Drop object represents a fourfold threat to the organization, not only to the integrity of their equipment, their financial performance, and the reputation of companies and their stakeholders but also loss of workers’ morale because of injuries and fatalities. Drop object risk damaging machinery, which could lead not only to the cost of replacing damaged equipment, but also to the need to temporarily suspend operations and, as a direct consequence, have a significant financial impact.
These incidents threaten the safety of personnel and the infrastructure and machinery in the potential impact zone. Due to their nature, these jobs imply risks for people and equipment that make it necessary to apply a preventive strategy (according to OSHA falling object prevention) that minimizes accidents at work.
The risk of falling is particularly greater in areas of work at height, mainly in drilling, chemical production and construction activities. Dropped objects are the number one risk of serious injury, death, and equipment damage in many industries worldwide. This same statistic is not only limited to the industrial world but can also be applied to leisure activities and home life.
What is a drop object?
Any object that falls or falls from its previous position has the potential to cause any injury, death or damage to the equipment/work environment. This can be classified in turn as a static or dynamic dropped object.
Falling objects also represent significant damage to equipment and the environment. Even items falling into the sea can still be strong enough to cause severe damage to critical underwater infrastructure. Falling objects are bad for business, even when no one is hurt.
What are the two types of dropped objects?
Dropped object incidents fall into two categories: static or dynamic.
Static drop object
Any object that falls from its previous position under its weight due to gravitational forces (that is, without any applied force). For example, failures caused by corrosion or inadequate fixings, poor maintenance, improper material stacking, improper installation etc.
Dynamic drop object
Any object that falls from its previous position due to the applied force. For example, impacts involving equipment or load displacement, snagging machinery or stacked items, movement, objects falling from conveyor belts, extreme wind currents or severe weather conditions, impact etc.
What causes a dropped object?
- Power sources such as gravity, wind, rocking, and mechanical motion.
- Lack of awareness about this risk
- Improper inspection or maintenance, ignoring unsafe situations.
- Poor housekeeping
What increases the risk of dropped objects?
- Inadequate risk assessment: Failure to identify the hazards of dropping an object
- Human factors: Operator error, misbehaviour, complacency, negligence
- Inadequate procedures: Poor planning, lack of management of change
- Failed installations and accessories: Corrosion, vibration, poor design, incorrect selection or installation
- Collisions: Lifting, moving equipment, tailing cables,
- Tools and equipment poorly protected: No use of lanyards or ties
- Environmental factors: Wind, tides, ice, snow, extreme conditions
Velocity of a falling object
All freely falling objects on Earth increase their downward velocity with an acceleration of 9.8 m/s2 every second, although it sometimes approaches 10 m/s2. Free fall is a movement in which an object is dropped from a certain height and while it falls, no resistance or element appears in its path to interrupt it.
- The height from which the body is dropped is always measured in meters (m).
- The time it takes for the object to fall is measured in seconds (s).
- The value of the acceleration of gravity is measured in meters per second squared (m/s2).
- The acceleration that the object acquires during the fall, is also measured in meters per second squared (m/s2).
Drop object hazard
Identifying a dropped object hazard can be as simple as noticing a small tool or a bunch of screws near a height edge, any of which could accidentally be blown over by the wind, thus falling to a level lower. However, the dangers are often less obvious, such as tools stored precariously in pockets, backpacks or bags with insecure enclosures.
Depending on the weight and shape of the dropped object, the forces of a direct impact can reach fatal levels, even when wearing a helmet. The hard shell, which is generally not designed for such a high impact, cannot take the blow.
A dropped object that deflects from a surface can pose a fairly large hazard to both workers and objects that do not bounce or deflect. This is because, although designated “drop zones” can keep workers and others out of a designated work-at-height area.
- Above all, train your workers to follow agreed safety procedures.
- Include drop object as a topic in your fall protection safety training program.
- Consider drop object within workplace safety risk assessments.
- Take measures to eliminate the identified risks.
- Provide workers with all aids including hold-down devices, anchor points, lifting gear, and other safety equipment.
- Place a safety net under workers at height or cordon off the area with barriers.
It is vital to be aware of the risks we are subjected to during the working day -such as those that may arise from handling elements or when carrying out work in proximity to storage elements- to avoid objects falling and resulting in accidents at work. Safety must come before everything, let’s not forget it.
Drop object as a result of an incident
And to protect the worker from dropped object risks, it is essential that they be provided, whenever necessary, with personal protective equipment (boots, helmets, gloves, glasses, masks, work clothes suitable for the performance of their work…) to avoid accidents.
Let us remember that both the organization and the workers must row in the same direction since the integration of prevention in daily work is a task that concerns EVERYONE. And, finally, highlights the importance of information and training in occupational risk prevention for all workers.
Carrying out work at height (tasks that are carried out at a size greater than 1.8 meters from the ground) is common in activities in the field of construction, installation and maintenance in different sectors, from oil platforms, chemical industries, or telecommunications towers, among others.
Lost time injury as a result of incidents in the workplace has a financial impact and leads to the loss of effective days of work. In addition, there are potential financial compensation implications and legal consequences that go along with injuries.
Drop object prevention
You may have fall protection measures in place to keep employees safe when working at height, but what about workers working at ground level? There are tools and other objects that can fall and present a significant hazard that is not always addressed with sufficient attention.
The following notes will provide you with a clear summary of best practices to secure tools and prevent them from falling, increasing safety in the workplace.
Scaffold workers in the construction sectors are especially likely to work at height. Think, for example, of the long climbs involved in erection, dismantling or modification. Even a small piece of component falling from such a position can seriously injure anyone it hits. Employers are obliged to train and inform workers, both permanent and temporary, about workplace hazards.
They should also prevent dropped object incidents. If this is impossible, they are instead allowed to make a dropped zone below people working at height and keep it clear of personnel. It is important to note that this approach should only be used as a last resort. It is pretty common to see an area enclosed by barriers so that people cannot walk under the drop zone and get hit by a dropped object.
Useful tips for workers working at height
Ask for specialized training: your company is obligated to provide it. Place items in buckets or bags securely closed for lifting. Attach these bins to an anchor point at the top. Use cranes and hoists to lift the equipment, instead of transporting it yourself. Do not climb ladders or other structures with loose tools. We recommend that you secure delicate items to your tool belt or harness (with clips or other restraint devices), or carry them in a secure holster.
Drop object due to collapse
There is a risk of drop object due to collapse, which usually occurs when carrying out work close to storage elements (warehouse shelves). In this case, it is convenient to check its correct state in case there are stability deficiencies. In this case, you should immediately move away from this area and notify the person in charge.
What personal measures must the staff adopt to avoid drop object due to handling or collapsing? First of all, check the manipulation of elements, belongings or instrumentation in the tasks of the activity. And regarding the organizational level, we must be cautious and consistent with the importance of adopting preventive measures:
- Avoid circulating or staying below areas where work is being done
- Get away from a scaffold on days of strong wind
- Stay clear when loading and unloading material. Never stay under suspended loads
- Do not hit the base of shelves, cabinets or furniture that may cause the objects they contain to fall
Protection against drop object
Drop object, materials and tools in the work environment can expose workers at lower levels to serious injury and even death. Working under scaffolding or other areas where work is done at height places at risk of drop object. Here are some precautions to mitigate the risks of drop object:
Work at height
- Secure tools and materials to prevent them from falling on workers on lower levels.
- Check the guard rail system including the toe board on scaffolds to prevent falling objects. As an alternative, use platform racks to protect objects that might fall.
- Ensure the covering of the grating platform is enough to prevent materials from falling from one level to another.
- Keep excess materials or debris out of the work area, removing them at regular intervals.
- Never work under suspended loads.
- Put up barricades and warning signs in hazardous work areas.
- Inspect cranes and hoists before use to ensure that all components are in good working order; including sling and shackle, hooks and chains.
- Consider the full swing movement area when using cranes and hoists to move loads.
- Use a tagline when guiding a suspended load.
- Never exceed the load capacity of cranes and forklifts.
- Make sure shelves are secured to a wall or floor to prevent tipping.
- Make sure shelves and racks are strong enough and in good condition.
- Stack all materials on a flat base.
- Place heavy items close to the ground, and lighter/smaller items in higher areas.
- Please make sure the platform is deep enough for the materials being stored to prevent them from overhanging.
The main thing is that wearing a helmet is not enough. It should always be worn, but it only offers partial protection. Unless the dropped object is very small, it is likely to cause injury. Barriers, as we’ve already mentioned, shouldn’t be your first solution either. You need special procedures and equipment designed to add extra safety by using chin straps and making sure tools are equipped with lanyards.