Ironworkers on the Safe Side Safety Bulletins

On the Safe Side: Protecting Floor and Roof Openings

Unprotected floor and roof openings have contributed to many fatal falls and serious injuries to our members throughout the United States and Canada. This article highlights common hazards and safe practices associated with work activities around floor and roof openings. The International Association’s “2014 ZERO Fatality” campaign targets the “deadly dozen hazards” that includes falls through unprotected floor and roof openings. In some cases, the improper installation and removal of temporary floor coverings has been the primary causation factors in workplace incidents. 

Recognizing Floor Opening Fall Hazards 

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The photograph above illustrates an unprotected floor opening that can commonly occur during the steel erection process on multi-story or single-story structures. In many cases, it is necessary to remove or leave out decking sheets at/or between columns to perform moment connection welding, bolting and inspection activities. 

However, fall hazards pertaining to floor openings and covers continue to be one of the “deadly dozen” hazards that must be recognized and avoided to prevent reoccurrence. During the bidding and pre-planning stages, it is important for the steel erection contractor to recognize potential fall hazards at temporary floor openings and provide the proper protection. Ironworkers must be provided with the appropriate floor opening covers, such as plywood, planking or barricade systems. Additionally, the employer must ensure all employees on the erection floor are provided proper instruction pertaining to the installation and removal of floor opening covers. Specific safety requirements and procedures must be implemented to prevent fall hazards to all ironworkers on the erection floor. 

In the photograph below, there are several safety issues that must be highlighted. The improper use and installation of plywood between columns can provide a “false sense of security” and create fall hazards.

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Improper Floor Opening Covers
• The plywood is improperly positioned and installed that allowed a continuous exposed floor opening between columns.
• The plywood does not have sufficient bearing and was placed over welding lead and the cutting torch hose.
• The lack of pre-planning failed to provide enough plywood sheets between the columns.
• The plywood is not labeled ““HOLE” or “COVER” to provide warning of the hazard.
• If plywood is used as a temporary floor opening cover, it must be clearly labeled and meet the strength requirements established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Note: Strength requirements for temporary floor opening covers may vary from the Federal OSHA Subpart M – Fall Protect standard and more stringent requirements contained in state-approved OSHA plans or project safety requirements. 

Proper Labeling and Strength Requirements

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The following are specific Federal OSHA requirements pertaining to floor opening covers.

1. Covers shall be capable of supporting, without failure, at least twice the weight of employees, equipment and materials that may be imposed on the cover at any one time.

2. All covers shall be secured when installed so as to prevent accidental displacement by the wind, equipment or employees.

3. All covers shall be color coded or they shall be marked with the word “HOLE” or “COVER” to provide warning of the hazard.

Hazard Access Zones Used as Alternative Protection System 

One of the innovative systems currently used in California, Arizona and Nevada to protect temporary floor and roof openings are “Hazard Access Zones.” This system utilizes a cone and rail system to prevent access to opening where work is being performed. The use of typical plywood and planking may be the best materials and method for many jobsite situations. However, material handling injuries and improper installation and removal has contributed to many incidents. The following photograph illustrates the use of a “Hazard Access Zone” around columns where floor decking was removed to allow ironworkers to access and perform moment connection welding, inspection and other activities. Note: The use of this alternative protection system is not intended to meet OSHA regulatory requirements for common “barricade systems.”

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1. The cones are placed six feet from the temporary floor opening to prevent access by other ironworkers on the erection floor. 

2. The cones are connected by extendable rails that are designed with round locking rings that slide over the top of the cones.

3. This system is easily installed and removed without the exposure to material handing injuries when using heavy sheets of plywood and planking.

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The photograph above illustrates the “Hazard Access Zone” and use of cone and rails positioned around an exposed roof opening where ironworkers were performing work. It is important for our steel erection contractors and members throughout the United States and Canada to recognize and avoid potential fall hazards that are created around floor and roof openings.

The “Hazard Access Zone” using cone and rail systems has been successfully used for millions of man-hours to protect ironworkers from fall hazards around temporary floor and roof openings. The International Association is currently working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to formally recognize this alternative system to protect our members from fall hazards.