More and more it’s becoming common for those who work on scaffolding and other working at height applications to tether their tools with lanyards. For example, where line workers used to simply strap their tool belts on in years gone by they now use specially designed tool bags and holsters which are secured to their harnesses or person and to which hand tools are also secured. Much of this is due to the working at height work regulations 2005.
Despite these regulations and their intended purposes for safety, there is still much lively debate within various industries as to the practicality and viability of tool tethering. As one of the arguments goes, the regulations don’t specifically mandate tool tethering per say, so there must be a better way to secure tools than using lanyards. Those who are in opposition to tool tethering usually insist that too many lanyards attached to a harness, tool belt or worker become a safety issue of their own. To some degree they do have a point.
UNDERSTANDING THE RISKS
The purpose behind the tethering is very simple. It comes down to the fact that there are thousands of injuries every year in the UK that occur as a direct result of dropped tools. Yet before you insist that a hard hat protects workers from dropped tools consider some simple physics. We all know from our days in school that as an object falls toward the ground it accelerates exponentially. As it accelerates it picks up force which is transferred to any object it strikes on impact. It is this force which can be deadly to those standing below a dropped object.
As an example, the average screwdriver dropped from a height of just 14m is equivalent to dropping it from four stories when you figure in the physics. When you combine the original mass of the screwdriver with the acceleration, you can calculate that the screwdriver will hit the ground at an impact weight of nearly 74kg. That kind of weight at a fast enough speed is enough to kill someone even if he’s wearing a hard hat.
If you don’t understand the math think of it in terms of a bullet fired from a gun. If someone stood and threw a bullet at you using his bare hand, from just a few feet, that bullet would bounce off harmlessly. But that same bullet fired from a gun at a distance of 20 yards would be deadly. The force behind the bullet is what does the damage, not necessarily the bullet itself.
The second category of items on the dropped tools check list involves identifying specific risks in relation to a particular job site. This may be the hardest part of the task for inspectors and workers. Usually this is due to the fact that there are far more risks than our brains are able to comprehend. Sometimes it’s helpful to have multiple individuals assess a job site on an individual basis. While most of the identified risks will overlap among inspectors, each one will undoubtedly identify some risks the others missed.
Furthermore, never under estimate an unlikely risk someone has identified – even if you have missed it. If you’ve been around dangerous work sites long enough you know that nothing is impossible. Some of the worst accidents are the freak ones that were never expected or planned for. Be careful to take into consideration all the risks identified and develop mitigation plans appropriately. Also be prepared to continually update their procedures and controls when the new risks are identified.
A significant number of reported incidents relate to dropped radios, pagers, gas detectors as well as other transportable equipment. Dropped objects from height carry the same destructive force as a bullet fired from a gun. That’s the primary reason for tool tethering.
Finally, the third category of items on your dropped tools check list involves implementing specific controls. Details of these controls may or may not be included on your check list, but they should be documented somewhere. In going through the check list workers must confirm that they are aware of, understand, and are practising proper safety controls. Safety controls take into consideration elevation systems, tool tethering systems, weather conditions, and other environmental variables.
Be aware that the law further stipulates working at height is to be done in the safest possible way. That means considering things like whether or not the same work could be done more safely at ground level. It involves relying on a combination of safety nets, covered walkways, and tool tethers, rather than just one of the controls. In other words, the law mandates that companies that carry out working at height activities spare nothing to insure
workerand tool safety.
“When tools are transferred from an individual worker to tool bag or box, proper transfer procedures must also be followed to ensure that tools are secure at all times. Failure to abide by such principles could mean legal trouble for employers.”
Safety issues aside, tool tethering is also a good idea in order to protect your tools from damage. Using the previous example of the screwdriver at 14m, let’s consider dropping a cordless drill from the same height. 14m is high enough that the impact could damage the drill significantly. If it is damaged beyond repair that means you’ll spend up to 10 times as much to replace the drill as you would have spent on simply purchasing a lanyard. When you consider the cost of replacing damaged tools, is not tethering is worth it?
If you own a large company with hundreds of tools in your inventory tethering becomes even more important. The more tools in play, the greater potential for monetary loss because of lack of tethering. In other words, if 10 workers use untethered tools you risk 10 times the amount of financial loss as you would with one employee not tethering. The more workers and tools you have engaged the more you need to tether to protect your financial investment.
The more workers and tools you have engaged the more you need to tether to protect your financial investment.
IT’S THE LAW
Lastly, we stated previously that some argue the law does not specifically mandate tool tethering. While that’s true, the law does specifically say that workers at height must take every reasonable measure to prevent dropped tools. The law will view tool tethering as a reasonable measure in nearly every case. Therefore, appearing before a court and defending our failure to use tethering will almost always prove unsuccessful. Whether we like it or not, we just will not win that argument in the UK. Tool tethering is a reality in today’s modern environment. There’s no point in complaining about or arguing about its usefulness. Better off to start using tool tethering right away so that you get used to it and you can remain productive. It’s in everybody’s best interests anyway.