FALLS FROM HEIGHT - 29.04.2021

Worker fell into inspection pit

Inspection pits in the motor vehicle repair industry are less common than they used to be, but are still in use in some premises. If you have one, you must control the risk of falls. What happened in a 2021 case?

Momentary lapse

Having an open inspection pit in your workroom floor creates an ongoing risk of falling, and is one of the reasons that they’ve been replaced with vehicle ramps, especially for lighter vehicles. However, many inspection pits continue to be used.

This case concerned a fall into the pit by an employee of GP Motors Works Ltd (GP) on the Isle of Wight. The accident happened in September 2018 as the man carried out mechanical repairs to a nearby vehicle. The vehicle pit was partially covered with a small vehicle but more than 2m of the pit was still open. The employee fell five feet into the hole and sustained serious head and shoulder injuries, which required surgery.

GP pleaded guilty to breaching s.2(1) Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was fined £10,000 plus costs of £10,000.

What should have been done?

These are dynamic work environments so it can be tricky to ensure that inspection pits remain protected either by covers or barriers, but this is what is expected.

Warning. You cannot rely on the fact that everyone present in the workplace knows that the pit is there. Unfortunately, familiarity with the hazard alongside concentration on other things are two of the causes behind staff accidents. The open pit is also a risk to visitors.

Tip. Ensure that you strictly control access to the work area so that customers are not wandering into danger.

Guarding

HSE guidance for the industry describes a number of measures to be taken to protect inspection pits (see The next step ).

Tip. Use clearly defined pedestrian routes so that staff who are not involved in repairs are directed to safe areas.

Tip. Another basic precaution is to ensure that there’s good visibility. This includes strong lighting in the vicinity and clear marking around the pit, e.g. with slip-resistant yellow floor paint.

Tip. Flexible barriers which discourage close proximity to the pit are a sensible option, e.g. posts with chains between them or extendible barriers of the type often used in airport queueing systems. The advantage of these is that they are light and quick to move.

Tip. Taking a short cut by hopping over the open pit is a common reason for accidents. Whilst chains will prevent it, another option is to have a moveable bridge available. This can also be handy as a work platform across the pit.

Tip. The most effective fall prevention equipment is a pit cover. However, as there’s a small risk of falling whilst installing or removing it, these are more suitable if that section is going to be out of use for a while. The HSE has illustrated light and quick to install products in its guide.

A mechanic fell into an inspection pit whilst focusing on other things. The minimum precautions required are to control access to essential personnel, clearly mark the pit edges, have lighting and surround pits with portable flexible barriers. Proprietary covers are a great choice if an area can be covered for a longer period of time.

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