Look Out: Falling and Flying Objects at Work

People go to work expecting to come home safe and sound at the end of the day. For many people, reality doesn’t live up to their expectations. In fact, according to OSHA, “13 workers are killed on the job in America” every day.

A significant number of injuries and deaths result from objects being dropped from a height. Roughly 250 workers die yearly from falling objects, and hundreds more experience grievous injuries. Half of these accidents are the result of human error. While it is impossible to eliminate all injury risks in the workplace, there are measures employers can take to reduce the risk of dropped objects as much as possible.

In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, impacts, and ways to prevent injuries from dropped objects in the workplace.

Why Are the Causes of Dropped or Falling Objects?

Dropped objects are a common hazard in the workplace, and they can cause serious injuries or death. The most common causes of dropped objects are human error and inappropriate tools. Other factors contributing to accidents include faulty equipment, poor maintenance, and inadequate safety measures.

Other the most common causes include:

  • Unsecured loads: When materials are not adequately secured, they can easily fall off a truck or cart and injure someone below.
  • Poorly maintained equipment: If machines aren’t adequately lubricated or repaired, they fall apart and drop heavy objects on workers below.
  • Workers unaware of their surroundings: Workers can be so focused on their task that they don’t see an object dropping until it’s too late. Lack of awareness is dangerous for workers who drop objects and the workers beneath them. 

Impacts of Dropped Objects on Workers

Workplace injuries from falling objects are, unfortunately, all too common. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50,000 people are injured by falling objects at work each year. That’s about one person every ten minutes. In workplaces where employees regularly work at heights, handheld tools and pieces of debris are the most common objects that fall and cause injuries.

The impacts of a dropped object can be catastrophic for workers. Injuries can range from minor cuts and scrapes to more severe head injuries, spinal cord injuries, or even death. While death from falling objects is relatively rare—about 680 people every year—nonfatal head injuries and spine injuries can result in dire long-term consequences. In the worst cases, head and spine injuries can prevent someone from making a living for the rest of their lives.

Preventing Injuries from Dropped Objects

There are two basic steps employers must take to reduce the risk of injury from dropped objects. First, identify potential hazards in the workplace and assess environmental risk factors that could lead to dropped tools or materials. Next, implement practices and policies to minimize those risks. Employers should follow these steps proactively, i.e., they shouldn’t wait until someone gets hurt to do these things.

Employers can use equipment to prevent workers from being injured by falling tools. Safety measures should include: 

  • Nets that hang below the work area
  • Dropping arrestors (devices that stop an object from hitting the ground) 
  • Safety harnesses to keep workers secured to the structure

While these measures can help reduce the risk of injury, they are not 100% effective. Employers should also ensure workers get trained on how to use their equipment and are aware of their surroundings at all times.

What Industries Face the Biggest Risk of Injury from Falling Objects?

Construction, manufacturing, and transportation are the most common industries where falling objects injure workers. These industries often have employees working at heights or near moving machinery.

Construction sites often introduce the risk of falling objects because construction workers often perform tasks at a height with heavy handheld tools. Without proper precautions, it’s easy for tools or debris to fall and cause injury. Employers in the construction industry are especially obligated to mitigate the risk of falling objects due to the heightened likelihood of an employee or contractor getting hurt.

The Exponential Danger of Shape, Height & Mass

Three factors affect how harmful a given object is when dropped: its shape, mass, and drop height. For instance, a tape measure dropped from 200 feet could devastate whomever it lands. But a steel spike (like the end of a spud wrench) dropped from just a few feet could be just as devastating. One story from Canadian Occupational Safety discussed a construction worker who was out of work for two years after being stabbed through the torso by a falling sleever bar—essentially a long spike.

One of the hidden consequences of working in construction is your windshield shattering due to falling debris if you’re parked on-site. An object the size of your thumb could be deadly if dropped off the edge of a building. It’s why construction sites need strict hardhat policies.

The Importance of Site Housekeeping

Although it may appear unimportant, housekeeping plays a crucial role in site safety. When tools and equipment are left lying around, they become a potential hazard to employees. Employers can immediately create a safer environment by ensuring work sites and toolkits are organized properly.

When well-kept housekeeping practices diminish and become replaced with poorer habits, the likelihood of accidents or human error also skyrockets. With that, other risks follow suit; fire becomes a more prominent hazard from oil-soaked rags or spontaneous combustion, for example. Additionally, personnel can suffer serious injuries from hazards that previous workers left behind, especially because different teams rotate in and out. The people who first spot hazards may not be who gets affected later on.

Dropped object injuries can have dire consequences for employees in the short and long term. Employers should implement safe work practices and procedures to prevent these injuries and ensure their workers are properly trained. Unfortunately, many employers do not take these measures seriously until someone gets hurt. Ultimately, employers have a duty to protect their workers from falling objects—a responsibility they cannot take lightly.

Making sure employers do the right thing is why work injury lawyers exist. We hold employers accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) and help ensure that all workers are kept safe while on the job.

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