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Overhead Hazards Toolbox Talk

Learn about common overhead hazards, how to avoid them, and what to do in the event of injury.

Overhead Hazards Safety Talk

On a construction job site, workers are subjected to many different hazards and safety concerns on an everyday basis. A hazard that some often forget about are ones that are found above their heads. Overhead hazards are dangerous and often overlooked. Some overhead hazards include dropped objects, power lines, and fixed objects.

What is an Overhead Hazard?

Generally speaking, an overhead hazard is an overhead condition with the potential to cause physical impairment to people. An overhead hazard can also be referred to as an "overhead obstruction."

A hazard is a situation that creates a threat to life, health, property, the environment, and so on. Hazards differ from risks. Risk describes the potential from a situation while a hazard can cause harm.

In a project or work environment, a hazard is anything that may affect the success of project activities or the project as a whole. Most hazards are latent but a hazardous situation can become effective and cause harm, an accident, or a disaster such as death. This is why it is important to know the hazards you and your coworkers may face on a job site.

Common Overhead Hazards

It is important that you are aware of the overhead hazards that you could come in contact with on your job site. Some common types of overhead hazards include dropped objects, power lines, and fixed objects. We will look at each of these a little closer here.

Dropped Objects

On many job sites, there will be times when work is being done overhead at a higher level. When overhead work is being done there is always a risk for dropped objects to fall and cause injuries. Even if there is no one working above you, they could have left tools or materials that could have the potential to move, shift, and fall causing injury to you or someone else. Even a small object such as a bolt can cause a major injury when dropped from a high level.

Power Lines

Overhead power lines and electrical wires are common to see on most work sites when doing construction work. If you were to come in contact with any of these wires it could cause significant electrical injuries that could include death. There are a large number of injuries each year with construction workers who have been electrocuted due to touching power lines with their tools and equipment or even themselves.

Fixed Objects

Fixed objects that are located near ground level or that are located near the equipment you are working with can cause injury if you are to strike it or property damage if the equipment is to strike it. This can include naturally occurring objects such as trees or objects that have been fixed to the ground such as poles.

Elevated Loads

Another type of overhead hazard are elevated loads, or some may call it, a suspended load. This happens when a load that is on a forklift, crane, or other device is rigged and lifted into the air and left there. This can include wood, metal, and pallets on a job site. The larger weight and size of the materials that are being lifted the more hazardous the surrounding area and the job you are doing becomes.

Construction worker working with a suspended beam overhead.

Ways to Avoid Overhead Hazards

There are tips you should take into consideration to avoid dangers that overhead hazards have on the worksite. It is important to keep yourself, your co-workers, and any visitor to a job site safe.

  • When you are starting a new task or starting at a new job site make yourself aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards that could be in place.

  • If you see something that could be an overhead hazard, eliminate the hazard. You could do this by picking up tools and materials that you see on an upper level.

  • If you see an overhead hazard, such as power lines, try to move to an area where they are not present.

  • Use engineering controls to prevent dropped object injuries. This can include barriers, toe boards, and tethers.

  • When working around power lines make sure you stay a safe distance away, at least 10 feet. If the voltage is greater than 50kV OSHA requires you to keep a greater distance.

  • Always wear your personal protection equipment including your hard hat when you are in an area that could have falling objects and overhead hazards.

  • Never walk under a piece of equipment that has a load suspended. Equipment can fail unexpectedly and some could be an operator error.

  • Monitor and try to limit the tasks that you have to do that put you in the way of overhead hazards.

These are just a few tips that you can use on the job site to keep yourself safe. Your supervisor may know other ways and may advise you of safety techniques and rules that are required on the site.

What To Do If You Are Hurt

If you are injured on the job site you should always notify your supervisor immediately. If you are severely injured you or a co-worker should call 911 in order to get you the correct medical attention. If the injury is small you may be able to use a first aid kit to render aid to yourself or a coworker. Make sure the accident is properly documented in case any issues arise in the future.

It should come as no surprise that construction work is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Most workers are aware of the potential risks but the love of the job prevails. The most common accidents are falls, electrocutions, being struck by an object, and being stuck in between objects. It is important that you are aware of these hazards and many more when you enter a job site every day.

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