Industry News

Preparation and Protection When Dropped Objects Become Fatal

This article was first published in Construction Business Owner Magazine and is reprinted with permission. It ​can be viewed online at​.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 50,000 “struck by falling object” OSHA recordables every year in the United States. That is one injury caused by a dropped object every 10 minutes. But how many dropped object accidents go unrecorded? With the number of objects dropped, it’s amazing how few people are getting hurt. Although awareness of the dropped object threat has existed for as long as objects and tools have been used at height, reports of near misses and injuries have recently become even more prevalent.

Despite these statistics—and the fact that many of these accidents could have been prevented with the proper safety gear—many contractors do not take the necessary precautions to prevent fall-related injuries by providing workers with personal fall protection systems for both themselves and for their tools.

This discussion should not be about catching the object that falls from a height or limiting the damage a falling object can do by wearing a hardhat or other personal protective equipment (PPE). It is about preventing the object from ever falling in the first place. Why? Because most people have no idea how much force something like a falling hammer generates, even when dropped from a moderate height. Most people don’t have a cursory understanding of forces caused by an object hitting and deflecting off something during the drop. Simply put, most workers underestimate the dangers of dropped objects.​ ​​​

The Consequences of Dropped Objects

​It’s easy for anyone to comprehend the dangers of people falling from height, but the consequences of dropped objects are less straightforward. As a result, additional education at all levels is necessary to keep your jobsite free from incident.

For example, a 3-pound tool falling from 200 feet strikes the earth with 1,062 pounds per square inch of force. But what does that mean? It means that hardhats and drop zones are of little consequence when an object carrying this kind of energy makes a direct impact or deflects off of another object before it hits the ground.

Apply this physics lesson to a real-world application. There is a video online in which workers in Rio de Janeiro are doing repair work on the 125-foot-high Christ the Redeemer statue after it was struck by lightning. In the video, the workers are tied off above a crowd of people, but are using a hammer and chisel that are not secured. One of the workers answers a call from his son on his cellphone, which is also not secured. What if that hammer, chisel or cellphone had fallen from the top of the statue into the crowd of people below? To determine what kind of force an object falling from heights can generate, calculations can be done around the physics of gravity.

For example, an 8-pound wrench dropped from 200 feet would hit with a force of 2,833 pounds per square inch. That is the equivalent of a small car hitting a 1-square-inch area. So, if that worker had dropped an object and it had hit a visitor below, it would have likely caused a severe injury, if not a fatality.

In another example, in New Jersey, a man delivering sheet rock was killed by a dropped tape measure on a construction site. The victim, an 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 tape measure that was dropped by a worker from 50 stories above. The 1-pound tape measure ricocheted off construction equipment about 10 feet above the ground and hit the trucker on the side of the head. Although he was not wearing a hardhat, it is not clear whether that would have saved him, given that the object deflected off a piece of equipment near the ground before striking him.​

So, how do you raise awareness of dropped object prevention? Mark Caldwell talks about that and incorporating tools and equipment into a fall protection program. Read more.​