OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

November 17, 1998

Mr. Ivan Russell, President
Occupational Safety & Health Advisors, Inc.
27899 Jackson Drive NE
Isanti, MN 55040

RE: 1926.500(b), 1926.501(b)(4)(ii)

Dear Mr. Russell:

This is in response to your September 4 and October 12 faxed letters to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You asked for clarification of the fall protection requirements when working in the vicinity of an open concrete elevator pit, which measures 6' by 8' and 4-feet deep. You further describe its location as "an open area of a construction site."

The fall protection standard, at 29 CFR §1926.500(b), defines a hole as "a gap or void 2 inches...or more in its least dimension, in a floor, roof, or other walking/working surface." The standard has two requirements with respect to holes. First, §1926.501(b)(4)(i) requires that employees be protected from falling through holes more than 6 feet by fall arrest systems, guardrails or covers. So, if a hole is more than 6 feet deep, one of these protection systems must be used.

Second, §1926.501(b)(4)(ii) requires that employees be protected from tripping or stepping into holes by placing covers over them. This provision does not specify a minimum depth for the requirement to apply.

The first issue is whether the pit is a "hole." The pit that you describe is located in and surrounded by a floor, roof or other walking/working surface of a significantly larger dimension than the pit. This pit would be considered a hole under the standard. Since the fall distance is less than 6 feet, the applicable requirement is 1926.501(b)(4)(ii), which requires a cover to protect against the tripping/stepping into hazard. Alternatively, a guardrail could be used to prevent employee exposure to the tripping/stepping into hazard.

[If you need any additional information, please contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Directorate of Construction, fax # 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.]


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

[Corrected 10/18/2004]