Industrial worksites are filled with safety risks—including dropped or falling object hazards—which is why OSHA and other safety entities set strict standards for safety procedures. To ensure the safety of all staff, visitors, and those passing through, learn how to spot risks and what to do to prevent injury or death from falling objects.

What Is a Falling Object Risk?

Falling object risks refer to the hazard created by objects that tumble, fall, or fly from height, exposing staff or visitors to minor to severe injury or death. These falling items may cause injuries such as bruises, broken bones, cuts, abrasions, lacerations, eye injuries, or head injuries such as concussion.

There are more than 50,000 “struck by falling object” reports each year in the United States—and many of these instances could be prevented with proper precautions in place. To reduce falling object risk, consider what hazards exist in your facility, then look for ways to improve safety by preventing falling objects, including everything from applying floor marking tape to installing physical barriers—and options for protecting employees in case prevention isn’t enough.

Types of Falling Object Hazards

Dropped or falling objects refer to any items that fall from their original position—with the exception of a person, as this would be considered a Slip, Trip, or Fall, rather than a drop. Drops may be considered static (an item that falls under its own weight) or dynamic (an item that falls due to a secondary force, such as kicking, bumping, or other force). Causes of falling objects include:

  • Work area conditions: wind, rain, ice, vibration, etc.
  • Housekeeping issues: clutter, blocked pathways, poorly lit areas, unmarked edges
  • Employee status: lack of training, fatigue, loose grip, improper safety equipment
  • Equipment misuse or failure: malfunctioning or broken machinery, pallet damage, overloaded forklift, improper driving

The Cost of Falling Object Injuries

Falling objects are problematic for more than just the damaged items alone: There are risks to health, machinery, efficiency, and budget—and more. Consider these ways dropped objects can affect the workplace:

  • If a falling object hits an employee, this can lead to injury, health bills, and insurance claims, as well as lost time due to employee leave for injuries sustained.
  • If impact breaks tools or machinery, you must consider the repair or replacement cost, as well as any lost productivity during the machinery downtime.
  • If the physical features of the location sustain damage—such as cracked floors, broken shelving, shattered windows, or other damage to the building itself—more hazards may be created, and the space must be closed for repair to prevent related injuries.
  • Fines may be issued for injuries or damages caused by falling objects, and workplace accidents may push insurance premiums up, leading to indirect costs due to accidents or damages.

How Do You Prevent Falling Object Injuries?

Workers at height are required to wear a fall protection harness and to follow other safety precautions, so it stands to reason that the same should be done to prevent dropped objects. To reduce falling object injuries, conduct a sitewide safety audit to identify hazards and examine incident reports to pinpoint problem areas, then set facility-wide goals to target falling object incidents. Use these prevention tactics to guide you.

Focus on Falling Objects During Employee Training

When training employees on falling object hazards, include strategies for communication of present or potential dangers. Ensure the floor marking strategies are clear and easy to understand—and that they match the information provided during onboarding and refresher training opportunities.

Require—and enforce—use of hard hats, protective eyewear, adequate footwear, and other safety gear. Ensure staff understand how and when to wear safety gear and how to properly handle tools and gear while at height—including tethering. Revisit the expectations for all employees during regular training, and always encourage feedback so you can improve the safety programs and training opportunities.

Provide Clear Signage

Non-slip tape and high-visibility floor markings are used to prevent slip, trip, and fall injuries, and clear signage and visual cues are important for bringing attention to drop hazards as well. Consider these visual communication techniques for reducing instances of dropped objects, and any related injuries:

  • Apply floor tape to mark surface edges and changes in elevation to bring attention to hazards.
  • Post personal protective equipment reminder signage throughout locations where helmets, goggles, and other safety gear are required.
  • Hang reminder signs and apply floor marking tape with custom messages stating that tools must be kept away from edges, to check locations for hazards, properly tether or store equipment and tools, etc.

Use Physical Barriers and Safety Devices

Ensure safety nets are in place—and in good repair—and install necessary or additional physical features and safety devices designed for the job. Fall protection is required at heights above four feet, but additional safety barriers may be useful even in areas where OSHA mandates may not be required.

  • Separate foot traffic and work areas to prevent motorized vehicles and machinery from creating hazardous situations where people may be walking or working below 
  • Guard rails prevent falls, but can also reduce instances of objects or tools falling
  • Toe boards, restraint devices, fall arrest systems, safety harnesses, tool lanyards, and other safety devices
  • Regularly inspect restraints and barriers to ensure they are in working order
  • Add machinery and tools to your inspection rotation as well: The barriers are there to protect, but preventing failure is another way to target safety

Falling object hazards pose great risk to employees, visitors, and passers-by, and can cause expensive, time-consuming damage. To prevent injuries, damage, fines, and wasted budget, look to prevent these hazards rather than simply recover from them. For more industrial safety information, explore our Resource Center.