Do I need to use guardrails for automotive service pits?
In late 2016, OSHA finally published the long awaited updates to its 1910 Fall Protection in General Industry. In these updated standards, OSHA finally clarified that it does not require guardrails around service pits less than 10 feet (3m) in depth. For employers who have been doing their best to keep employees safe around pits already, OSHA’s first-ever requirements for service pits will be very easy to digest and probably fairly familiar (learn more about OSHA's 43-Year Effort to Update Its Fall Protection Standards).
I’ll orient my guidance about service pit safety to those typically found in most automotive repair facilities, in part because I’ve never seen one more than about 5 feet (1.5m) in depth.
Apply floor markings at least 6 feet (1.8m) from the edge of the pit. I recommend that floor markings be a continuous solid line. “Safety yellow” is a good choice of color because it’s highly visible and many people readily understand it to be a color indicating that caution is required. If there are multiple pits in one area and they are not more than 15 feet (4.5m) apart, then the floor markings can surround the entire pit area.
Cautionary markings are intended to serve as a sort of controlled access zone for pits, and it’s not just a good idea to limit access to the area; limiting access to authorized employees only is absolutely required by OSHA. It also must be communicated to personnel who don’t need to be in the immediate vicinity that this area is off limits to them. I’ve always been a proponent of taking area control very seriously and recommend that shop foremen be empowered with the authority to do something about area violators since they don’t only endanger themselves, but also their coworkers and the best interests of their employers.
Employees authorized to be in the immediate vicinity must understand the nature of the fall hazards associated with the pit and the procedures necessary to minimize the hazards. This is standard fare for OSHA required job safety training. Fortunately, pit fall hazards are simple to understand and their remedy is straightforward.
In addition to floor markings, caution signs must be posted and they must be easy to see. They should not be obstructed by equipment or hidden from view in any manner. The caution signs must have a yellow background with black letters and must read “Caution – Open Pit” (these signs are readily available online). Note that the background color is specifically required for caution signs: yellow is the universal color for caution.
Please note that OSHA also permits warning lines to be placed at 6 feet (1.8m) from the pit in lieu of floor markings or the use of both floor markings and warning lines. There are minimal strength and design requirements for warning lines and their required stanchions, so most employers will elect to use only floor markings for convenience and because they provide the same protection as warning lines.
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