Imagine working up on construction scaffolding, a wind turbine or any other type of elevated work platform without your fall-arrest safety harness. Chances are you probably can’t imagine it, because it’s a reckless scenario.

Now, imagine working 300 feet in the air on one of those elevated work platforms without properly tethering your tools. It happens every day and that’s just as reckless a scenario as not wearing your fall-arrest safety harness.

Deadly consequences

In November 2014, a 58-year-old man was killed after being struck in the head with a tape measure that had become dislodged from the belt of a worker on the 50th floor of a high-rise construction project in New Jersey. The man wasn’t even directly underneath the falling tool. Rather, the one-pound tape measure fell nearly 500 feet, ricocheted off a piece of equipment about 15 feet from the ground, bounced once and struck the man’s head. He was just exiting his vehicle to make a delivery to the work site. The man, who wasn’t wearing a hard hat, was transported to the hospital, where he died later that day. A one-pound tool falling from that height struck the ground traveling about 140 mph.

Dropped objects have become such an epidemic that some companies have implemented policies terminating employees responsible for a drop. Plus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that being struck by a falling object is the third leading cause of workplace fatalities, and many of these accidents are completely preventable.

There are a few basic guidelines from OSHA that industrial sites should follow to help protect workers from falling objects: workers wearing hard hats; platforms with toe boards to prevent things from getting kicked to the ground; and debris nets to catch falling objects. Still, the best defense is to prevent tools from falling in the first place.   

Worker deaths from falling objects can be lowered if technicians tethered their tools. When technicians don their safety harness, they need to be considering how their tools are tethered. These actions should go hand-in-hand and become second nature on job sites. When that happens, the death rate from falling objects will start to decline.

Old problems… new ideas

Tethered tools are not a new concept. Tethering devices come in many shapes and sizes, but many fall short for one reason or another. The most common complaint of tethered devices is that they inhibit the functionality of the tool. A tool can be tethered, but if a technician refuses to use the device because it’s too cumbersome, then the design fails and the objective of a safer working environment is not reached.

Engineered attachment points

New technologies for drop prevention are emerging that focus on maintaining or enhancing a tool’s functionality. Innovative new offerings do just that. Here are a few examples:

  • Locking Pins - Square drive tools and accessories are designed and manufactured with spring loaded lock buttons in square drives. The lock button engages with side lock holes drilled in sockets, extensions, and adaptors ensuring positive retention. A pin release tool is used to separate components in the system. This method is preferred over using quick release tools because a quick release button or collar can be activated inadvertently causing the drive tools to separate and become dangerous dropped objects.
  • Rotating Tabs - Screwdrivers are fitted with stainless steel tabs that rotate freely 360° so lanyards do not get tangled around the user’s hand or the screwdriver handle. This method also leaves all of the handle surfaces available to be used for power and control.
  • Safety Coils - The stainless steel coils are installed on wrenches and slide along the wrench handle out of the way from an operator’s hand. This provides full use of the wrench’s handle, which provides reach and leverage when needed.
  • Strategic Location - Removable jaws on pipe wrenches are pinned or drilled so the jaw cannot be separated from the wrench handle. This is critical because simply attaching to the hang hole already forged into the wrench handle leaves too great a risk of dropping the removable jaw.

Transporting and using tools safely

Industry has studied the most common cause of tool drops – the transfer between storage and use. More than half of drop incidents occur during this frequent action. With most systems, in order to secure a tool, the technician must first retrieve it and then clip or attach it to a lanyard. This process involves both hands and creates potential for dropped tools. This practice is one that required attention. When working at height, technicians should maintain three points of contact for their safety: two feet on a platform and one hand on a secured infrastructure. By using both hands to handle tools and attach the tool to a tethering device, the technician loses one point of contact.

Tethering systems have been developed that eliminate the additional actions normally required to secure tools. An example is a tool belt in which each tool has its own pouch or holster with a tethering device already installed. This enables the technician to simply remove the tool, use it, and put it back into its place on the belt – all with one hand.

Tethering devices as PPE

There’s a reason why a technician puts on a fall-arrest safety harness, because he’s heading to work at height and doesn’t want to fall. When working in this environment, technicians need to ensure their tools are tethered. This is the mindset change that needs to occur on job sites. Eliminating dropped objects has become as important as eliminating falls when working toward achieving a safe work environment.