Equipment Notes: Hazard Prevention

Proper Safety For Tools & Equipment At Heights

by Pat Amicucci, Northern California territory sales manager, Roofmaster Products Company









(Pat Amicucci has been with Roofmaster in his current position for 25 years as the Northern California territory sales manager. He is a certified Leister technician and has extensive experience and knowledge in all aspects of the construction industry, specializing in roofing equipment, tools, accessories, sales, and service. He can be reached at or (916) 296-6714.)


Equipment hazard-planning is a critical element of maintaining a safe jobsite, particularly when it comes to tools being used on a roof. In the past, safety precautions for aerial gear has either been an afterthought or not a consideration at all. Regulators and professionals now acknowledge the serious, life-threatening risks of falling objects and are, therefore, instilling rules to ensure proper precautions are followed in the workplace.

Safety of tools and equipment at heights involves the organization and securing of these objects, whether in use or not. Hard hats and steel toes help reduce the damage, but in the hierarchy of controls one wants to eliminate the hazard all together. In 2012, there were 241 fatalities in the United States from falling objects, 5% of all workplace fatalities. Dropped objects can cause injuries/fatalities, damage to equipment and structures, as well as a loss in productivity. As an example, in the oil and gas industry, dropped objects are among the top three causes of fatalities.

Implement engineering solutions, such as tool tethers, in addition to personal protection equipment solutions, such as hard hats, to protect against dropped objects. Also, use the following hazard-prevention procedures on the jobsite to further protect yourself and your workers. Identify or create connection points on tools that do not have one built in to their anatomy; prevent objects from falling by securing them to a worker or other anchor point; and cover buckets, pouches, and other containers while at height to avoid spilling their contents.

Thanks to gravity, falling objects gain speed the longer and farther they have to fall, and it’s scary for those who work at high heights. It’s this same principle of physics that can turn a harmless torque wrench into a plummeting projectile streaking down from the sky. Fortunately, there are several solutions designed to improve worker safety by reducing the forces required to slow that moving object back to zero.

An accepted way to keep tools and other gear secure at heights is by tethering. Essentially a leash, cables, chains, ropes, and webbing have all been used as tethers. But those objects can’t eliminate gravity or minimize deceleration. A falling object caught by a tether is subject to shock loads, instead of impact. This shock is force transmitted instantly to the whole system, including the tool, its attachment point, the tether itself, and the tether’s anchor. Each of these components is important.

Normally, shock load is not a concern for a hardened steel tool, like a wrench or a pry bar. But a power tool or sensitive instrument is a different story. Internal components may break free or collide. These lessons were learned by studying worker fall protection. A rigid, static lifeline might keep a body from hitting the ground, but it could cause whiplash or severe internal injuries.

The tether ties this all together. Ideally, it will not only prevent the tool from hitting the ground, but also absorb some of the dynamic force, decelerating the tool to a smooth, safe, uneventful stop, reducing shock loads on the tool, the attachment point, and the anchor. The same rationale that discourages bungee jumpers from using steel cables applies to smaller objects as well. Although, a shock-absorbing tether has to be more than a bungee cord from the local home improvement center. Improvised tethers are a risky proposition, since they often rely on poorly constructed loops, connections, knots, or other weak points. An engineered tether will be designed and independently tested in both hanging and falling modes, including safety factors for each. Key selective criteria include the object weight and methods of attachment to the tool and anchor. Minimizing the length of the tether reduces the maximum time and distance that the tool can travel, and as a result, the acceleration and forces which must be absorbed.

Generally, anchoring tools to the worker is discouraged, unless relatively small and light. Even if the potential shock loads are limited, tools anchored to a worker can snag as he or she moves about. Railings, worker hoist buckets, and other designated anchor points are usually a better choice. As with personal fall arrest systems, components need to be selected appropriately and inspected regularly. Worn or damaged tethers, attachments, and anchors need to be replaced or repaired. If a tether has sustained a severe fall, it should be replaced, even if there’s no obvious damage.

When you’re working at heights, dropped objects prevention is important not only for those working on the ground below, but for you as well. Your tools should help you out, not drag you down.