Materials in Motion

The Dangers of the Fall Zone

On November 2, 2007, a journeyman iron worker endured fractured vertebrae after being struck by sheets of plywood that fell out of a basket sling. The worker had given a signal to the crane operator to begin lifting the load while he was still within the fall zone. Sadly, suspended load accidents such as this one are not uncommon. The year prior, there were 30 deaths due to falling loads, which is why maintaining a safe distance from the fall zone is vital for workplace safety.

What is the Fall Zone?
The fall zone, according to OSHA, “Is the area (including, but not limited to, the area directly beneath the load) in which it is reasonably foreseeable that partially or completely suspended materials could fall in the event of an accident.” When a crane begins to lift a load, it is next to impossible for workers on the ground to establish a safe distance away from the suspended load. The height and weight of the load, the shape, and the center of gravity can all influence the size of the danger zone if the load were to fall. All these variables can come into play, which is exactly why it is important to determine the fall zone for the crane operator and worker’s safety.

OSHA Regulations
Standing under a suspended load is not only dangerous, but it is strictly prohibited by OSHA regulations. According to OSHA 1926.1425(b), “While the operator is not moving a suspended load, no employee must be within the fall zone, except for employees: engaged in hooking, unhooking or guiding a load; engaged in the initial attachment of the load to a component or structure; or operating a concrete hopper or concrete bucket.” Being within the fall zone puts the lives of employees at unnecessary risk.

Chances of Fatalities
In 2015, 937 out of 4,379 workplace fatalities were in the construction industry. That means one in every five work related deaths happened at a construction site. Furthermore, out of those 937 deaths, 9.6 percent were a result of a worker getting struck by falling objects. Since cranes play a vital role in many industries, protocols need to be followed to reduce these statistics. Employees and employers need to have a full understanding of the risks of falling objects and lax protocols when operating a crane.

Reduce the Chances of Fatalities:

  • Properly outline fall zones with barriers.
  • Communicate through diagrams, signs, and instructions to workers for further comprehension.
  • Utilize aerial lifts so that workers can stay above the suspended loads.
  • Keep loads suspended as low as possible to minimize the fall zone.

For more information on the necessary protocols when dealing with suspended loads, be sure to reference OSHA 1926.1425.