Identifying Causes of Dropped Objects

Of all the reasons that can cause dropped object incidents to come about, the top ten can be identified as the primary causes.

Dropped Objects: Forewarned is forearmed

An introduction

Dropped object incidents can occur at any time, for any number of different reasons. On worksites – especially those in the energy industry – the likelihood of a dropped object risk occurring is significantly higher. Any location with a large number of potential hazards means there will inevitably be a greater number of risks that could be realised.

Dropped objects can be all manner of items, from heavy light fixtures to nuts and bolts, and the impact they can have can be equally as huge. Knowing why they happen and the main causes is a key element, as only by having this knowledge can avoidance and mitigation strategies be decided upon and put into place.

Of all the reasons that can cause dropped object incidents to come about, the top ten can be identified as the primary causes.

#1 Improper Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is a crucial element important to all sectors within the energy industry, and is an essential part of dropped object prevention. Risk assessment tools are used to help prevent major hazards – such as dropped objects – from injuring workers.

Principle Risk Management Framework

The probability that something is likely to cause injury – combined together with the potential severity of the injury – is classified as a risk.

Inadequate acknowledgement, understanding and assessment of risks makes for an unsafe work site. Risks can only be controlled and dealt with through risk assessment.

Risk assessment and analysis should be compulsory, and enables the establishment of priorities, so as the most dangerous situations can be addressed first, eliminating not just dropped object risks, but all elements of worksite accidents. Inadequate risk assessment makes for unsafe workplaces, which could easily cost in reputation and, if unaddressed, the health, wellbeing and potentially the lives of staff.

A Five Step Guide to Risk Assessment

    1) Identify the hazards
    2) Who might be harmed and how
    3) Evaluate risks and decide control measures
    4) Record findings
    5) Review and update as required

#2 Human Factors

When you have humans, you will have human error.

Human factors go beyond each individual employee, looking at interrelated elements and behaviours that, through improved procedures and updated cultural practice, can create positive changes to a work site. One of the main things to remember is that everyone in any workplace is ‘only human’, and as humans are all fallible; accidents such as dropped objects can and do happen.

Many of these factors that result in dropped objects can be prevented or, when not preventable, be rectified before personnel safety becomes an issue. Basic safety training upon the hiring of new employees is a start, yet the evaluation of human factors needs to be an ongoing effort involving all employees. Human factors need to be understood in order for an occupational safety professional to find ways to mitigate risks with ‘stopgap’ measures, preventing accidents – like dropped object incidents – before they occur.

#3 Inadequate Procedures

Similarly to improper risk assessments, inadequate procedures often come from, or as a result of, poor planning and no management of change. Management of change is something that needs to be in place in order to identify and control risk that comes from changes that occur within the workplace. Namely those that may create new or previously unidentified areas of risk. Procedures to prevent dropped object incidents and other safety risks from occurring in the first instance should also be standard across all work sites. Although often considered to be a waste of time, procedures such as toolbox talks can be the difference between a hazard becoming a risk, and said risk being avoided.

#4 Poor Housekeeping

While it may seem like simple day-to-day activity, good housekeeping can positively affect site safety in a big way, preventing dropped object incidents among others. Ensuring work sites (no matter their location) and toolkits are kept organised and tidy is an instant improvement when it comes to creating a safer environment. Loose tools and equipment left around pose an unexpected risk to personnel. A great majority of all work accidents are caused during the handling of goods or materials, and people falling, being hit by dropped objects, or striking against objects in the workplace.

When good housekeeping practices fall down, and poor housekeeping replaces them, the likelihood of accidents, dropped objets, and human error increases. Other risks increase exponentially too. Fire becomes a more prominent risk from oil-soaked rags or spontaneous combustion, for instance.

#5 Collisions & Snagging

Moving equipment using lifting wires can cause snagging and collisions. Extra care and caution should be employed when it comes to moving equipment and handling wires. Accidents that cause impacts can also cause objects to fall and generate debris which can, in itself, fall, thus causing further dropped object risks.

Collisions and snagging risks fall firmly into the category of a dynamic dropped object hazard. Dynamic dropped objects, as previously mentioned, incorporate any object that falls as a result of applied force.

#6 Insufficient Inspection, Repair & Maintenance

Put simply, inadequate inspection, repair and maintenance means ignoring unsafe conditions and increasing the likelihood of dropped object incidents. Regular inspections and planned maintenance repair schedules can help when identifying corrosion, damages, equipment wear-and-tear and structural weaknesses before they move from becoming a hazard to a dropped object risk.

Maintenance is required frequently in order to keep equipment, machines and the work environment safe. Lack of, or inadequate maintenance, can lead to dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations. Maintenance in itself is a high risk activity, with many of its own hazards, including working alongside a running process and in close contact with machinery.

#7 Redundant, Neglected, or Homemade Equipment

All equipment that has become redundant, been left and neglected rendering it below adequate standards, or is homemade, should be eliminated immediately to prevent it from posing a dropped object risk. Homemade tools, tethers, dropped object prevention devices and any other equipment used on-site, serve only to increase risks within the workplace. The equipment has not been certified, tested and, in most cases, is a ‘quick fix’, temporary solution which has ended up being left in place long-term.

Similarly, damaged tools that have been subjected to a previous fall pose their own dropped object dangers. Their previous impact could cause them to fail or break apart unexpectedly, the broken element becoming a drops risk.

Redundant, neglected, and homemade equipment must not be used under any circumstances as a substitute for proper dropped object prevention solutions.

#8 Inadequately Stored Tools or Equipment

When using tools, especially if it’s possible that personnel may be working or walking below, tool lanyards should always be in use. Tethering tools is crucial, as when tools become dropped objects, they can be just as dangerous as larger objects (and often more so, as their projected fall track is far harder to predict). Similarly, loose or handheld items of any kind should also be secured, whether to an individual or some form of tool bag, in order to prevent a dropped object incident occurring.

Handheld tools and power tools; mobile phones and two-way radios; even personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, are all items that have to be adequately secured (which is just as important as storing equipment) to prevent dropped object incidents.

When not using certain equipment, it is important that it is stored correctly and appropriately. When tools are not stored correctly, they can present trip hazards, can be kicked from walkways to become dropped objects, and cause further issues.

#9 Failed Fixtures & Fittings

The failure of fixtures and fittings is a key cause of dropped objects. Usually occurring in areas of a worksite where asset inspection is difficult or a geographic location prone to extreme weather conditions, failed fixtures can have fatal consequences.

Bolted connections are also a form of fitting that, if failure was to occur, would cause a potentially fatal dropped object incident. Bolted connections are produced to more than 85 different industrial standards, depending upon sector, operational and maintenance requirements. To achieve a stable bolted connection, the following factors must be evaluated:

  • Load design
  • Choice of materials (keeping in mind galvanic corrosion and required properties)
  • Pre-loading and use of correct torque equipment
  • Operational environment and its effect upon integrity
  • #10 Environmental Factors

    The range of environmental factors that can affect site safety and increase the risks posed by dropped objects is significant. Wind, sea motion, ice, snow, extreme heat, sand storms – the list goes on.

    The effects of these extreme conditions impact all sorts of areas, from wide open, fairly exposed areas such as mine sites and offshore oil and gas rigs, to others that are far more centrally located. Harsh weather can compromise stability and the security of equipment. These factors can cause increased corrosion, while putting additional pressure on fixtures located at height, and other structural elements that are exposed to harsh conditions.

    The best way to combat extreme weather is to ensure all equipment is secured with appropriate dropped object prevention solutions.

    To summarise, by securing your facility or worksite against dropped objects using appropriate safety securing, you can guarantee that your workplace is as safe from drops as possible.

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