Whenever possible, we want to provide a passive protective system. What this means is that once it is put up, the workers to do not have to do anything to be safe. Passive systems involve guardrails, hole covers and enclosing the hazard. An active system is one where the worker must engage the system each time they are in the area. Active systems include wearing fall protection, hooking up to a tripod in confined spaces, etc. Wearing fall protection is never our first choice because it is possible for a worker to forget to tie off, or they may choose a bad anchor point. The passive system protects all workers in the area, without requiring additional personal protective equipment.
Once we have identified fall hazards on the jobsite, we determine the best system. If we can put a barrier around the hazard to keep people from entering, then that’s the best choice. Installing a snow fence around a trench and placing a sign indicating the hazard. We usually make signs reading “Danger, Open Trench” or “Danger, Water Filled Trench”. This serves the purpose of notifying all workers of the hazard, and also informing visitors, who do not possess the knowledge that our workers do. We also want to make our signs and barricades visible so that in low light or poor visibility, no one accidentally walks, rides or drives into the hazard.
Hole covers are another great way to protect hazards. These are usually placed over manholes, sidewalk vaults, and trenches. Before choosing the type of material for the cover, we need to identify what type of traffic we expect. Workers walking or standing on the cover, or is heavy equipment likely to travel over them. Each hole cover must be able to bear twice the intended load. If 5 workers could be on the cover at once, and each weighs 200 lbs, then the cover must be able to bear 2,000 pounds of weight. For pedestrian traffic, single or double plywood sheets may be sufficient. If vehicle traffic is needed, steel plates are more appropriate.
When installing hole covers, remember to finish the job right. Covers need to be secured in place. You can do this by nailing down the cover, or putting small blocks of wood on the back of the cover that will help prevent them from being kicked loose. Steel plates need to overlap the edges of the excavation or trench by a minimum of 6 inches on each side. If the plate is crossing a trench, both open sides need fall protection, such as guardrails. Cold patch should be added on roads where vehicular traffic may cause the plates to shift.
Finally, label it with the word “Hole” or “Cover”. OSHA probably won’t accept if you write “Puka”. Inspect your barricades regularly, and replace or repair them if damaged.