Suspended Loads and Respecting the Fall Zone

In almost every industry, a load of some kind is being lifted, manipulated, lowered or carried in a way that poses risk to workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are more than 50,000 “struck by falling object” recordable injuries every year in the United States. That’s one injury every 10 minutes caused by a dropped object in the workplace.

Graphic of a frontline worker falling in the workplace


Understanding the Fall Zone

The fall zone as defined by 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.” OSHA goes on to state that standing under a suspended load is prohibited and that “while the operator is not moving a suspended load, no employee must be within the fall zone, except for employees (who are): engaged in hooking, unhooking or guiding a load; engaged in the initial attachment of the load to a component or structure…”

As a safety practitioner, there’s a simpler approach. Whether the load is suspended and static or moving in any motion, respect the fall zone because your life and the lives of others depends on it.

Staying Outside the Fall Zone

One of the biggest concerns working with overhead loads is judging what is a safe distance from the load. The size of the fall zone should expand as the complexity of the lift is understood and planned. OSHA and other regulatory agencies mandate that carrying loads over people should to be avoided, so it’s reasonable that the fall zone moves along the direction of travel to ensure measures are taken to eliminate exposure.

Load height is another critical factor, because as load height grows, so does the radius of the fall zone.

Load size, weight, shape and rigging should all be considered as well as issues like operator knowledge and skill, environmental conditions and equipment. There are a lot of variables to consider in ensuring safe load handing but be sure to think about it 360 degrees around the load.

Here are a few key safety tips to consider:

  • Avoid carrying loads over people. This is required to protect people from the hazard of a falling load due to inadvertent failure of a crane, hoist, forklift or other machinery, or if the operator makes an error.
  • At a minimum, stay at least 10 feet radius from where a suspended load could fall if there was failure. If a load is suspended higher, increase the radius.
  • Remember that a suspended load can be anything moved using such equipment as a crane, forklift, hoist or tractor bucket. Don’t forget that forklift masts and forks, hoists and lifting attachments or empty buckets are considered a suspended load. When someone stands under any of these items they are at risk of injury.
  • Be aware of the path of travel the load will follow. If there’s a boom crane involved, understand the full radius of the load swing.
  • If the work is performed outside, weather can affect the safety of a load. Environmental conditions like illumination, wind speed and freezing weather are especially important to consider before moving or working near the load.
  • Training should be conducted with all workers who are working in, around or near suspended loads. Workers need to be outside the fall zone and need to be informed of any lifts that are planned during the work shift to ensure awareness.
  • Work areas can be noisy, preventing awareness of overhead work. Ensure a communications system is established if noisy conditions exist.
  • If failure of a suspended load could affect the public, erect firm exclusion zones to physically prevent entry into the fall zone.

Situational Safety Awareness

Finally, working around or near suspended loads requires a great level of situational awareness, whether you are the operator who is lifting and/or carrying the load, or you are working around or near the load being lifted.

Situational safety awareness is having a good understanding of:

  • what is happening around you
  • the work environment you are in
  • what is happening around you at the moment
  • where your work will take you during the next moment
  • and, most important, anyone or anything around you that can threaten your safety.

To improve your situational awareness, make a habit of consciously assessing your work environment and regularly stopping to perform a quick mental assessment of it. If you feel you are in any immediate danger, or if others are introducing unwarranted risks that could affect your safety, stop and immediately begin to improve the safety of the worksite.
Learn more about creating safe and compliant workplaces in our free Insight Report, Taking the Headache Out of the Health & Safety Compliance Process.

Scott Gaddis is the practice leader, EHS, for Intelex Technologies in Toronto, Canada. Gaddis leads the integration of the EHSQ Alliance in thought leadership and building partnerships with key clients and other top influencers in EHS. Before joining Intelex, Scott was vice president, Global Environment, Health and Safety, for Coveris High Performance Packaging Co. in Chicago, IL. Prior to that, he spent five years as executive director of Global EHS for Bristol-Myers Squibb and 18 years with the Kimberly-Clark Corp. in various EHS leadership roles, ending as global director of Occupational Safety and Health.


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About Scott Gaddis

Scott Gaddis, VP and Global Practice Leader at Intelex Technologies in Toronto, Canada, drives thought leadership and partnerships in EHS. With extensive experience in global EHS leadership roles, including at Coveris and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Scott collaborates to enhance EHS capabilities globally. Scott holds a Master's degree in Occupational Safety and Health and is a published author and lecturer in the field.

One thought on “Suspended Loads and Respecting the Fall Zone

  1. Any suspended load should be taken seriously every single day and we should understand all the dangerous factors that come with it

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