Published on: June 28, 2022
Falls from heights are one of the leading causes of severe injuries and fatalities in construction, manufacturing, and other industries. This is primarily why there is a shortage of workers in the construction industry, as workers risk their lives every day, and an incident causes pain and suffering to the victim and a financial burden to their family.
Thus, fall protection systems, such as guardrails and safety railings are an absolute necessity. This article will discuss the guardrail protection requirements and the available systems.
What Is a Guardrail?
Before diving deep into the topic, let’s first discuss what guardrails are and how they differ from handrails. Guardrails are protective railings along the roof, road, or other elevated spaces to prevent accidents on construction sites and other workplaces. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), guardrails are one of the three major ways to prevent falls when working at heights. Other options include fall arrest systems and safety nets.
Guardrails come in different styles and can be customized according to the site. Each guardrail consists of a top rail, an intermediate rail, and toeboards to prevent equipment and employees from falling off the ledge. Guardrails are used not only to avoid falls but also to alert employees about the presence of hazards and restrict access to unauthorized areas.
To simplify, guardrails are considered life-saving devices, and here is where they differ from handrails. Handrails provide a handhold for support on stairs, slopes, and other surfaces where people might need assistance climbing or walking. It provides stability and is not used for life-saving purposes.
Safety Rail Systems for Fall Protection
Now that we know what guardrails are and how they are essential for fall protection, let’s move on to the types of guardrails.
1. Rooftop Freestanding Guardrail
Rooftop freestanding guardrails are fall protection systems that do not penetrate the roof membrane. They are long-lasting and versatile and can be customized according to your preferences.
One of the significant disadvantages of installing guardrail systems on the rooftop is that the bases and rails are heavy and add more weight. Therefore, you need proper weight-distributing structures. Freestanding guardrail systems have counterbalance systems that distribute the weight and reduce the strain on the roof. Moreover, a site can also opt for infill panels to convert the guardrail into a roof for added protection. It has lightweight modular counterweights that allow maximum flexibility on site.
2. Roof Hatch Guardrail
This guardrail system protects the roof hatch opening in construction sites. It also has a modular design and can adjust to fit an opening of any size. These guardrails also come with a swing gate, multiple mounting options, and a weather-resistant powder coating. Roof hatch guardrails are also non-penetrating and keep your site compliant with OSHA requirements.
3. Permanent Guardrail
If your construction site has high-sloped roofs, slippery metal roofs, or loading docks, you must install permanent guardrail fall protection systems to prevent employees and equipment from slipping off the edge. They are not as flexible as free-standing guardrails but ensure everyone is protected while working on elevated spaces.
4. Mobile Guardrail
A mobile guardrail comprises modular sections that can be assembled and disassembled when necessary. It is ideal for temporary solutions and can be laid out according to the structure of the roof or construction site. Workers can use these mobile guardrails in multiple construction sites without compromising on OSHA requirements. Mobile guardrails are non-penetrating fall protection systems held upright by galvanized steel collars and set screws.
5. Self-Closing Gates
Safety swing gates are also important for fall protection and to ensure employees’ safety when getting access to elevated heights. Swing gates open from both sides, thus offering quick access to safety in case of potential hazards. Moreover, swing gates also restrict the intrusion of unauthorized personnel into a working area. Swing gates are used for ladders, mezzanines, rooftop hatch, etc.
6. Metal Roof Guardrail
Metal rooftops have uneven surfaces, increasing the risk of rooftop hazards and falls. Guardrails for metal roofs are pre-engineered and can mount directly to the corrugated folds of a metal roof. The weight is distributed over a wide area with the help of base plates and ensures that the railing stays firm.
Requirements For Rooftop Safety Railing Protection
Effective guardrail and safety railing installation to prevent falls must meet the standards set by OSHA. In 2017, OSHA updated its requirements, clarifying what employers and construction workers need to do to adhere to safety standards on the construction site. The requirements are divided into 3 sections for guardrails, which are laid out below.
- In guardrails, the top edge height of top rails needs to be 42 inches, plus or minus 3 inches, above the walking-working surface.
- If there is no wall or parapet 21 inches high from the walking-working surface, then the intermediate rail, mesh, or screen needs to be installed between the top rail and the surface.
- The midrail should be at least 21 inches so that a 19-inch or large spherical object cannot pass through the guardrail.
- Guardrails should be able to withstand, without failure, a load of 200 pounds applied downward or outward within 2 inches of the top edge.
- Midrails, screens, mesh, and other vertical panels should be able to withstand, without failure, a load of 150 pounds applied downward or outward at all points along the intermediate member.
- For guardrail systems being used around holes, they should be installed on all unprotected sides of the hole.
- The guardrail installed around a hole should also have a self-closing gate, like a swing gate, to prevent an employee from walking into the hole.
Now that you know the importance of guardrail fall protection systems, you need to call in experts for consultation and ensure your employees are protected at all costs. Flexible Lifeline Systems serves as an industry experts with over 20 years of experience in fall protection systems and offer multiple rooftop guardrail options. Call now to book an inspection.