Talking Pit Safety with an Industrial Safety Expert

What is a fall hazard? 

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a fall hazard is “anything at your workplace that could cause you to lose your balance or lose bodily support and result in a fall.”  That means any walking or working surface can be a potential fall hazard. 

Certainly, working in areas where there may be holes in the floor is one of the major types of fall hazards in general industry.

To understand the significance of fall hazards in the workplace, consider that fall-related injuries and fatal falls consistently rank in the top overall workplace accidents year-after-year. Per the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2017, fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the CFOI. Falls accounted for 887 (17 percent) of worker deaths and falls through surface or existing opening accounted for 85 (9.5 percent) of all fall fatalities. (Ref: National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2017) Sadly, a vast majority of these fatalities are preventable.

On January 17, 2017, OSHA's updated General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces standard took effect, which created more protective and clearly defined requirements to protect workers from slip, trip, and fall hazards, and specific requirements for specific situations (e.g., repair pits).

The standard allows the use of repair pits, service pits, or assembly pits that are less than 10-feet deep without fall protection provided the following requirements are met:

  1. the employer limits access within six feet (6’) to the pit to trained and authorized workers only
  2. demarcates the pit at least six feet (6’) away with contrasting color
  3. posts warning signs that state "Caution-Open Pit."  [Ref 29 CFR 1910.28(b)(8)]

However, OSHA standards set minimum health and safety standards that are typically not up to date with advances in technology, industry best practices, and national consensus standards to protect workers. 

Additionally, if pits are not covered how does an employer protect against personnel or equipment falling off the edge of the pit when there is nothing over the pit?

Pit covers are an IMPORTANT component of an effective fall prevention plan, which  should include a written plan, assigned responsibilities, hazard assessment, safeguarding (e.g., guardrails, safety nets, fall restraint/protection, pit covers, etc.), training, enforcement, and incident evaluation to determine if additional practices, procedures, or training need to be implemented to prevent similar types of falls or incidents from occurring.

Pit covers create a safer environment that helps to minimize and prevent not only falls, but also the potential for an OSHA citation.  And that ultimately protects your bottom line!

About the Author

Christina Anderson has more than 20 years of experience assisting a wide range of national, mid-size, and small business clients in construction and general industry to achieve their goals for managing their risk and turning their efforts into bottom line results, and developing a safety-oriented culture. She is responsible for providing safety services to Corkill Insurance clients and conducting industrial hygiene surveys at client facilities to assess workers’ exposure levels for hazard identification and assisting to implement controls for those hazards.