DROPPED AND FALLING OBJECTS

217 fatalities. 45,000 INJURIES.
NO TIME LEFT TO DELAY.

THE RISING COST OF FALLING OBJECTS

Severe injury and fatality from dropped objects—even something as small as a wrench socket—are all too common, resulting in thousands of injuries, hundreds of deaths, hundreds of millions in total costs and who knows how many close calls every year.

Injured person

45,000 INJURIES

Falling objects or equipment resulted in 4% of all workplace injuries.

*BLS, 2020

Skull and crossbones

217 FATALITIES

Representing 46% of all “struck by” incidents and 4.5% of all workplace fatalities.

*BLS, 2020

$

$315,000,000

217 fatalities x $1.45M, the average cost per fatal accident.

*NSC, 2020

Dropped Objects Overview

What is safety at heights?

Fall protection for the worker has come a long way, but it’s only part of the picture. There’s another component of Safety at Heights that is only recently getting the attention it deserves—Objects at Heights.

HUMAN FALLS VS. DROPPED OBJECTS


Complete at-heights safety can be broken into two major camps (and it’s critical you have a foot in both).

Workers At Heights focuses on solutions for preventing human falls, including fall protection gear (harnesses, anchors), other PPE (climber’s helmets, gloves) and the access equipment used to transport workers to or create safe workstations.

Objects At Heights focuses on the tools those humans are at risk of dropping. This includes neat housekeeping, safe equipment transport and proper tool tethering.

Safety at Heights

Safety at Heights includes fall protection for workers (Workers at Heights) AND the tools, gear and equipment they bring with them (Objects at Heights)

Workers at Heights

Workers at Heights focuses on safety solutions for the workers, including fall protection, PPE and worker accessibility.

Objects at Heights

Objects at Heights focuses on the tools and equipment workers bring to heights, and is broken into three sub-categories: Dropped Objects, Housekeeping and Equipment Transport.

Other PPE

The at-heights safety gear workers need beyond fall protection, including climber’s helmets with chinstraps or climber-specific gloves

Access

The ladders, mobile elevated work platforms and rope access equipment used to get workers to heights or create safe workstations

Fall Protection

The ABC’s at the core of workers at heights protection—anchors, body support (harnesses) and connectors

Housekeeping

The need to keep an organized, clean work zone at heights

Equipment Transport

The hazards involved with improperly transporting equipment to and from the at-heights work zone (ex: overloading a climber, overflowing containers)

Dropped Objects

The tools, gear and instruments workers bring to heights and any object on a worksite that may fall from its previous position—from a tiny bolt to the boom of a crane.

Luck is bad policy. Drops will happen.


Close calls, near misses and holy sh*t moments. Nobody’s perfect, and these three near catastrophes are a real-life lesson on the importance of keeping things tethered and tied.

See how a wrench socket almost wiped Arkansas off the map

The most serious nuclear threat in the history of the U.S. came not from the Soviets, but from a single nine-pound wrench socket. Dropped by an airman performing maintenance on a Titan II missile at a launch complex in Damascus, Arkansas, the socket fell 70 feet, ripping a hole in a fuel tank and leading to an explosion that forced a 9-megaton warhead out of the ground.

Thankfully, safety features prevented any loss of radioactive spillage or detonation—but the explosion killed one and injured about twenty more. The 1980 Damascus Titan missile explosion is a drastic example of what can result from operating like everything is going to work perfectly every time. In this case, it almost wiped an entire state off the map.

Houston, we have a very expensive problem

By the time astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper realized her tool bag was improperly tied down, it was too late. “Oh, great,” she muttered as the tool bag drifted slowly away from her post outside the international space station. Luckily, nobody was hurt and nothing was damaged—with the exception of her ego and NASA’s budget.

The embarrassed astronaut subsequently described the $100,000 incident as “very disheartening”, adding, “There’s still the psychological thing of knowing that we made a mistake and having to live through that. It was hardest coming back in and having to face everybody else.”

How much damage can one little bolt do?

It was the summer of 2016 when a four-pound bolt fell 100 feet and struck a wind turbine worker, knocking him unconscious and leaving him with a severe head wound. “Lucky” may not be the first word to come to your mind in this situation but, considering the size of the bolt and the height at which it fell, the 26-year-old worker was fortunate to pull through and live to work another day.

“Wind Energy workers are exposed to many hazards that can result in fatalities and serious injuries such as falls, struck by, electrical shocks and crushing injuries. While wind energy is a growing industry, the hazards are not unique and OSHA has many standards that cover these working conditions,” said Judy Freeman, OSHA’s Area Director in Wichita, following the mishap.

The Standard

ANSI/ISEA 121-2018: A HIGHER STANDARD IN AT-HEIGHTS SAFETY

Recognizing the pressing need for formal guidelines within the category of Objects at Heights, leading safety equipment manufacturers like Ergodyne joined forces with the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) to develop a standard for tethering and transporting tools and equipment. ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 is the first standard for this type of equipment.

Tower climber on water tower

WHAT ANSI 121 COVERS

Similar to ANSI Z359 for fall protection, ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 is recognized as industry best practice. Though not directly enforceable by OSHA, the standard can be referred to under the General Duty Clause to interpret a better way for protecting workers against falling objects. The current standard focuses on four classes of preventative solutions actively used by workers to mitigate dropped objects: tool attachments, anchor attachments, tool tethers and containers.

The measure does not address things like passive preventative solutions (netting, toe boards, etc.) or best practices in the field—like telling workers where they should connect a tool lanyard on their harnesses.

ANSI 121 AREAS OF FOCUS

Tool tail and tape attached to wrench

Tool Attachments

Retrofit attachment points installed onto tools and equipment, allowing them to be tethered

Anchor attached secured to a railing

Anchor Attachments

Retrofit attachment points installed onto the structure or the worker themselves to provide an anchor point for tethering

Dual-carabiner tool lanyard

Tool Tethers

Lanyards that connect tools to an anchor point

Dual-carabiner tool lanyard

Containers

Bags and buckets used to transport tools and equipment to and from at-heights work zones

Q+A ON ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 AKA THE DROPPED OBJECTS STANDARD

A COMPLETE TETHERING SYSTEM 101

GET THE BASICS OF OBJECTS AT HEIGHTS SAFETY

Much like the category of Workers at Heights has the ABC’s of fall protection, we’ve innovated the 3T’s of dropped objects prevention in the category of Objects at Heights: Trapped, Tethered and Topped.

TRAPPED

CREATING CONNECTION POINTS ON TOOLS and equipment

Trapping refers to retrofitting a connection point onto a tool or primary anchor for a safer attachment point. Most tools do not come with a secure attachment point built into the tool. In these situations, a secure attachment point must be created.

Person attaching tool trap to power drill
Worker attaching lanyard to attachment point on power drill
The Three T’s of Tool Tethering: Trapping
Tool trap and retractable lanyard attached to power drill
Construction worker using tethered power drill while working at-heights

TETHERED

RETENTION BETWEEN TOOLS/GEAR AND ANCHOR POINTS

Tethering is the retention of the tools and equipment to the anchor points that hold them. This is often achieved through use of a tool lanyard. These lanyards should have the proper connections on each end for the tools and anchors being used. They should also be made with a shock-absorbing design whenever possible.

The Three T’s of Tool Tethering: Trapping

TOPPED

Secure Closure on Containers for Tools and Equipment

Tool pouches, bags and hoist buckets/bags should have a secure closure or “top” that can cover contents and prevent them from spilling if tipped. All containers may have tethering points available to attach tool lanyards but, if a container does not have a secure closure, it must have these tethering points available.

Hoist bucket with power drill and other tools tethered to its connecton points
Construction workers using hoist bucket at heights to hold tethered tools
The Three T’s of Tool Tethering: Topping

RESOURCES

THIS IS WHAT WE CALL “HIGHER EDUCATION”

Our dropped objects toolkit has everything you need to take safety to new heights—from FAQs, blogs and webinars to downloadable guides, gear inspection checklists and a create-your-own policy template.

Blog Articles

Toolbox Talks

How to Create a Tool Attachment Point for Tool Tethering - Toolbox Talks

With 52,000 injuries, 278 fatalities and hundreds of millions of dollars lost annually, the time for Dropped Object Prevention is now. This Toolbox Talk will help you teach workers what to look for on their tools and present a variety of solutions that can be used to create effective tool tethering systems that are unique to your worksite and needs.

Podcast

FAQ

Any object, large or small, that falls from its previous position (excluding people), e.g. tools, PPE, equipment and structures.

bucket icon
Static

Any object that falls from a stationary position under its own weight, such as a handle snapping off a hoisted contractor's bucket.

falling wrench icon
Dynamic

Any object that falls as a result of a secondary force, like a worker dropping a tool or accidentally kicking an item off a ledge.

Whenever tools and equipment are brought to even modest heights, there's a risk for dropped and falling objects.

AERIAL APPLICATIONS
INDUSTRY EMPLOYS
Utilities 554.1K
Telecommunications 766.2K
Construction 7,164K
Wind energy 381K
Oil and gas 671.6K
Mining 186.9K
Electricians/service techs 942.4K
Transportation 5,289K
NON-AERIAL APPLICATIONS
INDUSTRY EMPLOYS
Nuclear 45.8K
Manufacturing 12,630K
Food Processing 1,631.1K
Transportation (aviation) 438.5K
Underwater MRO 202.7K
Oil & gas 671.6K
Mining 186.9K
Construction 7,164K

Two categories: Those caused by elements and those that are worker/equipment-generated.

Weather
Elements
  • Weather
  • Vibration
  • Corrosion
  • Deterioration
  • Body effects like cold, numb hands
Falling worker
WORKER/EQUIPMENT
  • Tripping or colliding
  • Poor housekeeping
  • Not following procedures
  • Miscalculations/poor design
  • Missed/inadequate inspections
  • Homemade tools and equipment
Active Engineering Controls

The key is prevention in the form of active engineering controls that prevent items from falling in the first place. If there is no drop, there is no chance of being struck by a falling object. Other prevention mitigation solutions are expensive and tedious to install and remove, so tethering and container equipment are the best practice for these risks. You can see the challenges with other solutions:

PPE

Hard hats, steel toe boots and other PPE minimize injury on specific body locations, but do not prevent a “struck-by”. If an object strikes someone on the shoulder rather than the head, it won't help. If the object is very heavy or tapered/sharp, it can defeat a hard hat. More needs to be done.

Admin Controls

Creating barriers with caution tape or other means pushes workers and bystanders away from the at-risk location. However, it's no secret that a small deflection can propel an object outside an established perimeter causing injury or damage anyway. Again, preventing the drop from above is key.

Passive Engineering Controls

Netting and toe boards are expensive to install and remove, and can give a false sense of security. Items can still fall beyond these systems. In addition, toe boards promote poor housekeeping by encouraging individuals to leave tools and equipment on the platform. Actively tying off equipment is your best bet.

DOWNLOAD YOUR DROPPED OBJECTS SAMPLE POLICY