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Unprotected openings in floors and shafts are serious hazards and put employees at risk of injury from falls.   In Canada, falls injure more than 40,000 workers and a large number of these falls are associated with floor openings or building shafts. Covers and guardrails are used as common forms of protection. Injuries and fatalities happen around openings and shafts when:

  • unclear job procedures lead to unsafe work practices
  • over time, workers become complacent
  • workers rush or and take shortcuts to meet deadlines
  • Protective devices such as proper covers, barricades, and guardrails are not used or are installed improperly
  • Personal protective equipment that has been provided is not used or used improperly
  • training is inadequate
  • hole coverings are constructed of unsafe material
  • poor lighting or improper work materials make floor openings difficult to see
  • housekeeping practices are careless or poor

A building shaft is a continuous vertical space substantially enclosed on all sides that extends for two or more floors, and includes elevator shafts, ventilation shafts, stairwells and service shafts.

A floor opening can also be an opening or hole in a platform, pavement or yard that measures 300mm (12 inches) or more in its smallest dimension. 

An employer, contractor or owner must:

  • Give notice to the division when digging a shaft or tunnel.
  • Identify any hazards regarding floor openings or shafts before work begin.
  • Cover or guard openings in floors, roofs, and other work surfaces a worker could step or fall into.
    • Guardrails must have a toeboard.
    • Covers must be able to support 360 kilograms per square metre.
  • Provide effective protection against falls when covers or guardrails are removed even if only part of the guardrail or toeboard is missing.
  • Set up a warning sign or permanent label that informs others of the covered hazardous openings.  Warning signs must stand out on a busy construction site.
  • Ensure every building shaft that has a doorway or opening without a platform installed is covered by a solid barrier that extends from the bottom of the doorway or opening to a height of at least 2m.  These solid barriers must be able to prevent workers and loose materials from falling down the shaft.
  • Have work platforms that are integral parts of a slip form used in building shafts that are designed by professional engineers.  These platforms must withstand any maximum foreseeable loads and be constructed, erected, and used in accordance with the professional design.  If the platform is moved, it must be examined by a competent person and a written report must be kept by the employer, contractor, or owner.
  • Not require or permit workers to be on platforms mentioned above without a personal fall arrest system, a full-body harness, a lanyard or a lifeline that meet legislative requirements.
  • Set up at least one permanent warning sign on a building shaft’s barrier so that people are informed of the hazardous openings. Warning signs must stand out on a busy construction site.
  • Fix storage tanks with permanent walkways that have guardrails when workers are regularly walking or working on top of them.  If working or walking on a storage tank is required but not considered a regular part of the job, all storage tank openings must be covered or guarded where workers could fall into them. Grids are commonly used in such situations.
  • Around each excavated shaft or tunnel opening, install a solid or wire mesh fence at least 1m high.  This will prevent material from falling into a shaft or tunnel opening.  Gates in the fence must be substantial and at least 1m high.  Keep all gates closed when workers are not using them.
  • Develop and implement a fall protection plan and have it accessible on all work sites where there is a risk of workers falling. 

A worker must:

  • Participate in identifying any hazards before any work begins and as it is ongoing; noting any openings, holes in floors or building shafts, both secured or non-secured, and communicate with others in the work area.
  • Keep an eye out to ensure covers and other safeguards are being used.
  • Practice proper housekeeping around the construction site.
  • Follow safe job procedures and safe work practices.
  • Use all forms of safeguards, safety appliances, and personal protective equipment provided.
  • Always use another form of fall protection when installing, removing a safeguard, guardrail or cover or when working near an unprotected edge.

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996
S.S., c. O-1.1, Reg 1

Part IX Safeguards, Storage, Warning Signs and Signals

Section 116.1 Fall protection plan

116.1 (1) An employer or contractor shall develop a written fall protection plan where:

(a) a worker may fall three metres or more; and

(b) workers are not protected by a guardrail or similar barrier.

(2) The fall protection plan required by subsection (1) must describe:

(a) the fall hazards at the worksite;

(b) the fall protection system to be used at the worksite;

(c) the procedures used to assemble, maintain, inspect, use and disassemble the fall protection system; and

(d) the rescue procedures to be used if a worker falls, is suspended by a personal fall arrest system or safety net and needs to be rescued.

(3) The employer or contractor shall ensure that a copy of the fall protection plan is readily available before work begins at a worksite where a risk of falling exists.

(4) The employer or contractor shall ensure that a worker is trained in the fall protection plan and the safe use of the fall protection system before allowing the worker to work in an area where a fall protection system must be used.

[Sask. Reg. 67/2007, s. 11]

Section 120 Protection from objects falling from scaffolds, etc.

120. (1) Where a suspended scaffold, suspended powered scaffold or load-carrying unit is suspended from or attached to a structure, an employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that wire mesh, or other material equally effective to prevent objects from falling from the working surface, is installed from the working surface to a height of at least 900 millimetres on all sides except the side adjacent to the structure.

(2) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that wire mesh is installed from the working surface of a platform to a height of two metres on all sides of:

(a) a tower hoist as defined in section 199;

(b) a building shaft hoist; and

(c) a hoist cage in an excavated shaft.

(3) Where it is necessary to hoist or lower materials that are of such a nature that the sides of a cantilever hoist platform or skip cannot be equipped as required by subsection (1), an employer, contractor or owner shall provide another equally effective means for the protection of workers against falling materials.

(4) Where it is necessary for workers to pass through a safeguard required by this section, an employer, contractor or owner shall install a gate that is equally effective to prevent objects from falling from the working surface and shall ensure that the gate is kept closed except when the gate is in use.

Section 124 Openings in floors, roofs, etc.

124. (1) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that any opening or hole in a floor, roof or other work surface into which a worker could step or fall is:

(a) covered with a securely installed covering that is capable of supporting a load of 360 kilograms per square metre and that is provided with a warning sign or permanent marking clearly indicating the nature of the hazard; or

(b) provided with a guardrail and a toeboard.

(2) Where the covering or guardrail and toeboard mentioned in subsection (1) or any part of the guardrail or toeboard is removed for any reason, an employer, contractor or owner shall immediately provide an effective alternative means of protection.

Section 125 Building shafts

125. (1) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that a work platform that is an integral part of a slip form used in a building shaft is designed by a professional engineer to withstand the maximum foreseeable load and is constructed, erected and used in accordance with that design.

(2) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that a platform mentioned in subsection (1) that has been moved is examined by a competent person and that a written report of the examination is made by the person who carried it out and kept by the employer, contractor or owner.

(3) An employer, contractor or owner shall not require or permit a worker to work on a platform mentioned in subsection (1) that has been moved before the platform has been examined in accordance with subsection (2), unless the worker is using a personal fall arrest system, a full-body harness, a lanyard or a lifeline that meets the requirements of Part VII.

(4) Where there is no work platform installed at the level of a doorway or opening in a building shaft, an employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that the doorway or opening is covered by a solid barrier that extends from the bottom of the doorway or opening to a height of at least two metres and is capable of preventing a worker or loose material from falling down the shaft.

(5) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that at least one warning sign indicating the presence of an open building shaft is placed on a barrier erected pursuant to subsection (4).

[Sask. Reg. 67/2007, s. 12]

Section 127 Storage tanks

127. (1) Where a worker is regularly required to walk or work on top of a storage tank, an employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that the storage tank is fitted with a permanent walkway with guardrails.

(2) Where a worker is required to walk or work on top of a storage tank, an employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that any opening in the tank into which a worker may fall is guarded by a grid or other suitable means to prevent the worker from falling into the tank.

Part III General Duties

Section 13 General duties of workers

13. A worker shall:

(a) use the safeguards, safety appliances and personal protective equipment provided in accordance with these regulations and any other regulations made pursuant to the Act; and

(b) follow the safe work practices and procedures required by or developed pursuant to these regulations and any other regulations made pursuant to the Act.

Part XVII Excavations, Trenches, Tunnels and Excavated Shafts

Section 264 Excavated shafts and tunnels

264. (1) An employer or contractor shall ensure that:

(a) during excavating, the walls of an excavated shaft or tunnel are retained by temporary protective structures that are adequate:

(i) for the type of soil; and

(ii) to prevent collapse or cave-in of the walls of the excavated shaft or tunnel;

(b) during the excavating of an excavated shaft that is three metres or more deep or of a tunnel, the walls of the shaft or tunnel are retained by temporary protective structures designed and certified by a professional engineer to be adequate for the protection of workers in the shaft or tunnel and constructed, installed, used, maintained and dismantled in accordance with that design;

(c) a solid or wire mesh fence at least one metre high, or other equally effective means of preventing material from falling into an excavated shaft or the surface opening of a tunnel, is provided around that shaft or opening; and

(d) substantial gates that are not less than one metre high are installed in every opening in a fence provided pursuant to clause (c) and the gates are kept closed except when being used.

(2) A worker who opens a gate mentioned in clause (1)(d) shall close the gate after the worker no longer has a need to keep the gate open.

(3) An employer or contractor shall provide suitable equipment to keep a tunnel or excavated shaft free from any accumulation of water.

Part VI General Health Requirements

Section 64 Sanitation

64. (1) An employer, contractor or owner shall ensure that a place of employment is sanitary and kept as clean as is reasonably practicable and shall ensure, to the extent that is reasonably practicable, that:

(a) dirt and debris are removed at least daily by a suitable method from all floors, working surfaces, stairways and passages;

(b) floors are cleaned at least once each week by washing, vacuum cleaning or any other effective and suitable method; and

(c) all inside walls, partitions, ceilings, passages and staircases are clean and are suitably finished and maintained.

(2) Where a worker may be exposed to refuse, spills or waste materials that may pose a risk to the worker's health or safety, an employer or contractor shall ensure that the refuse, spill or waste material is removed by a suitable method from the worksite as soon as is practicable.

Part II Notice Requirements

Section 7 New operations

7. (1) As soon as is reasonably possible, an employer, contractor or owner shall give notice to the division of the intention to:

(a) begin work at a construction site, manufacturing plant or processing plant where 10 or more workers are to be employed for six months or more;

(b) dig an excavation, a trench or an excavated shaft:

(i) that is more than five metres deep; and

(ii) that a worker will be required or permitted to enter; or

(c) dig a tunnel that a worker will be required or permitted to enter.

(2) Not later than 14 days before beginning the process, an employer, contractor or owner shall give notice to the division of the intention to begin a high risk asbestos process listed in Table 5 of the Appendix.

(3) A notice required by subsection (1) or (2) must include:

(a) the legal name and business name of the employer, contractor or owner;

(b) the location of the site, plant, process or place of employment;

(c) the mailing address of the employer, contractor or owner;

(d) the nature of the work or process to be undertaken;

(e) the number of workers to be employed;

(f) the telephone number and fax number of the employer, contractor or owner; and

(g) the estimated starting date and expected duration of the work or process.

Part VII Personal Protective Equipment

Section 102 Personal fall arrest systems

102. (1) An employer or contractor shall ensure that a personal fall arrest system and connecting linkage required by these regulations are approved and maintained.

(2) An employer or contractor shall ensure that a personal fall arrest system required by these regulations:

(a) prevents a worker from falling more than 1.2 metres without a shock absorber;

(b) where a shock absorber is used, prevents a worker from falling more than two metres or the limit specified in the manufacturer's specifications, whichever is less;

(c) applies a peak fall-arrest force not greater than eight kilonewtons to a worker; and

(d) is fastened to a lifeline or to a secure anchor point that has a breaking strength of at least 22.2 kilonewtons.

[Sask. Reg. 67/2007, s. 8]

Section 103 Full-body harness

103. Where a full-body harness is used, an employer or contractor shall ensure that:

(a) the full-body harness and connecting linkage are approved and maintained;

(b) the full-body harness is properly fitted to the worker;

(c) the worker is trained in the safe use of the full-body harness;

(d) all metal parts of the full-body harness and connecting linkage are of drop-forged steel 22.2 kilonewtons proof tested;

(e) a protective thimble is used to protect ropes or straps from chafing whenever a rope or strap is connected to an eye or a D-ring used in the fullbody harness or connecting linkage; and

(f) the connecting linkage is attached to a personal fall arrest system, lifeline or secure anchor point to prevent the worker from falling more than 1.2 metres.

[Sask. Reg. 67/2007, s. 8]

Section 104 Snap hooks on personal fall arrest system

104. Where a snap hook is used as an integral component of a personal fall arrest system, connecting linkage, full-body harness or lifeline, an employer or contractor shall ensure that the snap hook is self-locking and is approved and maintained.

[Sask. Reg. 67/2007, s. 8]

Section 105 Lanyards

105. An employer or contractor shall ensure that a lanyard:

(a) is as short as work conditions permit;

(b) is constructed of:

(i) nylon, polyester or polypropylene rope or webbing; or

(ii) wire rope that is equipped with an approved shock absorbing device;

(c) is equipped with suitable snap hooks; and

(d) is approved and maintained.