The Importance of Tethering Your Tools

Louise Smyth

Tethering tools is a preventative method of making sure that, when working at height, engineers’ tools aren’t at risk of falling or being dropped. “Working at height” is classified as to work in any place where, if precautions were not taken, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury.

You are working at height if you either: work above ground/floor level; could fall from an edge, through an opening or fragile surface; or could fall from ground level into an opening in a floor or a hole in the ground.

Tethering Tools Process

The process of tethering tools when working at height usually involves three distinct components:

  • tether point
  • tool lanyard
  • anchor point

Situated on the tool itself, the tether point is usually a small hole designed to support the use of a lanyard. The lanyard then, as you can imagine, gets attached to the tether point situated on the tool and then to the anchor point. Lastly, the anchor point is the external object your tool is attached to. For example, if using a lighter tool, the anchor point could be a work belt, wristband or harness worn by the operator. For heavier tools, the anchor point could be a fixed piece of beam or load rated rail.

Tethering UK Regulations

In the UK currently, there are no regulations that solely define the mandatory use of tethering tools when working at height, despite the HSE Working at Height 2005 guidelines stating, “every employer shall, where necessary to prevent injury to any person, take suitable and sufficient steps to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, the fall of any material or object.” This does not explicitly mention the need for sites to tether tools and leaves ‘suitable and sufficient’ up for interpretation. So, with no definite law, why bother to tether your tools?

Benefits of Tool Tethering

Naturally, safety is one of the biggest reasons as to why engineers should tether their tools. Did you know that a 2kg claw hammer dropped from a height of 6m has an impact of roughly a concrete mixer? A hard hat isn’t going to protect someone against this, for sure.

This is the result of Newton’s first and second laws of gravity and by the notion of terminal velocity. According to Newton’s laws, an object will gain speed if the forces acting upon it are unbalanced; and, the amount of acceleration is directly proportional to the unbalanced force. Therefore, falling objects initially accelerate because there is no force large enough to balance the gravitational force.

In 2017/18, 11% of the 38 deaths and 12% of 58,000 non-fatal injuries in construction were caused by being struck by a moving (including flying/falling) object. That is according to the Health and Safety Executive’s latest injury statistics, published in October 2018.

By not tethering tools, there are also financial implications. On a basic level, these include potential equipment damage from a falling object alongside any downtime to conduct a repair. At the worse end of the scale, falling equipment could result in costly litigation from serious injury or even death, plus there is the reputational damage to contend with.

Don’t Do “DIY” Tethering

You might be thinking, due to the loose regard in regulations for tool tethering – ‘why not make my own tethering system?” In most cases, a ‘homemade’ tool tethering set up includes attaching a piece of rope around the tool and securing it to nearby infrastructure. Although a cheap and instant way to tether your tools, a DIY approach to tethering isn’t ideal. Quality is, of course, a distinct issue in ‘homemade’ tool tethering. 

More often than not, DIY setups contain equipment not safe for onsite construction, this could include worn rope, faulty clasps, a tether that is insufficient for the tool weight and even unsecure anchor points.

Investing in a safety accredited tool tethering solution is really the only option.

The Benefits Of An Accredited Tool Tethering Solution

There are many professional products and configurations that engineers can use to tether their tools; too many to list here. However, some several key products and features are particularly useful and popular.

Starting with the tethering points, the safety chuck is a type of coupling used in shafted centre wind and centre unwind applications. When working at height it allows free rotation of the tool. A safety pin is used on socket holders to avoid a socket drop and can be secured and held in place by opening and closing the clasp. Another handy tethering point is a safety plate. The safety plate is a metal bracket which is attached to an existing product such as screwdriver or hammer. It is used as a tethering point for a lanyard to pass through. The safety plate can be incorporated into most tools without losing product functionality.

Designed with wrenches in mind, a spring is a high resistance and flexible solution used on tools where drilling has to be avoided. Not to be confused for a tool tethering ring which is specifically for high resistance tools with space limitation for drilling, a ring works best with pliers and wrenches where the hole on the tool is small.

Moving onto tool lanyards, for heavy-duty tools, a double-loop wire is ideal for hammers, wrecking bars dynamometric wrenches. Kevlar and Dyneema string are a popular choice for lanyards. Kevlar is considered seven times stronger than steel, while Dyneema is 15 times stronger than steel, making it the world’s strongest fibre. However, dependent on the type of work you’re doing, you might need to favour one over the other. Kevlar loses up to 25% of material strength after two days of UV exposure, so it best used indoors, while Dyneema only loses 5% of material strength after being exposed to the sun for the same period, so can be used externally.

For a more comprehensive tool tethering set up, it is advisable to consider the use of tools pouches and bags too. There are six basic solutions to suit an operator’s specific needs. These are the lifting bag, safety backpack, tool holster, safety pouches, heavy-duty belt and finally the safety pouch belt.

However, if you’re not sure about where to start, a tool tethering kit might be most suitable. There are two main kits to be aware of, the rigid, upright case or the tool trolley, the main difference being how the tools are displayed, either upright or in horizontal cases; both can be tailormade to suit specific needs.

Ensuring Best Practice

To ensure best practice, consider rolling out sitewide a tool tethering training programme. Covering all aspects of working at height and with tools, the programme should draw focus on how to handle equipment, to site safety protocols and what to do if a detached fallen tool situation was to occur. Be sure to consult your on-site Health and Safety officer or even your PPE specialist to tailor a tool tethering programme around your site.

Andrew Egerton is with Brammer Buck and Hickman

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