Danger of Falling Objects at Sea

At around 9 am, Gary stopped for a moment to speak with one of his coworkers at his worksite. An experienced construction worker, the 58-year-old veteran of the industry always had his hard hat around—but at the moment, his hat was in his truck.

After all, he only needed a minute to talk to his guy.

Fifty stories above him, another one of the workers was fumbling to free up his tape measure and lost his grip. The 1-pound tape measure plummeted to the ground, striking some metal materials about 15 above the ground, causing it to ricochet toward Gary. It struck the metal at around 140 mph, meaning that it was still traveling with considerable force when it struck Gary in the head. He was pronounced dead in less than an hour.

The above story is true--and all too common among workers all over the United States. Among the many dangers faced by offshore workers, a common cause of injury and even death is a fallen object. According to data from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), falling objects killed 519 workers in 2015. Over 50,000 falling object events occur nationwide, and employers were cited for 7,000+ violations the same year. Deadly objects can range from a screwdriver dropped by a worker to machinery that comes loose from its rigging. Any falling object can cause severe injury, making safety procedures such as hard hats essential in preventing serious harm.

Gary was killed by a tape measure. On offshore rigs all over the nation, far heavier items are being left unsecured—putting thousands at risk. In addition, let's be clear: Gary might have lived if he had worn his hard hat. Gary also might have lived if his employer enforced the tying off of tape measures and other loose tools.

Around the country, these are the sort of objects being left untied and vulnerable to falling:

  • Hand tools used at heights, such as drills, hammer, or wrenches
  • Hand tools/equipment left behind after working
  • Mounted equipment that could fall due to vibration or other stress
  • Temporary equipment at height, such as scaffolding or rigging
  • Where personnel are working on a level directly below the work site
  • Lifting operations and machinery, including pulleys, hooks, and rope

Part of the problem is that falling objects aren't a problem until someone dies. Hardly anyone comes to work expecting to drop their tools while working from a height. Even fewer would ever expect to accidentally kill someone with a tape measure, but that's the risk employers are taking when they don't enforce better safety protocols.

When an object falls onto a worker, serious damage is almost guaranteed to occur. Possible injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Bruises
  • Fractured skull
  • Head injury
  • Lacerations
  • Shoulder injury
  • Spinal injury
  • Traumatic brain injury

Falling objects are enough of a problem that OSHA lists it among their "Fatal Four": 4 preventable workplace accidents that are the leading cause of accidental fatalities at worksites nationwide. Just this year, a 43-year-old oilfield worker was crushed to death by a 3,000-pound snatch block (a piece of equipment that resembles a pulley with a hook attachment). The snatch block came loose from the boom that was holding it, killing the man instantly. A crane was required to lift the snatch block.

How to Prevent Injury from Falling Objects

OSHA often emphasizes that workplace accidents are always preventable. Injuries from construction work are not inevitable--nor are they the fault of the injured, in many cases. Employers have the opportunity to keep their workers safe by updating safety procedures, training workers adequately, and maintaining equipment to minimize loose objects.

Precautions can minimize the potential risk of falling objects:

  • Keep a close eye on tools.
  • Returning tools immediately to a belt or other device after use.
  • Don't position workers directly underneath others.
  • Require all workers to wear hardhats on site.

The worst injuries are often sudden and without warning, and few things are more unexpected than a falling object. If you've been injured in an accident from a falling object, or you've lost a loved one in a construction site accident on a rig or vessel, call the attorneys at Arnold & Itkin. We have secured billions in the last 5 years for injured workers all over the U.S.

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