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Employers are getting better and better at focusing on fall hazards to which their employees are exposed, but what about protecting them from falling object hazards? Equally as dangerous as falling itself, falling objects can result in fatalities in the workplace.! In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), struck-by injuries account for an average of 22 worker deaths each year. For example, these deaths equate to almost 10 percent of construction fatalities per year. To avoid struck-by injuries that may result in severe head trauma, and hopefully lower the number of worker deaths per year, OSHA includes falling object hazards in the struck-by category of their Focus Four hazards.

Several OSHA general industry and construction regulations require employers to ensure workers are protected from any hazard that may “fall from the sky” including:

  • 29 CFR 1910.28(c),
  • 29 CFR 1910.29(k), and
  • 1926.759 specific to construction work.

Industries such as construction, steel erection, billboard advertising, electric power generation, and logging operations are especially prone to situations where overhead hazards could exist for workers below. Within these and other industries, activities such as maintenance, demolition, and construction lead the charge in falling object hazards. These hazards range from tools and materials accidentally being knocked off work platforms to suspended loads falling from forklifts or cranes.

Employers should perform hazard assessments any time work is performed on walking surfaces or roofs, using aerial or scissor lifts, powered platforms used for building maintenance, scaffolding, or when working on other elevated surfaces. Consider the following engineering controls after performing a falling object hazard assessment:

  • Toe boards, guardrails, and paneling or screens to prevent objects from accidentally being dropped or bumped off working surfaces to lower levels,
  • Safety netting or canopies to catch objects that may fall from elevated work areas,
  • Barricades beneath elevated work zone to prevent entry into falling object or struck-by hazard areas, and
  • Hole coverings (except at entrance to a hole where gates or offsets must be used) to prevent objects or materials from fall through to a lower level.

Ensure hard hats are used to protect those working below elevated work, especially in areas that cannot be secured by engineering controls. There are many simple and efficient safe work practices where struck-by from falling object hazards exist, including:

  • Ensuring openings in guardrails are small enough to keep tools and materials from falling below,
  • Ensuring work platforms are inspected for effective toe boards and other engineering controls before work begins,
  • Limiting the number of workers and the amount of equipment, tools, or materials on working surfaces, and
  • Securing tools and materials to work platforms or elevated surfaces to prevent them from falling below.

Fall protection in the workplace extends much further than ensuring workers are wearing fall harnesses or properly using the correct ladder. Falling object hazards can be equally devastating not just to the worker, but to your bottom line. So, instead of overreacting to a perceived danger like Chicken Little, it is more important to identify and proactively protect workers from the real dangers of falling objects.