Openings in floors, walls and roofs are what make up a home’s design, and whether it’s a window, door, stairwell, skylight or other roof opening, they all must be guarded from someone accidentally falling through. Falls through unprotected openings account for a lot of accidents on construction sites, many of which are very severe, and even deadly. With some fairly simple—yet diligent—planning and execution, protecting these types of openings is a sure way to prevent these unnecessary falls.
Before you cut a hole, you’ll have to decide if the opening will be protected with guardrails or covered with a material such as plywood. Also prior to making the opening you should barricade the surrounding area to keep people back. This is a safety measure for them, and it gives you space to safely use the tools necessary to cut and prepare the opening. Once the hole has been cut, or opening otherwise made, promptly construct the guardrails or secure a covering.
Guardrails are just like the railings you find around stairwells and balconies, only they’re not permanent. Guardrails must meet these requirements:
- be a minimum of 42” high
- have a mid-rail
- be capable of withstanding a 200 lb. load
While only required if people will be working below the opening, toe-boards are highly recommended to prevent things from slipping or being kicked down the opening.
The second option is to protect an opening with a sturdy cover. Covers must meet these requirements:
- be able to withstand a 200 lb. load
- be bigger than the opening itself
- be distinguishable from the surrounding flooring/wall material (painting them with brightly-colored spray paint works well)
- secured to the surrounding floor/wall/roof to avoid shifting
- labeled with “Opening,” “Hole” or “Cover” and “Do Not Remove”
While it may seem like common sense, never cover an opening with paper, cardboard or plastic—they simply can’t stand up to the weight of a person or heavy object falling through.
It’s likely that you’ve got an expert on your staff for setting up proper protection for openings. But setting them up correctly is only the half of it. Awareness of possible openings anywhere throughout a building project is the responsibility of everyone on a job site. While it must be your goal—through training and inspection—that every single opening be covered, in the hustle and bustle of a worksite they can go overlooked. We recommend you include this important topic in your daily safety discussions with staff and volunteers to ensure daily awareness.