Each year many deaths and injuries during construction projects are associated with floor openings. These accidents occur because of openings that are not properly covered or because hole coverings are constructed of unsafe material. Additionally, poor lighting and work materials could make a floor opening difficult to see and over time, workers might become accustomed to an opening and forget about it altogether. The biggest danger is falling from a high elevation. There’s also the danger of heavy objects falling through the opening and striking someone working below.
OSHA defines a floor opening as, “An opening measuring 12 inches or more in its least dimension in any floor, roof, or platform through which persons may fall.” Whenever working around floor openings, certain safety procedures need to be taken to meet or exceed OSHA standards.
Railings and toeboards should be built on all exposed sides of a floor or stairway opening, except at the stairway entrance. A “standard railing” consists of top rail, mid rail, and posts, and should have a vertical height of 42 inches from the upper surface of the top rail to the floor, platform, runway, or ramp level. The nominal height of the mid rail is 21 inches. A “standard toeboard” is 4 inches nominal in vertical height, with not more than ¼-inch clearance above floor level.
OSHA allows that floor openings may be covered securely rather than guarded with rails. When the floor opening cover is removed, a temporary guardrail should be in place, or an attendant shall be stationed at the opening to warn employees and others in danger.
Floor hole covers must be constructed from a material that is capable of supporting the maximum weight required, especially if they’re located in a roadway. The covers should be secure and not easily dislodged. The same is true for smaller openings. These measures will ensure the safety of the workers and reduce the hazards that floor openings can pose.
If you’re working in new construction it’s a good idea to identify floor holes as they’re created by installing guardrails and/or hole covers immediately. At existing building sites ensure safety by surveying the site before beginning work and as the work progresses.
Remember that if you are working around a floor opening you are at risk. Leaning over a hole to tighten or loosen a bolt or pulling on a rope with their back to a floor opening is dangerous. One moment of forgetfulness or loss of balance might send you falling through the opening.
For more information about working around floor openings see OSHA regulation 1910.23.