This article first appeared in EHS Today magazine and is reposted with permission. Read the magazine in full at www.ehstoday.com.
For all objects at height - including humans - the focus always should be on preventing things from falling rather than on catching objects, or on limiting the damage after they fall.
Dropped objects have been a problem for as long as the force of gravity has existed, and have been written about for at least a century. In fact, the New York Times published an article in 1903 about dropped objects in which it said: "Dozens of placards posted at various places on the bridge caution the iron workers to use great care in the handling of tools, to avoid dropping them into the river."
Yet here we are today, having the exact same conversation. And, with the number of things we're dropping, it's amazing more people are not getting hurt. There are more than 50,000 "struck by falling objects" OSHA recordables every year in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's one injury caused by a dropped object every 10 minutes.
Despite OSHA statistics - and the fact that many of these violation could have been prevented with the proper safety equipment - many contractors do not take the necessary precautions to prevent fall-related injuries by providing workers with personal fall protection systems for both the workers and their tools.
The Dangers of Dropped Objects
Are all accidents preventable? Fewer than 25 percent of construction workers think they are. While that's debatable, what's clear is that workers often see themselves as the victims of accidents, not as the cause of them.
There is a fascinating video online in which workers in Rio de Janeiro are repairing the 125-foot-high Christ the Redeemer statue after it was struck by lightning. In the video, the workers are tied off but are using a hammer and chisel that are not tied off and below is a crowd of people. In the middle of the video, one of the workers answers a call from his son on this cell phone, which also is not tied off.
To determine what kind of force an object fall from a certain height generates, calculations can be done around the physics of gravity. For example, an eight-pound wrench dropped 200 feet would hit with a force of 2,833 pounds per square inch - the equivalent of a small car hitting a one-square-inch area.
Needless to say, if that worker on the statue in Rio de Janeiro had dropped his hammer and it had hit a visitor below, it likely would have caused a fatality.
In another example, a man delivering sheet rock to a construction site in Jersey City was killed by a tape measure. The independent contractor for a trucking company was leaning into a car window to speak with someone and when he pulled his head out, he was struck by a one-pound tape measure that had slipped out of a worker's hands 50 stories above.
Read more to learn about the top 15 best practice and solutions for organizations when it comes to dropped object prevention, and how we can change our perspective about dropped objects.