Best practices and tips to help preventing tool drops at your workplace
You may have great fall protection measures in place to keep employees safe when working at height, but what about their co-workers below? Dropped tools and other falling objects are a major hazard – and one that isn’t always fully addressed.
The following notes will give a clear summary of best practice in securing tools, avoiding tool drops and increasing safety in your workplace.
Technicians in the metal working and energy sectors are especially likely to find themselves operating at heights. Think, for instance, of the long climbs involved in maintaining a wind turbine or a tall building. Even a small item of equipment dropped from such a position can seriously injure anyone hit by it. In the United States alone, more than 50,000 people each year suffer injuries due to falling objects, according to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).
What the law says:
Employers are obliged under US law to train and inform workers – both regular and temporary – on workplace hazards. They are also required to prevent accidental drops of equipment. If this isn’t possible, they are allowed instead to secure a safety zone below those working at height and keep it clear of personnel. Importantly, that approach is only to be used as a last resort. The UK and other countries have similar legislation.
There is a conflict between traditional practice and legal requirements. It’s quite common to see an area closed off by barriers so people can’t walk beneath their workmates and be struck by falling items. The law’s primary objective, by contrast, is that measures should be taken to stop those drops from happening in the first place.
When working at height, do not consider that sealing off the area below is enough protection. Your priority should be to prevent tools from falling.
Tool drop solutions
The first thing to stress is that wearing hard hats is not enough. They should always be worn anyway, but they can only give partial protection. Unless the falling object is very small, it will probably still cause injury. Barriers, as we’ve already mentioned, should not be your first solution either. What you need are special procedures and equipment designed to bring extra safety to your operation by making sure tools can’t drop.
Top tips for operators working at height
Ask for specialized training – your employer is obliged to give it to you
Place items in securely closed buckets or bags for lifting – and attach those containers to an anchoring point at the top. Use hoists and cranes to lift equipment, rather than carrying it. Don’t climb ladders or other structures with tools loose in your pockets:
We recommend that light items, weighing under 5 lbs (2.25 kg), are attached to you via your tool belt or harness – using clips, lanyards or other tethering aids – or carried in a secure holster
We advise that equipment over 5 lbs (2.25 kg) is similarly tethered to a suitable anchoring point on a stable structure – not to yourself!
Treat phones, radios, tablet and laptop computers, tape measures and all other devices in the same way
Make sure you have the right choice of tools, accessories and accessory changing equipment for the application – see our advice on impact driver sockets, for example. If required, accessories and consumables, should be changed before you go up – not at height
And in general:
Always use all recommended safety equipment, including fall protection devices, helmets, gloves and other PPE
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