At-height tools are tools used by workers operating at height, which in this context refers to work at any height at which a falling or dropped person or object could cause injury to the individual below.
While any type of tool may be used for work at height, the risks related to dropped and falling tools require that at-height tools be equipped with hazard controls so they can be used safely. Safe at-height tools include both tools that were specifically designed for work at height, as well as tools that have been retrofitted with equipment that secures them against falling.
The use of tools at height is primarily a concern in the construction industry, within which injuries due to falling objects are the second largest cause of work-related fatalities. In addition to the fatalities associated with falling objects (8.2% of construction fatalities), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows more than 50,000 injuries per year within the construction industry alone. Efforts to mitigate this problem have unfortunately had limited success. Injuries due to being struck by objects rose between 2013 and 2014, and they were projected to continue rising. In 2016, there was also a larger number of struck-by fatalities than in 2015.
The use of purpose-built or retrofitted at-height tools is viewed as an effective way to prevent harm due to falling tools (compared to, for example, the use of nets to catch falling tools). However, no standardized requirements for how to safely use at-height tools existed prior to 2018. The first consensus standard, ANSI/ISEA 121-2018, prescribes requirements for the manufacture of at-height tools and associated hazard control equipment, including tool attachment points, anchor points, tool tethers, and tool containers.
Although OSHA heavily emphasizes the need to prevent harm due to falling tools, applicable regulatory standards such as OSHA 1926.759a only require tools to be secured while not in use. Meanwhile, other relevant OSHA regulations (e.g., 1926.501) require the use of barriers designed to impede the ability of an at-height tool to fall to a lower level. In contrast, the ANSI/ISEA standard is specifically designed to encourage the securing of at-height tools while said tools are being used.