What tools should I tether when working at heights?
There’s an easy answer to this question: all of them.
Dropped tools cause hundreds of fatalities a year, and the dangers do not exist solely at high-altitude sites like masts and scaffolds, but also on lower heights such as decking inside warehouses and even underground projects.
The issue is not one of “what tools to tether,” but instead, “what tools should I take with me?"
Considerations for Tools at Heights
Any tool that a worker carries to an at-height location must be connected by way of a lanyard. The common argument is that too many lanyards can cause dangerous tangles, so some thought must go into this. For example:
- Tools that are used close to the body (like a screwdriver) need shorter lanyards than those that are used further away (like a power drill).
- If individual tools do not have traps (lanyard attachment points), these should be installed. Only tools with traps should be allowed to travel with an at-height worker.
- Small items like bolts should be carried in a bag or pouch with a closeable top (not a bucket)
- The same care should be given to securing tools as would be given to a person’s individual harnessing and fall protection routine (learn the proper care in 6 Steps to Fitting a Full Body Harness).
- Checklists should be used to ensure no essential tools are forgotten and that no non-essential tools are taken up to the elevated worksite.
- Tether the few tools that are used most often and keep the rest in the bag, to be tethered and used when needed.
Keep Tasks on the Ground
Another key strategy is to identify any tasks that could be done at ground level, such as assembly of components that can be hoisted or positioned later, removing the need for extra tools.
Follow Legal Requirements
There is a legal component to the tethering issue. Many countries have rules that stipulate that workers at height must take every reasonable measure to prevent dropped tools. This is in part to try to prevent the annual death rate of workers – in the hundreds – who die every year from falling tools. In addition to traps, lanyards and bags, these rules seek to enforce work practices that prevent unsecured tools from being placed on a rail, ledge, step, or platform (read more in On the Edge: Safety Around Leading Edges).
When working at heights, tether every tool, and take only what you will need.
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