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Why should guardrails be 42 inches high?

The following is an excerpt from OSHA 1910.28 (b) that covers the responsibility for fall protection on working and walking surfaces. Please review the full code for further information. 

Unprotected sides and edges. 

Except as provided elsewhere in this section, the employer must ensure that each employee on a walking-working surface with an unprotected side or edge that is 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected from falling by one or more of the following: 

Guardrail systems; 

Safety net systems; or 

Personal fall protection systems, such as personal fall arrest, travel restraint, or positioning systems. 

Each employee is protected from falling through any hole (including skylights) that is 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level 

The employer must ensure each employee on a runway or similar walkway is protected from falling 4 feet (1.2 m) or more to a lower level by a guardrail system. 

Each employee less than 4 feet (1.2 m) above dangerous equipment is protected from falling into or onto the dangerous equipment by a guardrail system or a travel restraint system, unless the equipment is covered or guarded to eliminate the hazard. 

Walking-working surfaces not otherwise addressed. Except as provided elsewhere in this section or by other subparts of this part, the employer must ensure each employee on a walking-working surface 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected from falling... 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provided new fall protection standards back in Fall of 2016. These updates became effective in January 2017 and many of them align general industry regulations for OSHA guardrail height, ladders, and stairways with construction standards.

Organizations continue to work toward understanding and implementing the required changes and complying with OSHA regulations. Although the updated standards have been in place, many employers remain confused or have questions about the changes required of their fall protection and guard rail system.

Areas of confusion often arise with fall protection railing requirements, OSHA guardrail height, handrail requirements, and safety railings / temporary guardrails. This is especially true when differences arise in Cal-OSHA guardrail regulations.

Fall Protection Railing Requirements

There are many places in a facility or on a rooftop that pose a hazard for workplace injuries and fatalities. Many rooftops include elevated pipes, ducts, HVAC equipment. Technicians need to access these structures from an elevated position and may need safety railings. A roof handrail can also provide a physical barrier and help prevent falls from the edge, and is an important measure to be taken along with standard roof hatch guardrails.

A safety handrail helps to provide stability for a handhold whether on a walkway, steps, or platform. Fall protection guardrails are a system of railings to prevent workers from falling off a landing, platform, or walkway.

Common applications include standing seam or metal roof fall protection installations and the popular Accufit system for flat roof railings. Including guardrails and safety rail systems is an important consideration in fall prevention systems. Further, complying with OSHA’s safety railing and requirements can reduce falls and citations.

Are you curious about OSHA handrail requirements or what OSHA railing height is appropriate for your facility? First of all, here are some applicable requirements for guardrails and safety railings included in OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces standard for general industry to help prevent fall hazard, 29 CFR 1910.29:

OSHA Guardrail Requirements: Height and Strength

OSHA 1910.29(b)(1):

To meet OSHA’s guardrail height requirements, the top rail needs to be 42 inches plus or minus 3 inches above the walking-working surface. This is the first OSHA requirement to be aware of. We will now cover some additional areas.

OSHA 1910.29(b)(2)(i-iv):

If the vertical opening in the rail is more than 19 inches, then there must be a mid rail / intermediate rail. Install the mid rail halfway between the top rail and the walking surface. The distance between intermediate vertical members (such as balusters) is no more than 19 inches. Openings are no more than 19 inches wide for other intermediate members (such as additional mid rails and architectural panels). (This is where the measurement of an equivalent intermediate member comes into play.)

OSHA 1910.29(b)(3),(5):

This fall protection requirement deals with the strength of the railing. They are to withstand a force of at least 200 pounds applied in a downward or outward direction within 2 inches of the top edge at any point along the top rail. Mid rails (and each intermediate member) are to withstand a force of at least 150 pounds applied in any downward or outward direction.

Also, OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.28 includes information that employers need to ensure that a fall protection plan is incorporated when employees are exposed to a fall of 4 feet or more to a lower level. Keep in mind that even temporary work situations such as scaffolds should be addressed. (Solutions such as a personal fall arrest system can aid these arrangements.)

OSHA Handrail Requirements: Guardrail vs Handrail

As you can see, there are various OSHA provisions detailing when guardrails and railings should be used and how they should be constructed. And yet there are more provisions depending upon the application. It gets confusing for many people charged with locating and installing the right solution.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.23 includes requirements for ladders, where OSHA defines handrail requirements on platforms and how high safety railings must be. Handrails are required when there is a top step height of 4 feet or more and a railing needs to be 29.5 inches for stands with a top height of 4 feet or more, 36 inches for stands with a top step of 10 feet or more.

There’s also confusion about the need for gates around ladders. There’s a misconception that a safety chain can be used to protect a ladder entrance. According to OSHA, a gate is required at the top of all ladders. In fact, OSHA requires a guardrail system and toe boards on all exposed sides (except at the entrance) of a ladder way floor hole or ladder way platform hole (29 CFR 1910.28(b)(3)(iv)).

To meet OSHA requirements in the construction industry, if workers are six feet or more above a lower level, there must be protection from falling by the use of guard rail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems (29 CFR 1926.501(b)(1)).

OSHA Guardrail and Handrail Height Requirements: Other Considerations

OSHA guardrail requirements also include that safety railing systems be required even when occasional or temporary work is performed on the roof, whether for repair or for maintenance. In addition, a roof handrail must be able to withstand 200 pounds of force without falling.

Other Uses of Safety Railings and Guard Rail Systems

Safety railings can also be used commercially to protect workers and pedestrians from falls off steps, walkways, platforms or other raised areas. These guard rail systems provide safety for various applications including protection over a stair rail system, culverts, ramps, service platforms, loading bays, mezzanines, and pedestrian pathways.

In addition to creating a barrier to prevent falls off a raised area, they also provide a handhold when ascending or descending. And in situations where a more temporary or less penetrating solution is required, parapet railings (wall clamps) are worth exploring.

Dealing with Railing Safety

Bottom line: railings provide a needed barrier and help protect people from falls. Yes, it may seem like there are so many rules (OSHA and more) to understand and follow, but the whole point of these rules is workplace safety. It is important to keep workers safe, to prevent falls, and maintain a culture of safety. The number of workplace fatal falls is growing. In fact, in 2017 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that fatal falls reached their highest levels, 887 worker deaths. This is one reason why installing both passive and active fall protection solutions is so critical.

Still Have Questions?

Beyond common OSHA regulations, we can also advise on nearly every OSHA requirement. This ranges from roof edge, stair tread, installing a safety net system, safety harness requirements, falling object protection, and more.

Don’t hesitate to tap into our experience as you plan your project compliance with the right products to help meet your specific OSHA requirement.

There are many OSHA requirements and updates to keep up with, and some exceptions that haven’t been included in this short post focused on OSHA guardrail height requirements.

After reading the information provided here, perhaps you have questions about OSHA railing height requirements for your specific needs.

Still wondering about equivalent guard rail system members, or when OSHA requires a handrail in your facility?

Whether you are looking for a 360 mobile roof safety rail, industrial and removable safety railing, handrail, stair rail, or a customized safety system, every product we manufacture meets or exceeds OSHA requirements.

Contact us for help!

For more information about our products, reach out to the EDGE Fall Protection team.

Reach us at at 844-314-1374.

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Why should guardrails be 42 inches high?

Safety Railing and OSHA Guardrail Requirements


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