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Protect Workers from Falling Tools and Other Dropped Objects

The fatality was reported by the media as unusual, but the circumstances behind a dropped tape measure that fell 50 stories during construction of a Jersey City high rise, striking and killing a worker, can happen every day. A worker on the tower’s top floor was removing the tape measure from his belt when it slipped out of his hands. Unfortunately, the one-pound tool wasn’t tethered. When it fell, it fatally hit a worker on the head who had just gotten out of his truck.

Dropped objects like hand tools, small materials like bolts, structural components and other items all contribute to why struck-by-object incidents – responsible for 80 construction worker deaths and more than 52,000 injuries every year – are the second leading cause of death in the construction industry. When dropped from above, these items can strike with great force that intensifies the farther they fall. For example, an eight-pound wrench dropped 200 feet strikes with a force of 2,833 pounds per square inch. That’s the equivalent of a Ford Focus or other compact car dropping on a worker’s head.

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

“A dropped object doesn’t have to be big to be deadly,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Construction contractors can reduce the likelihood of incidents like the one that happened in Jersey City by following recommendations and best practices to tether and contain hand tools and other objects.”

Contractors can find this information in the recently published ANSI standard, ANSI/ISEA 121-2018: American National Standard for Dropped Object Prevention Solutions. This standard is the first of its kind to focus on the types of equipment used to attach, tether or contain hand tools, nails, screws and other components that can be deadly when dropped from heights. The standard sets minimum design, performance, testing and labeling guidelines for anchor attachments, tool attachments, tool tethers and containers.

Like all ANSI standards, compliance is voluntary, but following these best practices can help contractors meet or exceed OSHA standards. In this instance, those are the regulations set forth in OSHA’s Fall Protection standard.

What Else Should Employers Do?

Along with following the ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 recommendations, employers should also incorporate the following best practices at construction sites:

  • Expanding fall protection programs to include tools and equipment
  • Educating workers on how to identify drop hazards and encouraging them to report these situations
  • Using tethered hand tools that either have built-in connection points or that can be retrofitted with connection points
  • Training employees on how to use tethers and other dropped object prevention methods
  • Educating workers to only bring up the tools they need when working at heights
  • Installing debris nets, toe boards and guardrails
  • Securing any items that may shift or become airborne during high winds

The LHSFNA’s Fall Prevention: Guardrail SystemsHead Protection and Holes in Flooring and Other Openings Toolbox Talks can help LIUNA signatory contractors remind workers how to stay safe when working at and around heights. These and other publications can be ordered by going to and clicking on Publications. The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety & Health Division can provide additional assistance. For more information, call 202-628-5465.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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