Falling Objects Hazards and Control Measures

Control Measures to Prevent Materials Falling from the Height

Every day, workers are injured or killed as a result of objects falling from height. These incidents can be prevented by taking proper precautions and implementing effective control measures. In this article, we will discuss the dangers of falling objects and outline some steps that you can take to protect your workers.

Falling objects are one of the leading causes of worker injuries and fatalities. In fact, OSHA estimates that each year there are over 34,000 injuries and nearly 400 deaths caused by falling objects. These accidents can occur when workers are struck by tools or equipment that fall from height, or when they are hit by debris that has been dislodged from above.

Most falling object accidents occur when workers are struck by tools or equipment that fall from an elevated work platform, scaffold, or crane. Other common causes of falling object accidents include objects that are knocked over by wind gusts and objects that are improperly stored or secured.

Preventing Falls and Falling Materials

Proper planning and supervision of work are important to prevent falls from height and falling materials. Those responsible for such work should be experienced and should use their knowledge to ensure:

  • The selection and use of correct access equipment.
  • Correct provision and handling of tools and materials (especially getting them up and down from work locations).
  • Adequate information, instruction and training for all persons who will be involved.

Regular inspections of the workplace, work equipment and work methods are essential to reduce the risks. Unsafe acts should not be tolerated and should be stopped immediately, ensuring all employees know why the work is being stopped, as well as the consequences if further unsafe work is carried out. Unsafe conditions should be corrected on the spot.

A simple hierarchy can be adopted to prevent falls:

  • Provide a safe working platform with guardrails, fences, toe-boards, etc. that are strong enough to prevent a fall.
  • Where this is not possible or reasonable, provide properly installed personal equipment, such as rope access or boatswain’s chairs.
  • If this is not possible and a worker can approach an unprotected edge, provide equipment that will arrest falls, such as a safety harness or safety net.

This last option does not prevent falls but it does minimize the distance of the fall and the consequences (i.e. injury).

Prevention of injury caused by falling materials should be controlled using a similar approach:

  • Prevent materials from falling using physical safeguards such as toeboards and brick-guards (see later).
  • If risk remains, use physical safeguards to prevent falling objects from hitting people below, such as debris netting, fans (wooden shielding angled to catch debris) and covered walkways.

Guardrails and Toeboards

Wherever possible, protection should be provided at all unprotected edges to prevent people and materials from falling. This can be achieved by means of guardrails, toeboards and brick guards on scaffolding and other platforms. Guardrails are designed to prevent people from falling, whereas toeboards and brick guards are principally designed to stop materials from falling.

The key characteristics of any guardrail are that it should:

  • Fully enclose all of the exposed unprotected edges.
  • Be robust enough so that it will not bend or distort when fallen against (e.g. it should not be a chain or rope).
  • Be securely fixed in position so it will withstand any foreseeable impact.
  • Be high enough to prevent a person from toppling over the top.
  • Not have any excessively large gaps in it through which a person could fall.

Toeboards are usually scaffold planks laid on their edge at right angles (90°) to the working platform. They are laid at the outer edges and ends of the working platform, although sometimes the inner edge (the one nearest the building) also requires edge protection. Toeboards prevent small objects, such as rubble and tools, from being casually kicked off the platform.

Brickguards prevent a more substantial amount of material from falling and have a secondary function of helping prevent people from falling as well.

The principle of using guardrails, toeboards and brick guards can be applied to the edges of flat roofs, scaffolds, mobile tower scaffolds and Mobile Elevating Work Platforms (MEWPs, such as cherry-pickers), and access cradles (as used for window cleaning).

Any gaps in edge protection (e.g. to allow access by ladder) should be the minimum required for reasonable access.

Work Platforms

Work platforms (e.g. on a scaffold tower) should be:

  • Sufficiently large to allow safe use.
  • Capable of bearing the loads imposed upon them.
  • Fully boarded to prevent gaps that could present tripping hazards, or allow materials or people to fall through.

Usually, the platform is made up of scaffold boards resting on the scaffold framework. The boards should be free from significant defects, such as rotted timber, large cracks, split ends or large/numerous notches cut into the wood. Usually, boards should be supported by three support members. Boards should not have long overlaps beyond their supports (because of the possible see-saw effect).

Suspended Access Equipment

Suspended access equipment usually consists of a suspended cradle lowered into position from above. The cradle can be fully guarded in with guardrails and toe-boards to provide a safe work platform.

In some instances, it is not practicable to use this sort of equipment, so it may be necessary to use personal suspended-access equipment, such as a boatswain’s chair.

A boatswain’s chair can be used for light, short-term work. The chair usually consists of a seat with a back, a suspension point and a means for carrying tools. The user should be attached to the chair by a harness to prevent falls. Control of descent is by the user, based on the same techniques as abseiling, although there should not be a single suspension point.

Head Protection

Construction and industrial sites almost always have a risk of falling or moving objects, so they should be mandatory hard-hat areas. A hard hat protects the wearer from a severe head injury as a result of:

  • The impact from small objects that fall.
  • Being struck by moving objects.

It will not protect the wearer from heavy impact, such as might occur if the object is very large and heavy (e.g. a scaffold tube) or is dropped from a great height (e.g. a hammer from 10 storeys up). Therefore, alternative methods should be used to prevent falling objects and control moving objects.

In certain situations where a worker is at risk of striking their head in the event of a fall, it is more appropriate for them to wear a climbing helmet rather than a hard hat. A climbing helmet is designed to give protection against falling objects and impact to the head in the event of a fall and will have a chin strap with four points of attachment.

Emergency Rescue

Emergency procedures need to be developed for reasonably foreseeable events where workers might become trapped while working at height (e.g. unable to climb back after falling in a safety harness).

The method of rescue may well be simple, such as putting a ladder up to a net and allowing the fallen person to descend. In other circumstances, the use of other work equipment may need to be considered, such as MEWPs or proprietary rescue systems.

Whatever method is selected, arrangements should be available to rescue a person, and employers must ensure that those involved are trained in the procedures and that the equipment required is available.

Typical Hazards Related to Striking by Moving, Flying or Falling Objects

Prevention Of Falling Materials Through Safe Stacking And Storage

It is estimated that two million working days are lost each year regarding handling injuries and slip and trip incidents. Such incidents can occur in warehouses and storage facilities when palletized goods are stacked higher than two storeys and often weigh several tonnes. Implementing tried and tested methods for safe racking and storage is essential to mitigate the risks of an incident.

It is often possible to remove high-level storage from offices and other general workplaces, such as construction sites, and provide storage in warehouses or similar storage facilities. If a storage facility is to be installed for the first time, then the following points should be considered:

  • The racking must be erected on and fixed securely to a sound, level floor. 
  • The storage system must be installed in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions. 
  • If the racking is to be secured to the wall of a building, has this been proved by structural calculations which should be made to ensure that the walls can support the racking and its contents securely? 
  • Beam-connector locks must be fixed at both ends of the beam. 
  • Maximum-load notices must be displayed. 
  • Correct pallets must be used. 
  • Sufficient protective equipment must be used, such as column guards and rack-end protectors.

Management and employees should familiarise themselves with the racking systems used and ensure they understand the difference between general wear and tear and real damage to help them identify potentially dangerous situations as early as possible. Storage racking is particularly vulnerable and should be strong and stable enough for the loads it has to carry. Damage from vehicles in a warehouse can easily weaken the structure and cause collapse. Uprights need protection, particularly at corners.

The following action can be taken to keep racking serviceable:

  • Inspect them regularly and encourage workers to report any problems/defects. 
  • Post notices with maximum permissible loads and never exceed the loading. 
  • Use good pallets and safe stacking methods. 
  • Band, box, or wrap articles to prevent items from falling. 
  • Set limits on the height of stacks and regularly inspect to ensure that limits are being followed. 
  • Provide instruction and training for staff and special procedures for difficult objects.

Regular visual inspections should be carried out and documented to resolve any damage quickly. In particular, staff should be trained to act if damage occurs to and affects:

  • the cross-sectional profile of the main load beam; 
  • the straightness of beams, bracing, or uprights; and 
  • the welds and joints, or bolts and clips.

Shelving and storage solutions can be installed to guard against back strains and other injuries, allowing access and retrieval of stock at a comfortable, ergonomic height. Products such as vertical storage machines or pallet pull-out units are possible solutions, as they are designed so that stock can be reached without unnecessary straining.

Generally, storage racks should be examined by a qualified inspector approved by the Storage Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (SEMA) at least once or twice a year.

During an inspection, particular attention will be paid to beams, uprights, frame bracing, floor fixings, and lock-in clips, as indicated in the SEMA Code of Practice, guideline no. 6. The following will also be subject to general observations:

  • pallet locations on beams; 
  • conditions and types of pallets; 
  • positioning of loads and types of loads stored on pallets; 
  • general fork-lift operatives’ use of the racking; 
  • the condition and type of floor on which the racking is fixed; 
  • general housekeeping of the installation; and 
  • possible changes from the original design requirements.

With warehouse managers relying increasingly on temporary and agency workers, who sometimes have little, or no prior experience of working in warehouse or storage environments, it is vital that safety training becomes part of the induction process.

All materials used in the construction process on-site must be stacked or stored safely. This will keep the site tidy and reduce slip and trip hazards. It will also help to reduce the risk of fire. Dangerous substances should be kept in a safe place in a separate building or in the open air. Only small quantities of hazardous and/or flammable substances should be kept on the site. Any more significant amounts, which cannot be kept outside in a safe area, should be kept in a special fire-resisting store that is well ventilated and free of ignition sources. Flammable gas cylinders also need to be stored and used safely. 

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