Beware of falling objects

Struck-by injuries are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries in the workplace and the second most common cause of fatalities among construction workers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They cost employers more than $1.7 billion in workers’ compensation costs.

Defining struck-by injuries

Struck-by injuries are those that result from contact with objects or equipment. They are the fourth leading cause of work-related death and the third leading cause of non-fatal injuries involving days away from work, according to the National Safety Council. In 2019, contact with objects or equipment accounted for 229,410 injuries—each resulting in an average of five days away from work.

Workers are at risk of falling objects when they are situated beneath cranes, scaffolds, and other similar equipment, or where overhead work is performed. In addition, power tools or tasks like pushing, pulling, or prying can cause objects to become airborne. These injuries can include things like being hit by building materials or tree limbs, being pinned under a vehicle when it falls off a jack, or being struck by a tool when it vibrates off a catwalk at a construction site. The outcome can range from a minor abrasion to a concussion, blindness, or death.

A closer look at the construction industry

In the construction industry specifically, the CDC says:

  • The most common sources of non-fatal struck-by injuries involve solid building materials; powered and non-powered hand tools; and scrap, waste materials, or debris.
  • The rate of non-fatal struck-by injuries is highest among helpers, sheet metal workers, heating and air conditioning mechanics, and ironworkers.
  • Most non-fatal struck-by injuries (96%) are caused by falling or flying objects or equipment.
  • The most common events leading to a non-fatal injury include being struck by handheld objects or equipment, falling objects, and discharged or flying objects.

Taking steps to stop struck-by injuries

As an employer, it’s vital to provide a safe work environment for your employees. That includes complying with OSHA rules and providing safety training to everyone from the CEO to the intern.

Distractions can lead to worker injuries, as can improper training, faulty equipment, or poor risk assessments or housekeeping at the workplace. Here are some tips from the National Safety Council that employers—and employees—can implement to help prevent injury from contact with objects:

  • Provide comprehensive training on the safe operation of power tools and equipment
  • Only allow employees to operate the equipment they are properly trained to use
  • Encourage employees to earn appropriate safety certifications
  • Wear (or provide) the proper personal protective equipment for your workplace, such as steel-toed shoes, hard hats, safety glasses, goggles, and face shields
  • Check vehicles before use to make sure they are in safe operating condition
  • Securely and neatly store loose materials
  • Secure items that are stored at a height and store heavy objects close to the floor
  • Open one filing cabinet drawer at a time to prevent a tip-over
  • Tether smaller tools to work belts to prevent dropped objects
  • Use pedestrian walkways and exercise caution when working near heavy equipment
  • Never work under a load, especially during lifting or moving
  • Inspect tools, such as saws and lathes, to ensure equipment is in good working order and protective guards are in good condition
  • Inspect cranes and hoists to ensure components like wire rope, lifting hooks, and chains are in good condition
  • Do not exceed the lifting capacity of cranes and hoists
  • Secure all loads and lift them evenly to prevent them from slipping
  • Stack materials to prevent sliding, falling, or collapse
  • Make sure you are trained in the proper operation of powder-actuated tools, like nail guns
  • Use sequential triggers instead of contact triggers for nail guns
  • Barricade hazard areas and post warning signs
  • Use toe boards, screens, or guardrails on scaffolds to prevent falling objects, or use debris nets, catch platforms, or canopies to catch or deflect falling objects
  • Reduce compressed air used for cleaning to 30 psi and only use with appropriate guarding and protective equipment
  • Never clean clothing with compressed air

With proactive attention—including proper education on job-specific hazards, periodic safety inspections, and appropriate corrective action—you can reduce the risk of an employee being struck by an object at your workplace.

Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes.

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