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The Guardian Fall Team Blog

As confirmed by the hierarchy of fall protection, one of the best solutions for eliminating fall hazards on the job site is to install a permanent perimeter guardrail at the roof edge. And, not only does a permanent guardrail protect your workers from rooftop hazards, it also diminishes the amount of necessary employee safety training, dismisses the need for a rescue plan, and minimizes costs associated with maintenance and re-certification.

Consisting of a top rail, a mid-rail, a toe board, and a base plate, guardrails are a relatively basic fall protection system.

Even still, there are quite a few guardrail system manufacturers in the world; ranging from fall protection suppliers to guardrail specialists to miscellaneous steel fabricators. And, over time, this wide range of manufacturers created an amazing array of unique guardrail systems. Tailoring the once basic design into something truly intricate and specialized for your specific job site.

The key to selecting the best guardrail system for a given application is to consider all the options available in the market and carefully determine how the system is best going to meet specifications.

And so, in order to select the ideal guardrail system for your rooftop, aesthetics, cost, requirements, and longevity need to be considered.

AESTHETICS

Guardrail systems are now available in powder-coated steel, galvanized steel, aluminum stainless steel, and wood compositions.

And so, if aesthetics are an important factor in selecting a guardrail system for your job site, we recommend an aluminum stainless steel guardrail system. A clear coated aluminum or brushed stainless guardrail looks stylish and will hold up well against corrosion.

Alternatively, we would recommend the powder-coated guardrail system. With a powder-coated system, it is easy to match the powder-coating to the color scheme of the building and the associated costs with doing so are very minimal when compared to a purchasing a standard safety yellow powder-coated guardrail.

Lastly, certain guardrail systems are manufactured in a manner that allows them to be collapsed toward the inside of the rooftop from a vertical to horizontal position. So, in consideration of aesthetics, a collapsible guardrail can allow you to ‘hide’ the railing when it is not needed and utilize it to eliminate fall hazards when employees are on the rooftop.

COST

Pricing for a guardrail system can vary significantly based on a number of factors, as one system can be three times the cost of another depending on what is selected. Specifically, if the lowest possible cost is the goal than a steel powder coated weighted guardrail system is going to be the lowest cost option available. Alternatively, if money is not an object, we would recommend a permanent stainless steel guardrail or weighted aluminum system.

REQUIREMENTS

OSHA establishes both guardrail design recommendations and safety requirements for those designs, such as rail height and upright spacing. However, it is important to note that, a guardrail may need to meet specific IBC or local building code requirements in lieu of less stringent requirements as set by OSHA.

OSHA and building code requirements often differ in terms of how much force and safety factor are required (e.g., the applied load to the top rail portion of the guardrail).

With these requirements in mind, selecting a guardrail size can be easy and usually consists of steel tubing, steel wire rope, or alternative steel constructions such as angles. Specifically, for pipe railings, the nominal diameter should be at least 1.5 inches with posts spaced at no more than 8 feet on center. For structural steel railings, a minimum of 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angle or other equivalent metal shape would be utilized at 8 feet on center.

BASE PLATES VS. FREESTANDING

Base plates for a guardrail system can consist of a free standing plate, freestanding outrigger, or a base that utilizes fasteners to connect directly to the structure.

While freestanding systems provide the benefit of not needing to penetrate roofing structures for attachment, they also can be susceptible to becoming damaged by high windstorms and create tripping hazards for employees working along the guardrail edge.

Base plates that utilize direct to structure attachments come in a variety of options and can allow systems to attach to horizontal or vertical surfaces.

INSTALLATION

Lastly, you must consider how all the materials of the guardrail system are going to be installed on your rooftop.

A simple weighted guardrail system for say 1,000 lineal feet can weigh roughly 15,000 pounds, the equivalent of 7.5 tons!

Fortunately, there are a number of contractors nationwide that can get the system up to the rooftop and install the permanent guardrail systems for you. Permanently fastening guardrail systems will need to be waterproofed as well so a roofing contractor is most often the best option for installation.

And so, while there may be an intimidating amount of variants involved in selecting a guardrail system, it can be made simple if you consider each of these factors. If you have any more questions on the subject of selecting a guardrail system, please feel free to reach out to me via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 1.800.466.6385.