Fall Protection: Holes & Openings

It is 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. That’s how a fall typically happens into an unprotected trench, drain manhole or floor opening. A co-worker or pedestrian at a construction site falls through an opening to a surface below because care was not given to close, protect or adequately barricade and apply warning signs to prevent it happening.

Openings in floors and roofs are often part of the work environment during construction, maintenance, renovation and demolition. They must be guarded and securely covered so no one can accidentally enter. Half measures won’t do it. Many have died in incidents where care was not given to the seriousness of falls.

OSHA regulations require that covers be of standard strength and construction. They should be able to support at least two
times the weight of workers equipment and materials that may cross over them.


  • Do barricade work areas before beginning to trench or cut; especially congested areas.
  • Do pile spoils 2 feet back form trenches and use these as a means of marking the trench.
  • Do guard holes and trenches you made and close unattended manholes when not attended.
  • Do cover holes that must remain open, install barricades and signage around the perimeter. Lights may be necessary in public assess areas as a warning at night and weekend.
  • Do use care when walking over plywood, pallets or plastic, because a hole could be hidden underneath. Never cover a hole with these to create “Tiger Pit Trap”.
  • Do notify a supervisor of any unprotected openings, and ensure they are protected before working in the area.
  • Do ensure covers are made of material that can support any load that may be encountered on the worksite. Paint or mark the openings so others don’t mistakenly remove them.
  • Do only trench as much as can be completed in a day’s work. Don’t leave openings over weekends.


  • Don’t cover holes with materials that are non-substantial, like paper, cardboard or plastic.
  • Don’t sit on, lean against or step on a skylight or any covering placed over a hole in a roof or floor, because the material may not support your weight.
  • Don’t walk/jump over water tank & truck openings when filling, step around these.
  • Don’t leave a hole or opening uncovered without barricade & signs to prevent accidents.
  • Don’t let others stand near unprotected openings or skylights, wet well access points. Utility Top Men keep others back.
  • Don’t forget to replace wash and drain grates and open only enough to perform maintenance, one at a time, in shops and garages.
  • Don’t use covers that protrude more than one inch above the plane of the walking surface so they are visible. Paint and bevel the edges. Avoid bent plates with turned up edges; turn these over.

Even shallow holes and trenches can cause serious injuries. If you encounter a hole or trench hazard identify the danger immediately to others nearby and notify your supervisor. Construct a barrier to mitigate the hazard when covers are not suitable.

National Safety Council reports falls are the highest causes of disabling workplace injuries.

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