DROPS reaches its 25th anniversary 31 May 2023

Dropped Objects Prevention Scheme oil and gas

DROPS (Dropped Objects Prevention Scheme) has steadily been gaining traction around the world as the campaign marks its 25th anniversary. Ben Spencer gets an insight into the milestones, opportunities, and plans for future

Everyone knows that a dropped object can pose a significant risk of serious injuries, fatalities and equipment damage across the globe. DROPS (Dropped Objects Prevention Scheme) is the global initiative focused on preventing dropped objects through collaboration and the publication of best practices over the past 25 years.

Allen Smith, DROPS focal point, highlights DROPS Recommended Practice (www.is.gd/LQoKcM) as the milestone that consolidates basic requirements and minimum recommended practices for dropped object prevention across a range of operations and activities. These include risk assessment, equipment design, inspection and maintenance, securing of tools at height, exclusion zones, lifting and hoisting and transportation.

Reflecting upon the success of the campaign, Smith describes DROPS as an independent initiative in which global and regional members can share lessons learned, work together in exploring new tools and techniques and establish working practices that address dropped object risks.

With more than 250 members worldwide, DROPS began as a working group in 1997 with UK Oil and Gas Operators, North Sea drilling contractors and Step Change in Safety to respond to the unacceptable number of dropped object incidents in and around the drilling process, particularly drilling equipment in derrick and mast structures.

Acknowledging that this problem was not restricted to drilling activities, the team formed an independent working group encompassing a broader cross-section of upstream oil and gas industry representatives. Its objective is to eliminate the risk of exposure to personnel and reduce the likelihood of equipment and environmental damage through the establishment of a dropped object prevention strategy that would become habitual, or ‘second nature’.

Recalling these early activities, Smith recognised the benefits of DROPS as an independent working group with opportunities for supply chain expertise to influence the development of the tools required to implement the strategy.

“Bolting specialists expanded our knowledge and understanding of fastenings, introducing concepts that led to the development and publication of DROPS Reliable Securing – now in its fourth revision (www.is.gd/oxovem). The transportation industry, including maritime, came together to improve the guidance for securing of cargo. Tool manufacturers and users studied time-served practices of tool inventory and tracking systems to implement Tools and Equipment at Height Best Practice”.

Smith referenced the learnings during the development of ‘tethered tool’ systems, promoting traceability of tools that were suitably engineered for use at height. DROPS has utilised these in recommending customised toolkits with visible shadow boards, inventories, logbooks and registers. Tools with multiple components are identified and replaced with composite or one-piece tools wherever practicable. Detachable components such as sockets and extension bars on ratchets are provided with positive locked-on features. The project ensures that rated securing points are incorporated and tool bags and tethering systems are provided at all worksites.

Reliable Securing relates to the appropriate selection, application and management of all fastenings and fixings. It illustrates dependable retention methods and technologies that safeguard against displacement or disengagement of fastenings that could lead to equipment or structure falling.

“In the context of second nature dropped object prevention, Reliable Securing promotes understanding of securing methods that can improve design, planning, risk assessment, equipment inspection and the identification and management of preventive engineered controls”.

Smith also quoted the document further, “Consequences of dropped objects are reduced through the appropriate response to remaining risk with safety securing systems and greater considerations for exposure – ensuring appropriate exclusion zones are established and managed”.

Set out in colour coded sections, the booklet aims to introduce the reader to a range of tool and equipment types, how these may be exposed to the risk of becoming dropped objects and how best to manage this through appropriate securement, inspection, operation, and maintenance. “A fundamental element of the ‘second nature’ strategy is the understanding that gravity is a worksite hazard, but alongside all other hazards it deserves some extra respect”, states Allen. The DROPS Calculator was developed to be a common benchmark in the classification of potential consequences of a dropped object that strikes a person. It is best employed during risk assessments but is equally effective in analysing incidents, according to Smith.

He says: “This tool clearly illustrates that consequence is based upon the items mass or weight and the distance or height that it drops. It also illustrates gravitational acceleration, a constant factor that we can understand but is also a hazard that we cannot isolate or remove from the worksite”.

When applying the hierarchy of control of risks (in priority order: elimination/substitution/engineering controls/administrative controls/PPE), it is apparent that gravity cannot be eliminated nor substituted. Therefore, the hazard is identified as a physical item, a tool, a piece of equipment or structure that can drop under its own weight or becomes dislodged, disengaged or breaks free from its previous position by applied dynamic forces.


Describing its philosophy, Smith continues: “It’s the opportunity to walk through each task step, identify with how all other hazards might trigger the unplanned release of gravity – or how the planned actions of the task might generate potential for collision, shock loading or continuous cyclic loading that may affect the securing method.”

Responding to these risks, the application of reliable securing basic principles ensures the engineering controls are identified, understood and verified. Defining these barriers is a major milestone in preventing dropped objects. They must be considered in design, procurement, transport, installation of all tools and all equipment particularly at height – throughout operation, maintenance and repair, stacking and storing, and ultimately how they are returned safely to ground level, dismantled and returned for decommissioning.

In the mid-2000s, DROPS widened its remit to all sectors in both the oil and gas and energy industries, including production, logistics, transportation, decommissioning and renewables. This move would aid plans to globalise the campaign, which in the coming years led to the establishment of DROPS forums and autonomous chapters in the US and Asia, and the introduction of the programme to the Middle East before expanding worldwide.

However, Smith acknowledges that there is still work to be done. “There are many opportunities in South America and Northern Asia to promote DROPS guidance and best practice. We endeavour to provide access to translated materials and promote a common approach to training through the DROPS Train the Trainer programme.”

More recently, DROPS set out to broaden engagement with the renewables sector in 2017. The move was particularly aimed at the offshore wind sector, which now, thanks to collaboration with G+ Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation, has its own illustrated version of the DROPS Reliable Securing Booklet (www.is.gd/a0vWup).”

Turning to the future of the campaign, Smith says he would like to see more access to shared resources and learning opportunities. “We are currently developing a ‘DROPS Academy’, complementing the DROPS Resource Library and offering opportunities to build awareness through eLearning or study further with tailored DROPS programmes”.

As part of his role, Smith provides familiarisation and coaching for specialists, trainers and workforce personnel and is instrumental in the development, validation and publication of DROPS best practice resources. Behind the scenes are a global administration team, global steering committee, regional chapters and working groups.

Ben Spencer

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