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Falls account for the majority of serious injuries in construction. About half of all fatal falls occur in construction (1). The use of guardrails is the most common, and usually the most effective fall protection systems used on construction sites.

OSHA requires the following when using a guardrail system:

  • Top rails must be 39 to 45 inches tall
  • Mid-rails installed between the top edge and the walking/working surface
  • Toe boards at least 3.5 inches from walking/working surface
  • Capable of withstanding, without failure, a force of at least 200 pounds applied to the top rail
  • Mid-rails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members or panels must be able to withstand a 150 pound force
  • Whenever slits are used, the height of the top rail must be increased to equal the slit height
  • Steel or plastic banging cannot be used in a railing system
  • All systems must be smooth surfaced
  • Parapet walls less than 39 inches in height require additional guardrails
  • Wood guardrails should be made from at least 2 x 4s with spans not greater than eight feet of center
  • Wire rope guardrails must be made from 1/4 inch diameter cable or larger
  • They must be flagged every six feet with high visibility material like caution or surveyor’s tape
  • Manila, plastic, or synthetic rope is not recommended since they require frequent inspection to ensure that they continue to meet strength requirements
  • They are not considered an adequate anchorage point, as they are designed to support only 200 lbs. of force
  • Guardrails should be removed only when materials are being on-loaded or off-loaded.
    • Once the materials have been positioned, replace the guardrails immediately.
    • Whenever employees are assigned within six feet from an area with a removed guardrail, they  should be protected with the use of a personal fall arrest system (PFAS).
    • In addition, employees assigned to install or disassemble guardrail systems should be required to use a PFAS.
  • Guardrail systems are designed to provide sufficient fall prevention and allow employees to safely access elevated work areas without the need for fall protection system (ex. personal fall arrest system).
(1) United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Summary, 2013. 9-11-2014

BE SAFE, PROVIDE PROPER GUARDRAILS WHEN NEEDED ON THE JOB SITE!