When people are required to work at heights the focus is largely on people falling from heights as the main danger. This we are finding has changed quite significantly and followed close behind Falls, Trips and Slips is Falling Objects.
It is extremely difficult to find complete official reports and statistics in South Africa regarding falling objects in the workplace – after finding extreme claims, which I seriously hope are incorrect, such as ‘A total of 313 million injures are experienced by workers annually, or 860 000 injuries daily (Department of Labour (DoL), 2017).’ Without any proof this blog will be based on our international counterparts.
What is evident through the research is that Work at Heights (Falls, Slips and Trips) as well as Dropping Objects (Struck by moving object) were consistently featured in the top 3 positions for both injuries and fatal injuries in the workplace.
UK Population: 65.2 Million People
UK – NON-FATAL INJURIES
- Average from 2014 – 2017 = 610 000 incidents/year
- Fall From Heights: 152 000 incidents (24.9%)
- Dropped Objects: 53 000 incidents (8.7%)
UK – FATAL INJURIES
- Average from 2014 – 2017 = 144 people/year
- Fall From Heights: 40 people (27.7%)
- Dropped Objects: 17 people (11.8%)
USA Population: 321 Million People
USA – NON-FATAL INJURIES
- 2015 = 1 144 667 incidents
- Fall From Heights: 309 060 incidents (27%)
- Dropped Objects: 157 490 people (13.7%)
USA – FATAL INJURIES
- 2015 = 4 836 people/year
- Fall From Heights: 800 people (16.5%)
- Dropped Objects: 519 people (10.7%)
AUSTRALIA Population: 24.13 Million People
AUS – NON-FATAL INJURIES (SERIOUS CLAIMS)
- 2016 = 104 770 incidents/year
- Fall From Heights: 24 097 incidents (23%)
- Dropped Objects: 16 134 incidents (15.4%)
AUS – FATAL INJURIES
- 2016 = 182 people/year
- Fall From Heights: 25 people (14%)
- Dropped Objects: 52 people (29%)
The number which sticks out is that injuries (Fatal and Non-Fatal) between Work at Heights (WAH) and Dropping Objects covers a minimum of a quarter of all injuries and up to a maximum of two thirds in some instances.
What scares me is the level of seriousness with which people approach Dropped Objects. I will give it to the industry that there has been a fantastic drive to ensure elevated platforms/scaffolding is fitted with toe-boards (kick plates) as this eliminates the chance of objects being accidentally knocked off elevated platforms. Never the less the data is not good.
The USA has one of the most well enforced Health and Safety legal systems in the world and thus the incidents are generally countered by corrective action which reduces the probability of injury or death. Aside from that there are some concerns due to increases in percentages of dropped objects Incidents compared to fatalities. In Australia for example, Dropped Objects account for 15% of all serious incidents recorded in comparison to 29% of fatalities. That is a fascinating statistic! – almost a third of fatalities occur from dropped objects.
The dangers posed by falling objects
How far would you expect a piece of equipment to ricochet (deflect) should it fall and come into contact with a pipe, beam or object whilst falling? I decided to look into the actual physics of this type of occurrence. I have included the link at the bottom of the blog but here is the important take away:
- The weight of the dropped item does not impact the distance it can ricochet.
- The higher the dropped item strikes an object the less distance it will travel horizontally – Closer to the ground the worse the ricochet.
- The impact of the dropped item on the object does not reduce the kinetic energy applied to the dropped item – Once the dropped item has ricocheted the speed is minimally affected.
Now for the distance… Unfortunately all the sales sheets were basically correct and the maximum distance a dropped item can ricochet, in theory, is double the distance it was dropped. Ie. A wrench or spanner is dropped from 61m high, the worst case scenario is that it can land 122m away from the point the object would have reached if it had fallen straight down.
The next consideration to take into account is the weight and height the items is dropped from. Let’s use a 1kg spanner as an example – Not that scary. The danger we have with this tool is not the weight, yet. The danger is there is a chance of a blunt or puncture impact… Again, not that bad as the open end is rounded and not necessarily sharp. Take a look at the graph below:
Should that spanner be dropped from the 61 meter height the force it would create on ground level is 321kg’s (Basically a normal sized quad bike)… The blunt end is not so blunt anymore – Another way to look at it is if you drop a 2kg Hammer 6 meters – the force created is 217kgs (That’s more than a Cement Mixer).
There are a number of major consequences for both the person who may drop the tool and the unfortunate person it may strike.
- The person struck by a dropped tool could sustain serious (If not Fatal) injuries.
- The person who drops the tool may instinctively grab at the tool to catch it causing unbalance resulting in them falling.
- The person working with the tool may have to climb back down to retrieve their equipment – No good for productivity.
- The dropped tool may cause serious damage to inanimate objects it collides with – Piping, Flooring or itself.
Ensuring you and your team have the correct Fall Protection for Tools system (TAC*) will prevent possible injury or productivity. There are solutions in the market which can accommodate tools up to 36.6kg’s.
*TAC – The system which ensure the tool and user are kept safe (Tool Connection, Anchor Connection and Connector)
Adequate training should be provided too to ensure thing like the user realises it is unsafe to connect more than single tools of 2.2kgs to themselves and maximum total tools of 8kgs.
I believe this, in the same respect to Work at Heights, needs to be spoken about more and better understood specifically in South Africa where this is all still relatively new to us.