Guide to Guarding Open Manholes

Guarding Manhole Blog cover photo

Some of the most important confined space fall protection measures happen just outside the confined space. Guarding open manholes is a crucial step in maintaining a safe job site.

Confined space entrants are not the only ones at risk of falls and injuries Everyone on the surface also needs protection.

Injuries from accidents can be dangerous and even fatal. A worker’s legs, chest, and head are especially vulnerable, and injuries incurred could lead to major surgery.

While anchorage systems, hoists, and other forms of fall protection may get more attention, we think it’s equally important to give time to a thorough examination of when and how you should guard manholes.

We aim to protect inside and out of confined spaces and hope this guide helps keeps those on the surface safer during confined space work—both workers and passersby.

When do I need to Guard Manholes?

Put simply, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires you to cover manholes as soon as you open them. 

The corresponding OSHA regulation states, “When covers of manholes or vaults are removed, the opening shall be promptly guarded by a railing, temporary cover, or other suitable temporary barrier.” 

“Promptly” is doing some heavy lifting here. One person’s definition of prompt may be a few moments more than someone else’s definition. Those few extra moments are enough for an accident to happen.

That’s why we advocate for guarding your manhole immediately after removing the cover. Have your guard system hardware set up and in place at your side before the cover is opened and deploy it before walking away from the opening. 

It’s a small inconvenience to plan and prepare to guard your manhole opening immediately upon removing the cover, but the benefits can be life-saving. 

With that in mind, remember: manhole cover off, manhole guard on.

What Can I Use to Guard an Open Manhole?

To fully answer this question, we need to look at the two things the guard needs to stop from falling into the manhole: people and tools. A barrier or guardrail will work for people, while a low rail or temporary cover will offer protection from objects. 

When looking at tools to help you guard manholes, there’s no better place to start than with a manhole guard.

Pelsue manufactures two purpose-built manhole guards, one that clamps with our manhole shield (more on that below), and another that features lockable folding arms.

While it’s easy to deploy a Davit with a manhole guard in place, you may prefer to have your anchorage system continually deployed while entrants are at work in the confined space. Our LifeGuard helps you accomplish this with a single unit.

The LifeGuard is made up of two pieces: the top, which is an anchorage point for a hoist or SRL, and the base, which is adapted from our manhole guard. That’s why it’s a 3-in-1 fall protection tool: fall protection, rescue anchorage, and built-in manhole guard.

The manhole guard works both physically and visually, preventing workers and passersby from stumbling into the manhole and warning the more watchful among them to stay clear before they can fall.

While your manhole guard protects people from falling into the manhole, you also need to ensure confined space entrants are protected from falling objects or a sudden influx of water.

Whether dropped, kicked, or blown into the manhole, a falling object can cause serious injury or death, even over the course of a short drop. A deluge of water can injure or drown workers depending on volume, and hazardous liquids bring their own potential dangers.

Our stackable manhole shields form a protective ring around the manhole opening with a pneumatic tube around the base that you inflate with air or nitrogen to form a water-tight seal around the manhole.

While the shield protects the circumference of the manhole, the Pel Protector prevents things above the manhole from falling in while still providing ample ventilation and access for emergency rescues. 

They may not draw as much attention or be as involved a personnel fall protection rig, but manhole guard systems are every bit as crucial when it comes to keeping crews and other people safe. 

Workplace safety is built on the small things. Checklists, equipment inspections, and deploying proper manhole safety equipment help ensure that your crews are better protected from dangerous and devastating accidents.

FAQ

  • When do I need to guard an open manhole?

    OSHA requires you to place a protective barrier around a manhole anytime you remove its cover. The barrier must remain erected until the cover is replaced at the end of operations.

  • Is it dangerous to fall in an open manhole?

    Very much so. A study at one hospital found that 10% of patients that fell into open manholes suffered major trauma, often in the legs, chest, and head. Many patients required major surgery and 1% died.

  • What must be onsite before entering a manhole

    In addition to the equipment and personnel required for all confined space work (anchorage, harness, and rescue team), OSHA requires a person with basic first aid training be immediately available if it’s reasonable to believe a safety hazard exists onsite.

    Examples of safety hazards include (but are in no way limited to): unusual water hazards, space that is jointly occupied with power utilities, and respiratory hazards 

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