Consider engineering controls for falling object protection

Date Posted: 10/11/2021

Falling Object ProtectionWith so many injuries caused by slips, trips, and falls, employers are justifiably focused on identifying hazards and providing fall protection. Whenever employees at heights face the risk of falls, anyone working at lower levels could be at risk from falling objects. In addition, cranes or conveyors used to transport materials overhead could create a hazard from falling objects.

If there’s a risk of falling objects, OSHA requires head protection such as hard hats. However, OSHA also requires evaluating and using other controls to reduce the risk of falling objects.

Evaluate risks and controls

The OSHA regulations for falling object protection allow employers to determine the appropriate protective measures. If a falling object hazard exists, the regulation at 1910.28(c) requires head protection but also says, “in addition, the employer must protect employees” using toeboards, screens, canopy structures, or by barricading an area to prohibit workers from entering the hazard zone.

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.

Therefore, if employees need to walk under conveyors or perform tasks below other workers at heights, the employer must implement other protective measures such as toeboards, screens, or other guarding to prevent items from falling on workers below — even if the workers below are wearing hard hats.

If those controls are not feasible for some reason, barricades may be necessary to prohibit workers from entering the hazard area. Often, barricades are used as a temporary solution during construction or repair work performed above an area where employees might otherwise be working.

After evaluating the workplace for fall hazards and implementing fall protection measures, go back and evaluate those areas for falling object hazards. If workers could be struck by falling objects, consider how to reduce the risk using engineering controls. Protective equipment should be the last line of defense, not the first or only form of protection.

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