Floor openings come in many different sizes and locations. 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.” What type of hazards are associated with floor opening? The biggest danger is a fall from an elevation. Such a fall could cause injuries as minor as a sprain or strain to as serious as broken bones or even result in death! Another hazard is being struck by objects failing through the floor hole.
Several methods of protection for floor openings are acceptable. A standard guardrail with a toe board provides a good physical barrier. If you use wood, both posts and top rail must be of at least 2″x4″ stock and the mid rail of 1″x6″ stock. If you choose pipe railings, posts, top and intermediate railings must be of at 1 ½” nominal diameter pipe. For structural steel railings, posts, top and mid rails shall be of 2″x 2″ x 3/8″ angle or equivalent. In all cases posts must be spaced not to exceed 8′ on center, and toe boards shall be a minimum of 4″ in vertical height and securely fastened. All standard guard rails must be able to withstand 200 pounds of force with a minimum of deflection in any direction.
Smaller openings may be protected with a floor hole cover, capable of supporting the maximum intended load and must be installed so as to prevent accidental displacement. Covers and their supports located in roadways and vehicle aisle ways for conduits, trenches and manholes must be signed to carry the rear axle load of two times the maximum intended load.
Many deaths occur each year because floor hole covers are removed and not replaced, or they were constructed of materials that could not support the weight of the person or load. Toe boards prevent materials from falling through the opening and striking a worker below. For new construction, identify floor holes as they are created; for existing structures survey the site prior to starting work and continue to check all areas as renovation, repair and alteration proceeds. Install guardrail or hole covers immediately, as needed.