The peril of the pit

Written by Martin Coppard 22 November 2021

The peril of the pit

People working around the pit are classed as working at height even though they are technically at ground level. This is because they could still fall a distance likely to cause personal injury, and as such the Work at Height Regulations 2005 apply.

You may trust your mechanics to take reasonable care of themselves but often the victims of a pit fall are not employees but customers or visitors who aren’t familiar with the workshop.

Preventing a fall and doing all that’s ‘reasonably practicable’?

A preventative measure is reasonably practicable if its benefits in reducing the risk outweigh its costs in terms of time, effort, money or inconvenience. This is an important definition to remember since some workshops have been told by their insurance company that pits must be covered at all times when not in use. This instruction doesn’t take into account the practicalities of such a measure or the actual level of risk reduction in the circumstances.

Pit covers are the ideal protection as they eliminate the risk of a fall occurring, but they may not be practicable in a busy workshop where a pit is ‘vacant’ for no more than a few minutes between jobs.

Chains or extendable barriers are cheaper and relatively quick and easy to put in place but rely on technicians getting into the mind-set of always moving them into position whenever the pit is open. They are also mostly a visual deterrent and won’t prevent a fall. Furthermore, chains – in particular – can present a trip hazard if they are hanging too low.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) state in their official guidance ‘Health and Safety in Motor Vehicle Repair and Associated Industries’ that “…the best solution is likely to depend on the particular work undertaken, layout of the premises and management and supervision in the workplace…”

Options to consider

  • Restrict access - only allow access to those who need to be there. Fix prominent “NO ADMITTANCE” signs and chains across the open workshop entrance and ensure customers and delivery agents are clearly directed to reception when they arrive.
  • Keep them covered - fit metal lattice or other covers to pits when not in use (and areas of pits left exposed when a vehicle being worked on is shorter than the length of the pit).
  • Fence it off - guard rails, chains or extendable barriers are relatively quick and easy to put in place, but must be of a sufficient height, stability and clearly visible in order not to create a trip hazard.
  • Make it stand out - mark pit edges with clear yellow/black bands of slip-resistant paint.
  • Keep the pit well lit - ensure a good level of lighting in the workshop and especially around the pit. White-painted workshop walls help reflect the light and increase the efficacy of the lighting system.
  • Mind your step - apply slip-resistant coatings to steps leading into pits, and install a handrail.
  • Crossing over the pit safely - a proprietary mobile pit bridge with handrails can be used to provide safe access across and reduce the likelihood of workers being tempted to ‘jump the pit’.

What is reasonably practicable for you will depend on the size and layout of your workshop, the number of employees and footfall from visitors. But whatever physical measures are put in place, supervision really is the key, so the Workshop Manager has an important role to play in enforcing the safety culture.

For more information and advice simply call 0330 008 5555 or email riskmanagement@swib.co.uk

Category: Commercial Insurance, Risk Management

Martin Coppard

Martin Coppard

I am a Director of Sutton Winson Consultancy Services Ltd, which delivers a range of risk management solutions. I joined Sutton Winson in January 2000 and have derived a great deal of satisfaction from helping our clients achieve significantly preferable insurance terms, and other financial benefits, by embracing proactive risk management. 

I am a Chartered Member of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (CMIOSH), a member of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI), a Chartered Insurance Risk Manager and hold the FCII (Fellowship of the Chartered Insurance Institute). 

work 01444 251 162

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