The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates workplace safety by issuing standards and recommendations on how to comply with them. Many OSHA standards relate to the construction industry, where workplace accidents have historically been common. The Fall Protection standard (OSHA 1926, Subpart M) is designed to protect workers from injuries caused by falling when they're on scaffolding or high platforms. One way to protect against falling is to install appropriate guard rails.
When Fall Protection is Required
Where there is a risk of falling six feet or more, employers are required to install fall protection before work commences. Two options are fall arrest systems (harnesses) for individual employees and safety nets below the work platform.
When Guard Rails are Required
If individual harnesses and safety nets are not provided, the employer must install guard rails. A guard rail system is not required if alternatives are in place, but if an employer relies on it, the system must meet OSHA specifications.
Height of Guard Rails
The top edge of the guard rails must be between 39 and 45 inches above the walking area, taking account of all circumstances. For example, if employees are using elevated footwear for some reason, the top of the rails will need to be correspondingly higher. It is not sufficient to follow the letter of the OSHA standard. Employers may need to go beyond OSHA's requirements if safety in the specific workplace demands it.
Midrails, Screens and Posts
The gap between the top of the guard rails and the floor must also be protected, using at least one midrail midway between the top and the floor, or a screen or mesh which fills the entire space. Upright posts or panels must be installed to leave gaps no wider than 19 inches. The purpose of these requirements is to prevent workers from slipping between the rails and the floor.
Strength of Guard Rails
Guard rails must be capable of withstanding 200 pounds of pressure within two inches of the top edge without depressing the top of the guard rail below the 39-inch limit. Screens must be capable of withstanding 150 pounds of pressure from any direction. OSHA also requires that the rails themselves do not present a risk by being sharp or jagged.
- "Fall Protection Handbook"; NAHB-OSHA; 2006
Kim Davis began writing in 1977. His articles have appeared in "The New Musical Express," "The Literary Review" and "City Limits," as well as numerous Web sites. Davis is the consulting editor for the "New York Times"/New York University collaboration, "Local: East Village." He has a Doctor of Philosophy in philosophy from Bristol University.