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‘It’s a serious problem’: Cost of dropped objects include fatalities, injuries

Learning Lab

San Diego — Dropped objects on a worksite create a multitude of costs.

In 2016, dropped objects resulted in 255 worker fatalities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The issue is one of OSHA’s “Fatal Four” causes of construction deaths, accounting for 9.4% of fatal injuries in the industry.

The number of nonfatal falling object-related injuries reported in 2016 was 47,920. Dropped objects, according to BLS data, is the third-leading cause of injuries on jobsites and not only results in worker fatalities and injuries, but damage to equipment, structures and the environment as well.

Matthew Moreau, product manager of dropped tools and FME for Pure Safety Group, addressed the topic Tuesday during the “Safety at Heights: Using Innovation and a New Standard to Keep Workers Safe at Heights – Fall Protection” Technical Session at the National Safety Council 2019 Congress & Expo.

“It’s a serious problem,” Moreau said. “Not only is it a fatal problem and an injury problem, but it’s also an expensive problem.”

Moreau cited a Liberty Mutual study that noted “struck by” was the cause of $5.3 billion in workers’ compensation claims in 2015. Employers can help limit deaths, injuries and workers’ comp costs resulting from these incidents by instituting tool tethering efforts.

With a background in the nuclear power industry, Moreau said his exposure to the issue came from power plants trying to avoid workers leaving tools inside large machinery such as generators. The issue has since advanced to other workplaces.

“That carried on to the oil and gas industry, and now we’re starting to see it carry on in construction,” he said. “There’s a lot we can learn from other industries. Oil and gas is way ahead of the curve from where it was five, 10 years ago.”

Some examples of dropped objects are a tool vibrating off of a catwalk or housekeeping issues, Moreau said. Among the most common safety measures protecting workers are hard hats, gloves, tethers and tool buckets.

The industry is working on a standard to address dropped objects, but in the meantime, Moreau said he has noticed OSHA issuing more citations using its General Duty Clause.

“Five years ago, we wouldn’t have heard about anyone getting [cited], but at this show alone, I’ve heard three different stories,” he said.

To get started, Moreau encouraged employers to take three steps to improve safety performance:

  • Evaluate your use of tool tethering, and ask if you’re using tethering when you should be.
  • Compare yourself with peers in your industry to see if your methods are makeshift ones or efficient.
  • Stand out from the crowd by improving your tool tethering proactively to show how important safety is to your company.