3. Scaffolds - General Requirements

Guardrail Basics: What You Need to Know

April 18, 2017
OSHA’s fall protection and guardrail requirements along with the International Building Code (IBC) are standards all builders, contractors and construction workers should follow for optimal building safety.

Providing safety precautions in both fall protection and guardrails can help workers make sure they’re following all the proper procedures to avoid any potential accidents.

The key to providing a safe atmosphere within your building is to follow the standards set by both the International Code Council (ICC) and OSHA, whose standards crossover in fall protection and guardrail requirements.

That way, any individual – whether it be someone who is visiting or someone who is working inside a business-owned property – will be in a safe environment.

Developed by the International Code Council (ICC), the International Building Code (IBC) is a standard for all builders, contractors, and construction workers to follow for optimal building safety.

The ICC was formed in the 1990s when the building safety community decided to combine several regional groups and standardize building codes for the entire country. By 1997, the International Building Code was published for the first time. Likewise, OSHA plays an important role for safety in the United States.

Standards issued by these organizations are used by each state as well as the federal government when building a new construction or remodeling an existing structure. The primary goal of the standardized code is to help ensure building safety for all occupants and visitors.

Here are some things to know about the IBC and OSHA standards for fall protection and guardrails.

Guardrail Guidelines

One of the first things to know about guardrails is when they are required in a building. The purpose of this equipment is to prevent falls or unauthorized access to certain areas.

Generally, guardrails are required when the building has steps, landings, platforms or accessible roof spaces. According to the code, guardrails are required when there is a difference of 30 in. or greater between two upper and lower surfaces.

OSHA requirements for guardrails are quite stringent. Whether you’re in the construction industry (1926.501) or your line of work falls more within the “general industry” category (1910.28), it is the employer’s responsibility to provide some sort of protection to workers against falls.

 If the work area is more than 6 ft. higher than the lower level, a guardrail or other fall protection system is required. Additionally, if there is more than 6 ft. difference in a working surface that is lower than the ground level, such as a well or a pit, some sort of railing system is necessary. 

Problems with Improperly Installed Guardrails

Having guardrails in your building for visitors and employees will help you stay in compliance with both the IBC and OSHA, but it’s not enough to simply have a set of guardrails for your building.

 If your guardrails aren’t installed properly, you may run into trouble meeting either organization’s detailed standards. Then, you’re leaving your company, yourself and the people who work for you vulnerable to dangerous accidents.

This situation also can cause your company to pay more money over time due to fines and more expensive insurance premiums. If disaster happens and your lack of oversight causes someone to get hurt, your company potentially could be held liable for a significant amount of money due to lawsuits and medical expenses.

Installation Requirements

Once you are aware of the responsibility you have as either a building owner or a business owner to install guardrails, the next step is to get them properly installed.

For your guardrail to be up to code, it must be at least 42 in. above the ground level space. For the roof area of your building, the IBC requires a guardrail to be in place, unless there is some other sort of fall protection system installed.

OSHA doesn’t dictate quality control for guardrails or installation criteria, but it does state that any employee working on the roof of your building must be protected from falling with a quality protection system.

If it’s not possible to use guardrails on the building, you can use a personal fall arrest system instead. Other types of fall protection options that are recommended by OSHA include safety nets, monitoring capabilities or warning systems.

Load Levels

The last important component to consider when installing a guardrail system or fall protection setup is the strength of it.

The IBC defines a guardrail’s strength by its structural load capacity. Structural load refers to the ability of the guardrail to withstand different types of forces and actions that cause stress on its design. If the guardrail isn’t up to the standard for structural load capacity, it could fail or break, leaving an individual in a dangerous situation.

The IBC indicates that guardrails must be able to handle at least 50 lbs. per linear foot. In addition, guardrails must be able to withstand at least 200 lbs. of concentrated force at all times. This helps certify that the guardrail is strong enough to be a safe barrier between a person and a steep drop that could cause injury or death.

OSHA has a similar stipulation in its documentation regarding guardrail minimum strength requirements. The requirement states that a guardrail must be able to resist 200 lbs. of pressure when applied to the structure.

This standard is important for workers because of the constant wear and tear a guardrail may experience in a busy industrial setting. In order for a guardrail to sufficiently provide enough protection, it has to be strong and stable.

Compliance Issues

A company whose commercial building that isn’t up to code faces stiff fines from their local jurisdiction. Every region creates its own fines for building code violations; so consequences may vary. If you ignore OSHA’s requirements, expect to be harshly reprimanded. Fines for businesses that repeatedly are noncompliant could cost more than $100,000 per violation.

The reality is that if you don’t follow the standards set by the IBC for your building and those set by OSHA for your workplace, you’re putting people at risk. Businesses that don’t meet regulations don’t stay in business very long due to large fines, increased safety risks and damage to their reputation.

Thanks to the standards set by the IBC and OSHA, you’ll have a much better handle on the safety of your building and the people who work and travel inside it. Not only will you be in compliance, but your business also will be in a much better position for true success.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!