When we talk about fall prevention, the focus is usually on the individuals working from heights. However, a similar concept applies to the tools those workers use.

Take, for example, this 2014 story out of New Jersey: A delivery truck driver lost his life during a stop at a construction site when a tape measure—dropped from 50 stories above ground—struck him in the head. Reports indicate the tape measure fell some 500 feet at speeds reaching 140 miles per hour.

What your employees need to know

Employers must provide suitable protections not only for those working from heights, but also those working below an elevated work space.

Tethering tools, such as an adjustable wrench, prevents the tool from falling to the ground and potentially striking someone below. Photo courtesy of Honeywell Safety Products.

Here in California, the regulation specifies netting and screens as ways to catch falling tools, or barricading as a way to keep people away from where tools may fall. Though not specifically mentioned in the Cal/OSHA standard, another option to consider is tethering (or tying off) the tools.

Similar to fall protection for a worker, tethering a tool involves using a rope or lanyard to connect the tool to an anchor point. Then, should the worker accidentally drop the tool, it only falls a few inches and not all the way to the ground. This greatly reduces the risk the tool will strike anyone who happens to be below the elevated work space. In addition, the employee who dropped the tool can easily retrieve it and resume work. Otherwise, even if the tool hadn’t hit anyone, the employee who dropped it either has to stop work and locate a replacement or head all the way to ground level to retrieve the original.

What your employees need to do

Before work begins, evaluate tools for potential fall or drop hazard. Then take a lanyard with the appropriate clips and connect one end to the tool and the other to a tool belt, wrist band, scaffolding, or other nearby structure. Some tools may have a loop attached at the handle or incorporated into the tool itself to clip the lanyard to. For those that don’t, your workers can use wrap tape or heat shrinking devices to make the tools ready for tethering.

Workers should avoid connecting tools weighing more than five pounds to their tool belt or wrist band. The excess weight could affect their balance and add to the injury risk while working from heights. It’s best to tether heavier tools to the structure, scaffolding, or aerial lift unit.

At your safety meeting

Demonstrate to your employees how to properly secure tools. If you need to use the shrinking or taping options referenced above, make sure you have the products on hand to show your employees how to use them.

Also, discuss whether your employees want to attach the tools to their tool belt, use a wrist band, or tether them to a nearby structure. Stress the five pound rule referenced above, and why they need to attach heavier tools to a structure.

And, remind your workers of what can happen if tools fall all the way to the ground and that accidents like the one in New Jersey are preventable with the right precautions in place.


Any products, references, or links to websites contained herein do not represent an endorsement by State Fund or its employees, but serve only as examples to illustrate the concepts described. State Fund has not been compensated for providing any of the links or referring to any products mentioned.


The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.