Protect Workers from Falling Objects

By: John Salentine, Co-founder & Vice President, Hammerhead Industries Inc.

A Tool Falling from a 100ft Construction Site Will Hit the Ground in Less Than Two Seconds!

Correct tool tethering is a delicate balance of maximizing productivity while safely minimizing the incidence of tools dropped from aloft. This article will help you select the proper tether—based on tool weight and usage—to provide effective tethering solutions that significantly improve productivity and safety.

In its rapid descent, a falling hammer can become an unguided missile that may seriously endanger everything and everyone below. It is a serious site-safety issue. At best, the falling object will just increase maintenance costs by downtime spent retrieving and repairing the dropped tool; at worst, it will cause serious injury to personnel and significant damage to equipment. It is a situation that can be easily avoided by using a properly matched tool or instrument tether.

According to a recent Liberty Mutual’s Safety Index, accidents caused by objects falling from above cost U.S. industry more than $5 billion last year and was the fifth-leading cost of industrial accidents. A staggering figure: yet this type of accident is almost completely preventable by using relatively inexpensive tethering devices. OSHA Reg #1926.759 (a) states that equipment and tools, which are not in use while aloft, shall be secured against accidental displacement.

This article addresses the three overriding objectives the safety engineer must consider when buying tethers for employees.

Employee Safety – Obviously, the objective of tethering tools is to avoid tools falling from above, but what are the factors impacting the safety of the employee using the tether?

Employee Productivity – Does the tool lanyard interfere with the duties of the job or make it easier and safer to do the job?

Employee Attitude – How can I make the worker my partner in tethering safety?

In addition, the article will ask and answer the questions safety engineers must know:

  • Depending on the application, what is better choice for the worker’s safety,

a retractable tool tether or tool lanyard tether?

  • What are the safety implications of tethering when the job entails climbing,

crawling or repelling?

  • What are the optimum methods of safely attaching the tether to the worker…tool…or instrument?
  • How do you safely tether tools or instruments that don’t have fittings for attachment?
  • Does the tether have a quick release option to easily change tools and how does

this impact the safety of the worker?

  • Can you rely on the manufacturer’s “load limit” designation of the tether?
  • Where can you find custom tethering solutions for special applications or tools?

The safety engineers’ goal in correct tethering procedures is to make sure the tool, application and recoil/retraction force are in balance. Ideally, when the tool is extended for use, only minimal force should be necessary, so as to prevent worker fatigue or, in the reverse, cause a “kick” when retracted. The challenge to the safety engineer is to provide a tether that is both friendly to the user and appropriate for the work environment. Equally important, the tether or lanyard must have ample safety margins, beyond the weight rating of the tether, to mitigate the drop force in the event of a dropped tool.

With such a high risk to workers’ safety, here is a simplified guide to help you select tethers for tools weighing up to 25 pounds.

Tool and instrument tethers fall into five broad categories:

  1. A) Retractable Lanyards B) Wrist Lanyards C) Personal Tethers          D) Personal Tether     E) Anchor Tether

w/Anchor Strap

Step 1. Determine tool tether type based on tool weight and usage

The most common tool tethers and lanyards for tools up to 25lbs generally fall into five categories: Retractable Lanyards; Wrist Lanyards; Personal Tethers, Personal Tethers with Anchor Strap and Anchored Tethers.

For tools up to 2lbs, the following options are best:

  • Retractable Lanyards provide an ultra-low profile to keep the tool close to the body. This is important for working in confined-space and/or when climbing is required. They are also ideal for multiple tether use. (Photo A)
  • Wrist Lanyards are low-profile tethers that provide a short drop length for easy retrieval of a dropped hand tool. (Photo B)
  • Personal Tool Tethers are best for single-use tools that moves with the worker. (Photo C)
  • Personal Tool Tether w/Anchor Strap for single-use tools attached to a structure for additional security or ease of use. (Photo D)

For tools up to 15lbs, the following options are best:

  • Personal Tool Tethers are best for a single-use tool that moves with the worker. (Photo C)
  • Personal Tool Tether w/ Anchor Strap for a single-use tool that is attached to a structure. (Photo D)
  • Anchored Tether System that attaches a heavy tool (5lbs or more) to a structure. (Photo E)

For tools up to 25lbs, the following options are best:

  • Personal Tool Tether w/ Anchor Strap for a single-use tool that is attached to a structure. (Photo D)
  • Anchored Tether System that attaches a heavy tool to a structure. (Photo E)

[Note: Generally, any tool over 5lbs should always be anchored to a structure to transfer the “dropped tool” shock load from the person to the structure.]

  1. F) Fixed Lanyard G) Side Release

Step 2. Determine if tether is for single tool or multi-tool use

  1. A Fixed Lanyard System is acceptable when you don’t need to remove a tool from the lanyard. (Photo F)
  2. When easy tool change-out is required a Side Release Lanyard System or Carabiner Clip are the best options. (Photo G)

Step 3. Determine the tool attachment point

  1. Tool has lanyard loop. Attach lanyard to loop.
  2. Tool has large ends. Ends must be large enough to allow a lanyard to be looped and cinched securely without slipping off.
  3. Tool has small ends or no lanyard loop. If tool does not have large enough ends (looped lanyard would slide off) or lacks a lanyard loop, you must attach a ring.
  4. Tool modification. If none of the above works, the tool must be modified by a safety engineer or the tool manufacturer.

In conclusion, when choosing tethers, here are nine points to keep in mind.

  1. Choose your tethers based on all factors of use. There are thousands of tethering choices available from manufacturers specializing in tool, gear and instrument tethers to tool manufacturers.
  2. When tool tethers are ordered without specifications beyond the weight of the tool, chances are good that the tether may not be appropriate. Unlike fall-protection devices, there are no universal specifications governing tool tethers. As such, the safety engineer has no real basis for choosing proper tethers and may arbitrarily determine tether selection—based solely on the weight of the tool, i.e., “I need a tether for a 3lb tool.” Without additional specifications, this may be creating a potentially dangerous situation.
  3. An improperly mated tool and lanyard can inherently lead to reduced productivity and exposure to injury.
  4. Tethering heavy tools to a person (generally over 5lbs), is a significant safety concern, and safety engineers should instead consider using anchor tethers. Anchored tethering safely transfers the shock load produced by a dropped tool from the worker to the structure.
  5. For very heavy tools (over 10lbs), structure anchoring should be mandatory.
  6. When choosing an “Anchored Tethering System” choose one that offers up to a 10ft working length for maximum safety and efficiency.
  7. Modular tethering systems offer the most options for safe tool tethering
  8. When employees are using a group of small hand tools (under 2lbs) Quick Connect tethers offer easy tool change-out and avoid the entanglement danger of having multiple tethers.
  9. Before you purchase a tool or instrument tethering system, make sure that the tethers and lanyards are dynamically load tested for the tool weight specified. Confirm that the tool tether weight ratings indicated have a safety margin beyond the break point, so the tether or lanyard can safely handle the shock load of a dropped tool or instrument. WMHS

[Editor’s note: John Salentine co-founded and is Vice President of Hammerhead Industries Inc., manufacturers of the Gear Keeper tethering systems. For almost two decades, they have been the world’s leading manufacturer of retractable tethers and lanyards exclusively for tools, gear and instruments. The company looks forward to assisting safety engineers with their tethering needs and offers a free 12-page “Safety Engineer’s Tool and Instrument Tethering Guide.”  gearkeeper.com/guide]