Industrial Pit Cover: Why It's Always A Good Idea To Have One
October 14, 2019
If your place of business includes a hole in the floor – service or inspection pits, machine ways, tank storage or open tanks – a safety pit cover is the easiest and most sensible way for you to protect your employees and remain in compliance with OSHA requirements.
WHAT IS A SAFETY PIT COVER?
A pit cover is exactly what it sounds like – a shield that spans an industrial pit to prevent people or equipment from falling inside. These covers also protect machine ways against hot chips and coolant loads.
Pratfalls may be comedy gold, but in the real-world falls in the workplace are no laughing matter. Even if you think your employees are too smart or too attentive to wind up at the bottom of a pit, it only takes a momentary distraction or unintended trip to send them tumbling.
A pit cover shields the floor opening but can be easily removed so employees can access the opening when needed. Pit covers can be customized to the size of your floor opening, ensuring a safe fit. A cover with a modular design is a wise choice – in the event the cover is damaged from a heavy impact, the damaged section can be removed and replaced at a lower cost than replacing the entire shield.
ANATOMY OF AN INDUSTRIAL PIT COVER
The simplest floor opening covers are nets. A grate or solid pit cover is the next step up, providing more structural stability. Unfortunately, all these basic options can be time consuming and cumbersome to manually move when employees need access to the pit.
It’s well-documented that if a safety procedure is too difficult or time consuming to carry out, people will skip it. The longer they can go without practicing the safety protocol, the less important it seems – until tragedy strikes.
An automated safety pit cover makes it easy for your workers to maintain a safe workspace. These covers can be fully or partially extended or retracted by use of simple controls. Cover controls are easily customized to suit their application.
The most convenient option, walk-on pit covers, are made of either aluminum or stainless steel supported by aluminum tubing and are sturdy enough to be traveled across. If your facility’s opening does not need to be accessed frequently, these covers can increase your usable floor space to relieve the feeling of a crowded shop.
The cover can be mounted above or below ground and can be connected to nearly any structurally sound surface parallel or perpendicular to the hole. A guide system keeps the cover level and secure as it rolls over the opening. Hennig offers end cap gliders, rollers or rollers with a chain as guide system options.
Based on their method of actuation, pit covers are classified as either active or passive drive. A cover with an active drive has either a manual hand crank or a dedicated electric motor. An electric drive can extend and retract the cover directly using a sprocket drive or indirectly using a chain drive. Active drives are best used to cover equipment not directly tied to other automation equipment.
In some applications, like covering a machine way, it is more convenient to integrate the cover with existing machinery. Covers with passive drives are driven by an existing component like a machine table. Hennig’s passive drive control units can be designed for compatibility with the buyer’s existing machinery.
The canister housing the actuator may be made of stainless steel, mild steel or aluminum, depending on the requirements of the application. When choosing a material for your industrial pit cover and canister, consider the environment around the pit. If the pit cover is likely to be exposed to corrosive chemicals, steel is a safer choice than aluminum. In a hot environment, however, aluminum will withstand more heat than steel. Consider the surroundings carefully to choose the most suitable material for your application.
THE COST OF PIT SAFETY
Every business tries to reduce overhead and focus its spending on purchases with a strong return on investment (ROI). When calculating the ROI of a safety pit cover, the question is one of risk management – can you afford the potential consequences if you do not have a pit cover?
Falls are consistent among the most common workplace accidents resulting in injury or death. In 2017, falls accounted for 17 percent of worker deaths, according to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. When considering the cost of a safety pit cover, compare it against the potential costs of worker compensation claims, higher insurance premiums, lost work time and even lawsuits should someone be injured by a fall into the pit.
But the costs won’t stop there. A worker fall is a sure-fire way to get some face time with an OSHA inspector. In the end, you may be required to cover the pit anyway plus pay thousands of dollars in fines. And remember – OSHA doesn’t need a reported incident to come knocking. A surprise audit could land you in hot water even if no one has been injured yet.
Preventive safety measures not only protect your employees. They also protect expensive equipment, cut downtime and minimize your liability exposure, all factors with a direct impact on your business’ bottom line.
OSHA REQUIREMENTS FOR INDUSTRIAL PITS
Businesses with floor openings such as oil change pits or machine ways are subject to OSHA article 1910.22, which requires employers to “protect personnel from the hazards of open pits, tanks, vats, ditches, etc.” through the use of covers or guardrails.
While it may be tempting to implement the bare minimum safety standards, remember that the cost savings may be an illusion. If a worker is hurt or killed, you are liable to lose thousands more than you saved, and one of your valuable employees stands to lose much more. Voluntarily implementing safety protocols that go beyond minimum requirements not only better protects you and your work force, it gives you a leg up should OSHA guidelines become stricter in the future.
WHO NEEDS PIT COVERS?
Auto care industryThe auto shop is the first place many people think of when picturing a workplace with an open pit. Lube pits, vehicle service pits, and car inspection pits all need covers to protect not only employees, but customers who may wander into the shop during drop-off or pickup of their vehicle.
Lube pits pose a unique combination of safety hazards. In addition to the obvious hazard created by the open pit, workers are navigating an environment with oily spills and trip hazards like rags and tools on the floor and the distractions of vehicles regularly moving through the bay.
Nets and grates are often used to cover pits in auto care and lube shops. While inexpensive, these solutions have a number of weaknesses. Most notably, they should not be walked upon, cannot support a load, and are cumbersome to move in and out of place. If a pit cover is too much trouble for employees to move, they may opt to simply ignore protocols and leave it off – and then you have gained nothing from the investment.
Chemical industryChemical vats and dip tanks pose a host of workplace hazards. Besides the fall risk, these facilities must also contend with the presence of fumes and vapors coming off the tanks. Depending on the chemicals used, these vapors can significantly impact the air quality of the workplace, posing a long-term threat to worker health.
An automated pit cover over these tanks keeps fumes inside. The covers are easy to open when the vat is in use and close securely when access is no longer needed.
Energy industryFields such as the oil and gas industries often have pits where wastewater is held for treatment before it can be released into waterways or municipal water treatment systems. Wastewater pits are particularly dangerous, as a fall could result not only in injury, but in chemical exposure or drowning.
Industries such as commercial agriculture also employ wastewater pits, often in the open air. A pit cover mitigates the noxious fumes emitting from these pits and can help prevent overflow during heavy rains or flooding.
Large scale machiningManufacturers of large parts like components for railcars and heavy equipment often rely on in-ground machine tools like pit lathes to mill their products. Pit covers can not only prevent people from falling into these pits and being injured, but also protect the machine from being damaged by debris that may fall into the machine way.
Unlike vehicle service pits, machine ways rarely need to be accessed. A walk-on cover increases the amount of usable floor surface in the shop while still allowing quick, safe access for machine maintenance.
Food and beverage productionFood and beverage plants may employ in-floor tanks for ingredients or wastewater. Pit covers allow access to these tanks when they are needed, but keep ingredients safely sealed away and wastewater securely contained when they are not.