OHS Code Explanation Guide

Published Date: July 01, 2009
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Part 22 Safeguards

Section 314 Covering openings

This section protects workers against the hazard of falling into openings and holes. The section does not specify a minimum or maximum dimension on the opening or hole – if a worker’s foot could fall through, then the opening or hole is large enough to present a hazard requiring protection.

Also, this section does not specify a minimum height of fall. If a worker can get injured in the fall, regardless of the height, the provisions of this section apply.

The employer has two options:

(1) cover the opening or hole (see Figure 22.12):

(a) the cover must be securely attached over the opening or hole, and
(b) the cover must be designed to support any anticipated load – this includes workers, tools and materials; or

Figure 22.12 Securely attached covering

(2) install a guardrail and toe boards (see Figure 22.13):

(a) the guardrail must comply with section 313, and
(b) the toe boards must comply with section 321.

Figure 22.13 Guardrails and toe boards

The removal of a covering, guardrail, toe board, or any part of one of these safeguards can expose workers to a hazard. The employer is responsible for ensuring that when such a safeguard is removed, an effective alternate means of protection is provided immediately. The removal of guardrails from around an opening may, for example, require the placement of barriers and flagging around the perimeter of the opening (but at a further distance) to prevent workers from getting near the opening.

As required by subsection 311(3), the worker who removes a safeguard or makes it ineffective also has responsibilities. The worker must ensure that alternate measures are in place to protect workers and the original safeguard(s) is replaced immediately upon the work being completed. The worker is responsible for making sure the safeguard functions properly once it is replaced.

As shown in Figure 22.14, where a temporary covering is used, a warning sign or markings clearly indicating the nature of the hazard must be provided. Workers could remove an unmarked cover, thinking it to be a piece of material left lying on a secure floor surface. Workers removing such a covering could be at risk of falling into the opening. A temporary covering must not be removed unless an effective means of protection is immediately provided.

Figure 22.14 Example of a warning sign for a temporary covering