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. These updated standards finally provided clarification for service pits, specifying that guardrails are not required around service pits less than 10 feet 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)
Keeping Workers Safe Around Service Pits
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 deeper than 5 feet or so. While these pits do not require guardrails, they are still a hazard that needs to be addressed.
Apply Floor Markings
Apply floor markings at least 6 feet 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 no more than 15 feet apart, then your floor markings can surround the entire pit area.
OSHA also permits warning lines to be placed at 6 feet from the pit in lieu of floor markings. Warning lines can also be used along with floor markings. Since there are minimal strength and design requirements for warning lines and their required stanchions, most employers will opt for floor markings for the sake of convenience and because they provide the same protection as warning lines.
Post Caution Signs
In addition to floor markings, you must also post caution signs. These must be easy to see and 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” (signs that meet these requirements are readily available online). Note that the background color is specifically required for caution signs: yellow is the universal color for caution.
(Learn more in 5 Things to Know About Safety Signs)
Limit Access to the Pit Area
Cautionary markings are intended to serve as a sort of controlled access zone for pits. Limiting access isn't simply a good idea - it's an OSHA requirement. Only authorized employees should be allowed to cross the markings.
You must also communicate to personnel who don't need to be in the immediate vicinity of the pit that this area is off limits to them. I recommend empowering shop foremen with the authority to do something about area violators, since they not only put themselves in danger but their coworkers as well.
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.
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