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The Impact of Falling Tool Incidents

Protect your workplace from falling tools

3 M Jan18 1

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 42,400 “struck by falling object” OSHA recordable incidents every year in the United States. By our estimate, that’s nearly 116 injuries caused by a dropped object every day or one injury caused by a dropped object every 10 minutes. And this only accounts for OSHA recordable incidents; it does not take into account accidents from fallen objects that go unreported.

Is a dropped tool really a big deal? Let’s walk through an example— tool weighing only 8 pounds falling from a height of 200 feet will travel at a speed of approximately 80 mph and can have an impact force of 5,540 pounds when it impacts the ground. Resulting from this impact, safety nets and drop zones are of little benefit when an object of mass and speed makes a direct impact or deflects off of another object.

Falling objects are such a concern throughout the world and in all types of industries that it was even the focus of World Steel Association’s World Steel Safety Day for 2017. This concern is one of the association’s top-five hazards it continuously raises awareness about. A dropped wrench, hammer or even a walkie-talkie can be extremely damaging to your fellow workers engaged in heavy manufacturing, transportation or metalworking. It can be even worse for heavier tools that are frequently used in these or other types of industries.

Who should take the lead to stop the drop? It is the responsibility of every safety manager, supervisor and worker to make sure they understand the dangers they face when working at-height, which includes dropped objects.

What Can be Done?

Understand the hazard. Start by creating and implementing a fall protection plan that includes a dropped object prevention plan—ensuring that workers on and off the ground are safe. You should conduct an audit of your work site by using a checklist designed to help make you aware of potential hazards resulting from falling tool situations.

The primary system to prevent tools and equipment from falling is tethering tools and equipment with connectors, connection points and anchors. Many tools today have built-in connection points affixed by the manufacturer for tethering, but can also be retrofitted with connection points. These tools are then connected to an attachment point via a tethering device and can be connected to a worker through a tool belt, harness or wristband, or anchored to a fixed structure.

These solutions not only apply to small hand tools. Tools and equipment as small as nails and screws, and as big as rivet busters and portable generators can be secured. Tools that weigh more than 5 pounds should never be tied-off to a person. If a heavy object gets loose, the weight and force of the falling object could dislocate a wrist or shoulder or even pull a worker over a ledge or from scaffolding.

Employees should be properly trained on how to use tethered tools and other dropped object solutions. They must understand how to attach a connection point to the tools, use the lanyards properly and respect the weight ratings of the lanyards.

Raymond Mann is global fall protection technical service engineer at 3M’s personal safety division, Charlotte, N.C. To learn more, go to www.3M.com/fallprotection or call (800) 328-6146.