tethering systems can also save the time needed to retrieve dropped tools. Tether systems should be used on all job sites when work is being performed from elevated surfaces.

Take care when transferring tools from one worker to another. Tools must always be attached to at least one lanyard. The worker passing the tool should not detach their lanyard until the worker receiving the tool attaches it to theirs. Use this system—known as 100% tie-off — whenever passing tools in elevated locations. Hard hats and netting are secondary measures that protect workers below from dropped objects.

Employers should have every worker wear a hard hat and implement an additional method of protection. Additional methods of protection include toeboards, screens, debris nets, catch platforms and canopy structures. Falling objects that are too large, heavy or massive to be contained or deflected by any of these measures should be placed away from the edge of the surface and secured to prevent falling.

Toeboards and screens are barriers that prevent objects from falling or rolling over the side of a raised platform onto workers below. OSHA requires toeboards to be at least 3½ inches in height from top edge to floor level, and capable of withstanding a force of 50 pounds applied in any direction. Tools, equipment and materials should not be stacked higher than the edge of toeboards unless screening, paneling or adequate containment materials are in place.

All materials should be stacked so they are self-supporting and stable. Materials not protected by screening or paneling should be stored 4 feet from the leading edge. All tools and materials should be safely organized until they are needed.

Nets, canopies and catch platforms must be erected over the workers below and be strong enough to withstand the impact forces of potential falling objects. Canopies must be installed between the falling object hazard and the workers. Debris nets should be installed as close as possible under the walking surface where employees are working. The netting system must also have sufficient clearance underneath to prevent contact with the surface or structure below. To be effective, debris nets must be correctly selected, constructed, installed and routinely inspected.

Dropped-object zones, drop zones or dropped-object-exclusion zones are areas underneath work that is being performed at above-ground level; these areas place other workers or the public at risk from falling loads, tools, equipment, waste or materials. These zones should be clearly marked with barricades or caution/danger tape. Only workers directly engaged in the overhead work should be admitted to these areas.

Finally, housekeeping is important in preventing falling objects from striking anyone. Don’t let trash and debris accumulate in elevated areas. Trash should be stored in transport buckets with closure systems that prevent material from being knocked, blown or spilled over the edge of the elevated surface. Trash should be taken out as frequently as possible. Workers should also implement a clean-as-you-go work ethic to prevent the accumulation of materials.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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