Tool tethering is a form of fall protection provided for tools that are used in work at height. It is used as a means of protecting workers and other individuals below a worksite from the danger of a falling tool.
Tethered tools are secured by a tool lanyard to an anchoring point, which is either a secure part of the worksite or the worker using the tool.
If a tethered tool is dropped or dislodged, it does not fall a distance longer than the length that the tether allows and will therefore not hit an individual at a lower level. Some tools come pre-equipped with a tool tether, while others must use a retrofit option that attaches a tether to the tool.
Tool tethering provides a method to mitigate the risk of dropped tools, a significant and deadly workplace hazard. Falling objects, which include tools, are part of the “struck-by object” category that comprises one of OSHA’s Focus Four construction site safety hazards, a group of hazards responsible for more than half of the fatalities on construction sites on an annual basis.
In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 263 fatalities from being struck by a falling object, representing a total of six percent of all workplace fatalities. A 1.1-pound screwdriver that falls a distance of four floors (14 m) would hit at 38 mph (61 kph) for an impact force of 162 lb (73.5 kg). This would kill an individual struck in the head, even while wearing a hard hat.
There are no OSHA standards that mandate the use of a tool-tethering system; however, standard 1926.759 does require tools to be secured against accidental displacement when not in use. The UK Health and Safety Executive applies a broader requirement that requires all employers to take sufficient steps to prevent the fall of any material or object and also to prevent any person from being struck by a falling object if it is not reasonably practicable to prevent it from falling.
In Canada and the United States, there has been a push by industry groups for legislation that requires the implementation of tool-tethering processes. The large majority of tools used on workplace sites (90%) can be tethered using an attachment point.