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Dropped Objects Prevention: Are we doing enough to prevent the hazards and reduce risks?

Contributor: CableSafe®

Understanding Dropped Objects
Dropped Objects (struck by a falling object or a piece of equipment) continue to account for 9.6 percent of the top ten causes of workplace accidents across different industries. According to Liberty Mutual’s Annual Workplace Safety Index, ‘struck by a falling object’ is the top four cause of the most serious workplace accidents which cost employers $5.61B in annual medical costs and lost wage payments in 2020.

By definition, dropped object or falling object is any item that falls or has the potential to fall from its previous position. Unnecessary items, loose or unsecured items, poorly stacked items, pieces of structure or even the structure itself can fall.

Static Dropped Object
Any object that falls from its previous position under its own weight (gravity) without any applied force. For example, failure caused by corrosion, vibration, jarring or inadequate securing.

Dynamic Dropped Object
Any object that falls from its previous position due to applied force. For example, collisions involving travelling equipment or loads, snagging on machinery or stacked items, motion, helicopter downdraft or severe weather.

What Causes Dropped Objects?
A host of factors can contribute to a dropped object incident. It is important to consider these during worksite hazard identification. Energy sources such as gravity, wind, heave and mechanical motion can all contrive to initiate a sequence of events that result in something falling. Add corrosion, lack of awareness and inadequate inspection or maintenance and you can almost guarantee a dropped object will occur.The top 10 causes of dropped objects
Safety alerts and incident reports show these recurring themes continue to result in dropped objects:

  1. Inadequate Risk Assessment
    (failure to identify dropped object hazards)
  2. Human factors
    (operator error, poor behavior, complacency, neglect)
  3. Inadequate Procedures
    (bad planning, no management of change)
  4. Failed Fixtures and Fittings
    (corrosion, vibration, poor design, selection or improper installation)
  5. Poor housekeeping
    (Pre-existing hazards from previous tasks)
  6. Collisions and Snagging
    (lifting, travelling equipment, tag lines, service loops)
  7. Inadequate inspection, Repar and Maintenance
    (ignoring unsafe conditions)
  8. Redundant, Neglected and Home-made Tools and Equipment
    (should be eliminated)
  9. Inadequately Stored or Secured Tools and Equipment
    (no lanyards or tethers being used)
  10. Environmental Factors
    (wind, sea motion, ice, snow, rain, extreme conditions)

Statistics show that around 30% of all dropped object incidents are related to design, technical or mechanical issues but almost half can be attributed to human factors.

What should we do about it?
We cannot simply accept that dropped or falling objects are an inherent hazard of our working environment. A system must be implemented to identify and prevent, and where reasonably practicable, manage the risks associated with dropped objects by providing relevant educational materials promoting hazard awareness, regular training, recognizing best practices and application of safety standards as per OSHA.

Liberty Mutual’s Annual Workplace Safety Index 2020

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.