Dropped objects data analysis

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 3: 2016 

Dropped objects are an ever present hazard for occupational health and safety (OHS) in the offshore petroleum industry. A dropped object may be defined as any object with a potential to cause death, injury, or equipment/environment damage that falls from its previous static position under its own weight. 

What could go wrong?

Using the internationally recognised ‘Drops Calculator’ produced as part of an industry initiative ‘Dropped Objects Prevention Scheme’, a mass of as little as 700 grams falling from a height of 15 metres could result in a fatality. While it is expected that responsible operators cordon off or barricade areas where a dropped object hazard has been identified, it should be kept in mind that dropped objects can bounce on impact and end up in an area not anticipated in the risk assessment for the work being undertaken. The most significant dropped object risks involve lifting operation failures. These failure mechanisms are attributed to, for example:

• incorrect slinging techniques resulting in a unplanned load release

• failure to adequately inspect and maintain lifting equipment in general and prior to use

• failure to develop and apply job-specific lift plans

• inadequate competency of workers involved in lifting operations

• insufficient adherence to exclusion zones

Examples of other common dropped object  risks include:

• unsecured hand tools used at height

• tools and equipment left unsecured after working at height

• equipment dislodged due to wear, corrosion, vibration or environmental conditions

• integrity associated with scaffold equipment and accessories

In the first eight months of 2016 the percentage of dropped object events categorised as ‘could have caused death or serious injury’ has increased by almost 20% on previous years. Between 2013 and August 2016, the main risk factors identified through operator reporting were:

• proximity of workers in relation to the dropped object either where it landed or ended up

• safety measures such as barriers and exclusion zones were not considered in determining the potential for workers to be struck by the dropped object or were bypassed. In each case the heights and weights of the dropped objects were processed through the ‘Drops Calculator’.
The indicated potential outcome in all cases was a fatality if the dropped object had struck a worker. Main contributors to dropped object risks as identified through NOPSEMA OHS inspections include:

• deficiencies in maintenance management implementation for lifting equipment including facility cranes

• deficiencies in risk management processes to assess critical changes to lifting procedures, lifting equipment inspection frequency changes, dropped object protection barriers, edge protection and exclusion zones

• human error and violations, such as incorrect slinging of loads or failure to follow lifting procedures.

What can operators do? 

NOPSEMA re-emphasises the need to appropriately apply the hierarchy of controls to dropped object hazards. In particular, operators are reminded that the risk management focus should be on elimination, substitution and engineering controls before consideration of administrative controls. Administrative controls, such as creating safety zones and areas of restricted access, may assist in protecting members of the workforce from dropped objects, however, all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate the dropped object hazard altogether, substitute the dropped object hazard with a safer alternative, and effectively engineer out the dropped object hazard should be considered first and action taken if practicable.'

Key lessons

• Thorough pre-task risk assessments should address dropped object hazards.

• The hierarchy of controls should be applied to ensure an appropriate balance of prevention and mitigation in relation to control measures identified and implemented.

• Risk assessments should consider areas outside of the anticipated dropped object area.

• Regular dropped object prevention inspections should be undertaken, with any resulting action items attended to in a timely manner.

• Consideration should be given to including competent members of the workforce who do not regularly work in the area to be inspected as a ‘fresh pairs of eyes’ in dropped object prevention inspection teams.