While contractors are well aware of the need for protective equipment and barriers on jobsites to prevent workers and bystanders from being struck by falling objects, the steps they have taken to stop tools, construction debris, and other objects from falling or being dropped from heights in the first place are often far from adequate. To reduce the incidence of injuries and deaths from falling objects, the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have recently published a new standard that sets out requirements for tool lanyards and tethering systems. When used properly, these systems have the potential to improve safety, as well as overall productivity on the jobsite.
Dropped or falling objects represent a significant safety hazard in many industries, and in the construction industry in particular. Even relatively small objects can strike the ground with great force if dropped from a significant height. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were nearly 46,000 “struck by falling object” incidents, as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in the U.S. in 2017. For the same year, the BLS reported 237 fatalities from workers being struck by a dropped or falling object.
Most contractors rely on passive preventive solutions to deal with the problem of falling objects, such as requiring the use on jobsites of hard hats and other personal protective equipment (PPE), or of barriers designed to shield people at lower levels from falling objects, such as netting, toe boards, and temporary structures. While such passive controls help reduce the number and the severity of injuries caused by falling objects, they do not tackle the root cause by preventing objects from falling in the first place. And although workers have been known to try to secure tools using duct tape or twine, such methods are generally ineffective, and can present their own hazards.
Developed by the ISEA and leading safety equipment manufacturers, and then approved by ANSI in July 2018, ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 is a voluntary consensus standard that aims to reduce jobsite accidents, injuries, and deaths associated with falling objects in industrial and occupational settings by defining minimum design, performance, testing, and labeling requirements for product solutions. The standard is focused on four classes of preventive equipment solutions intended to be actively used by workers to reduce the likelihood that objects will be dropped: anchor attachments, tool attachments, tool tethers, and containers.
The anchor attachments category covers attachment points installed onto fixed anchor locations, like the structure or a worker, to anchor tool tethers. The tool attachments class addresses attachment points installed onto tools and equipment that allow the to be tethered. The tool tethers category refers to lanyards used to connect tools to an anchor point. The containers class pertains to bags and buckets that are used to transport tools and equipment to and from at-heights work zones.
Under the standard, each product must be dynamically tested by dropping a tethered object up to two times the rated lanyard weight multiple times; and it must undergo environmental conditioning to ensure that moisture, cold, and heat do not negatively affect performance. It is important to note, however, that this standard does not specify proper use of this equipment for workers; or specify what tools need to be tethered, or when.
With this new standard in place, contractors should consider integrating tethering systems into their worksite plans, and selecting products that comply with the standard. While voluntary standards like ANSI/ISEA 121-2018 are not directly enforceable by regulatory bodies like OSHA, following the standard can help contractors ensure that they are complying with general industry and construction standards mandating that tools and materials are secured at heights, and that jobsite risks are mitigated.