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With so many injuries caused by slips, trips, and falls, employers are justifiably focused on identifying fall hazards and providing appropriate fall protection. Keep in mind, however, that when employees working at heights face the risk of falls, anyone working at lower levels could be at risk from falling objects. In addition, if your company uses cranes or conveyors to transport materials overhead, these could also create a hazard from falling objects.

Wherever workers could be struck by falling objects, employers must provide head protection such as hard hats. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also requires employers to evaluate and use other controls to reduce the risk of falling objects.

Evaluate hazards and controls

Employers must evaluate the potential for falling objects, but may choose and implement any appropriate protective measures. Some common measures include:

  • Toeboards that prevent small objects from rolling off a platform edge.
  • Screens placed around guardrails to prevent small objects from falling through.
  • Canopy structures erected over workers at lower levels to deflect items from above.
  • Barricades that prevent workers from entering a hazard zone (often used during construction activities).

One reason OSHA requires these extra measures is that hard hats only protect the head from small objects. They don’t protect other body parts (like arms or shoulders) and they aren’t effective against heavier objects. Serious injuries can occur even if employees wear hard hats.

If employees need to walk under conveyors or perform tasks below others who are working at heights, some type of protective measures must be used to prevent items from falling on workers below — even if the workers below are wearing hard hats.

After evaluating the workplace for fall hazards, go back and evaluate those areas for falling object hazards. If workers could be struck by falling objects, talk with your safety manager about how to reduce the risk using engineering controls. Whenever hard hats are required, make sure employees wear them, but remember that personal protective equipment should be the last line of defense, not the first or only form of protection.