Falls–Unprotected Floor Openings

Unprotected floor openings are responsible for numerous serious and deadly accidents yearly. Planning and personal attention to detail can prevent these senseless for accidents.

OSHA Standard 1926.500 mandates that any floor opening measuring 12 inches across or larger must be covered or protected by a standard guard rail with toeboard. The cover must be large enough and strong enough to prevent failure and be marked so that everyone on the job will be aware of its purpose. Guard rails must meet design and minimum strength requirements (See OSHA Standard 1926.502) with toeboards installed to prevent tools or materials from falling through the opening and injuring workers below.


  1. If you make a hole, guard it. Before cutting the hole, barricade the work area..
  2. If the hole must be open, install permanent barricades around the perimeter. Generally railings around the edge of a building or stairwell, should be a minimum of forty-two inches high, have a mid-rail and be capable of withstanding a 200 pound load; however, see OSHA 1926.502 for exact specifications.
  3. If the hole is not guarded, it must be covered. The cover must be capable of supporting at least a 200 pound load, be larger than the opening, secured against displacement, and labeled “Floor Opening, Do Not Remove”. If you have a choice, make a round opening and cover. An oversized round cover cannot fall through a smaller round hole.
  4. Never cover a hole with any type of non-substantial material such as paper, cardboard or plastic. As stupid as this sounds it happens and it can be deadly.
  5. Be extremely careful if you have to walk over protective paper or plastic. A hole could be lurking underneath. Step very carefully. If you find a hole, expose it immediately for others to see, barricade it or post someone to warn others of the danger, and notify your supervisor. Even shallow holes can cause serious injuries.
  6. Plastic skylights and smoke vents can be deadly. Never stand or sit on a skylight. They are not made to support your weight and if you do sit or stand on one, odds are it will break and you will fall. If installing skylights, protect the openings as described above, until installation is complete.

Unprotected Openings Kill. Protection Is Very Simple. Protect All Openings – PERIOD.

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 Openings & Fall Protection – ToolBox Talk

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About the author

Kent Leighton, Founder of The Flat Rock Group, has more than 40 years of experience in the Construction and Development Industry. Having owned a successful midsize General Contracting firm he understands the opportunities and trials of running a successful business enterprise. His passion is sharing his victories and his scars with leaders and managers to help them grow and prosper.