Preventing dropped tools from ruining lives
Posted 02 Oct 2019
According to the Health and Safety Executive, 11 percent of the 38 total deaths in the construction industry in 2017/18 were caused by impacts from moving or falling objects.
As well as this, moving objects - which also includes objects like tools dropped from height - contributed to 12 percent of the 58,000 total injuries in construction.
Watch out below
A 500g object dropped from a height of 15m will have the same impact energy as an object weighing 75k - such as a washing machine - by the time it hits the ground.
Tools which seem entirely harmless, such as spanners or tape measures, can become missiles and maim or even kill those on the ground below.
Deflection can also be a serious danger. Research has shown that a 3.6kg spanner falling from 67m, then hitting a bar 6m off the ground, can be deflected horizontally by almost 128m. Theoretically, this means you don’t even need to be below the object to be killed by it.
Whose responsibility is it?
While there are numerous regulations dictating every aspect of working at height itself, there are no guidelines for specifically preventing dropped objects.
The Work at Height Regulations do state employers need to take ‘suitable and sufficient steps’ to prevent objects being dropped, and puts the onus firmly on organisations themselves to develop strategies and safe working practices.
Those with a responsibility for people on their site or premises, whether they are the site manager, or health and safety manager, need to assess the risk and implement the correct controls to keep people safe.
Everyone has the right to move about at work safely and without danger of injury, even in risky areas such as construction sites, and managers need to ensure risk is properly managed.
To do this, clear policies pertaining to the handling of tools and objects when at height should be implemented and followed, and employees should receive relevant training on the subject.
Active controls to prevent falling objects from causing injury or worse include toe boards to stop tools from being inadvertently kicked off, or netting beneath the platform to catch any tools that do fall.
Generally, a zone of exclusion should be implemented beneath areas of work but, as mentioned above, deflection can make these areas ineffective. Hard hats should be used but should be a last line of defence.
Tool tethers are another solution. Most tools used when working at height are not generally designed for this purpose, but more and more manufacturers are designing PPE to safely tether tools when not in use.
Belts, harnesses and tethers are now widely available and can be used to keep spanners, drills and more firmly attached to the worker.
Alternatively, tethers can remain permanently attached to the tool but will retract automatically when no longer needed.
This specialised PPE should be implemented as part of a wider dropped object prevention policy.
A long way to go
The construction industry in the UK is getting better and better at preventing unnecessary injuries and fatalities, but incidents on the ground due to dropped objects remain an issue.
The responsibility lies with site managers and those with a duty of care to ensure employees understand the issue, have the correct equipment and actively follow procedures.
For more information, or for a full site inspection to ensure the quality of your equipment, call Steadfast on 01473 834 144 or use our online contact form.