Preventing Falls Through Holes

It has to be a terrible feeling. One moment your feet are on what seems to be a solid surface, the next moment they're in mid-air as you begin a fall to a level far below. Openings in floors and roofs are often part of the work environment during construction, renovation and demolition. They must be guarded and securely covered so no one can accidentally step in. Half measures won't do it. Many have died in incidents such as these. OSHA Standard 1926.500 mandates that any floor opening measuring 12 inches across or larger must be covered or protected by a standard guard rail with toe board.

Protection

Each employee shall be protected from falling through holes (including skylights), trip hazards presented by holes, and objects falling from holes more than 2” in diameter.

The protection can be:

  • Guardrails
  • Personal fall arrest systems
  • Safety nets
  • Covers

Covers are the preferred method as they are passive systems that protect workers below the hole from falling objects, which is a requirement.

Covers

Covers for holes in floors, roofs, and other walking/working surfaces shall meet the following requirements:

  • All covers shall be capable of supporting, without failure, at least twice the weight of employees, equipment, and materials that may be imposed on the cover at any one time.
  • All covers shall be secured when installed to prevent accidental displacement by the wind, equipment, or employees.
  • All covers shall be color coded or they shall be marked with the word “HOLE” or “COVER” to provide warning of the hazard.

Inspections

  • Employers are responsible, but employees must carry out routine and ongoing inspections of the job site.
  • Workers are responsible: Notice hazards (such as holes) and take corrective action.
  • Look out and check for holes in your work area prior to beginning the work shift!

Remember...

  • Guard or cover all holes you have created or uncovered before you leave the work area. Other workers might not notice an uncovered hole and could fall through.
  • Label all covers with the word "HOLE" or "COVER" to provide warning of the hazard.
  • Keep an eye out for your co-workers and if a hole is uncovered take action to cover it, EVEN IF YOU DID NOT UNCOVER IT!
  • Make sure covers can support at least two times the weight of workers, equipment and materials that may cross over them. (OSHA regulations require that covers be of standard strength and construction.)
  • Secure all covers so they do not move.

John's Story

John was in the process of removing a damaged plywood sheet when Phillip, another worker, requested some supplies. Before John left to get them, he set down the damaged plywood, and it happened to cover a hole. Later, Phillip came along and picked up the plywood sheet to take it to a disposal chute and he stepped into the uncovered hole. He fell to the concrete floor, about 25 feet below, and suffered severe injuries to his legs and back.

  1. Have you recently worked around a hole in a roof or floor?
  2. Was the opening covered or protected with guardrails?
  3. Have you known anyone who was injured falling through a hole or opening? If so, what happened