In a joint announcement on July 16, the International Safety Equipment Association and the American National Standards Institute announced that both groups have approved a new standard to establish minimum design, performance and labeling requirements for products marketed to prevent objects such as hand tools from falling from heights. It provides guidelines for the testing of production samples of such safety equipment for certification of compliance.
The long-anticipated "ANSI/ISEA 121-2018, American National Standard for Dropped Object Prevention Solutions" now will be promoted for adoption by safety-equipment manufacturers, product specifiers and end users as the recommended standard of care.
"It is a voluntary consensus standard, [but] it is highly encouraged for them to follow, because standards development through the ANSI process is based on a lot of testing and a lot of engineering to make sure the products can do what they are manufactured to do," says Lydia Baugh, communications director at the ISEA, which led the project.
"We are encouraging end users to reach out to manufacturers and ask them to supply them with safety products that meet these standards. It’s a significant step in reducing dropped-tool incidents," says Baugh.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration tracks "struck-by-falling-object" incidents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 47,920 injuries and 255 fatalities in the U.S. in 2016 caused by dropped objects, making it the third leading cause of injuries on jobsites, says ISEA. According to BLS data, injuries caused by dropped objects were up by 6.85% and deaths were up approximately 3.24% over the previous year.
Anastasia Urbanik, safety manager at Black & Veatch, says the standard provides a baseline for quality construction of tethering devices and "hopefully will promote new and innovative products and improve the safety of workers and the public exposed to falling object hazards."
"The significance of this standard is that it provides manufacturers of tethering equipment with minimum design criteria for their products," Urbanik says, adding that "employers and industry groups need to accept this standard and only use tethering devices that meet or exceed the design criteria specified." Urbanik adds that incorporating the standard into contract documents and into written programs is the next step, but she says that to have a more significant impact on eliminating or reducing dropped object incidents, additional standards need to be developed to provide further guidance on when and where tethering devices are to be used.
Baugh says ANSI and ISEA have developed a lot of information about the importance of such standards "from scratch." She says the best way to use it now is for employers to incorporate requirements for the use of products that meet the standards into their own "working-at-height" policies on their jobsites.
The effort to produce the standard has been supported by a committee comprising safety experts from construction firms and safety-equipment manufacturers, among others. Nicholas Voss, director of product management and marketing at KEY-BAK, one firm that makes devices for tethering hand tools, has participated in the work. He says the standard has been in development for about eight years, but the work was galvanized by an incident in 2014, in which a tape measure fell about 400 ft, deflected off a piece of equipment and killed Gary Anderson, a 58-year-old truck driver who was delivering a load of wallboard to a building project in Jersey City, N.J.
"The standard is fairly well defined for tethers on equipment that one would carry or use at height, like tools or bags with bolts and things," Voss says.
Voss says the standard requires dynamic testing of tethers by types and product under very specific conditions, such as a 2x length test, in which, if a tether is 50 in. long, it is tested with a 100-in. drop, as if it had been dropped by a worker holding a tool overhead; plus a 2x safety-factor load test, in which, if it is rated for a 5-lb load, it has to pass a 10-lb load test, as well as perform in extreme temperatures from -31º F to +113º F and in a wet condition after being soaked for two hours before testing.
"In the short run there will be an uptick in companies adopting dropped-object prevention, especially companies that have had near misses or had an incident recently," Voss predicts. "Some companies will adopt it as a way to de-risk their operations, after deciding it is better to have tool tethering or instruct their subcontractors to have it than to have an incident. The other half will wait until they are required to do so by law or have an incident."
Baugh says, "rather than relying on duct tape and rope, they actually have products that are following a performance standard they can use to make sure they are getting the right protection for their tools to eliminate hazards from dropped objects," she says.
Voss says the 1-lb tape measure that struck and killed Anderson in 2014 would have developed an impact force equivalent to that of a bullet from a 45-caliber pistol shot at 15 yards.
"A lot of people who understand ballistics, when they hear this, the lightbulbs go off," Voss says. "This is not personal protective equipment; you are not personally protecting yourself, you are protecting others. This protects your co-worker or your buddy." He adds that many modern tethers are designed to fully retract to get around complaints that cord or coil designs are subject to snagging on objects and creating hazards themselves.
Copies of the new standard may be purchased from the ISEA website for $30.
Videos of a series of experiments on dropped object impacts on water mellons wearing hardhats that were conducted by Urbanik and the safety team at Black & Veatch can also be viewed here.