OSHA Compliant Guard Rail: Protecting What Matters

Guard rail on a mezzanine platform.In 2017, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems. While the final rule sought to align regulation with advancements in best practices and technology, the 513-page document ultimately left those tasked with compliance confused about how to best proceed. Given the critical role that guard rail plays in helping warehouses and distribution centers achieve compliance with this regulation, a closer examination of this essential protective equipment is merited.

Compliant Guard Rail

To begin, OSHA requires that a fall protection system be installed on any walking or working surface that is four feet or higher above a lower level. One of the most common types of fall protection equipment used in these instances is guard rail. To be considered compliant with OSHA’s regulations, the guard rail must stand 42 inches (plus or minus three inches) above the working or walking surface.

An intermediate rail must be located at 21 inches (or about halfway up) the guard rail system to prevent workers from slipping between the top rail and the floor. If an intermediate rail is not used, screens or mesh must be installed in between the walking/working surface and the top rail.

Guard rails must be free of components that can cause punctures, scratches or snag clothing and be able to withstand a 200-pound concentrated load along the top rail. Intermediate rails are required to carry a 150-pound concentrated load. Additionally, any guard rail system that is protecting a ledge that poses a fall risk (i.e. any instance where a tool or piece of merchandise could fall off the ledge and hit a person or piece of machinery) is required to have 3.5-inch toe board installed along its base.

Modular Guard Rail Systems

Facilities looking to enhance their compliance with OSHA’s rules regarding elevated walking-working surfaces should begin by investigating modular guard rail systems. Modular guardrail systems are the most versatile type of guard rail available in the material handling marketplace. Suitable for a variety of applications, the pipe and fitting construction is durable enough to withstand the demands of the most rugged environment. Applications include (but are certainly not limited to) fall protection around open shafts, roof edges, mezzanines, work platforms, loading docks and catwalks.

Designed to be lightweight and easy to install, the highly versatile nature of this modular rail system can be customized to a facility’s exact needs and specifications. Mostly built off-site with interchangeable rail components, the ease with which these protective systems can be installed ensures minimal disruption to a facility’s daily operations.

Other Guard Rail Uses

Applications for guard rail also extend beyond compliance with OSHA’s fall protection regulations. The ability of what is known as “safety guard rail” to provide a strong physical and visual barrier is just one way in which warehouses and distribution centers have used this type of protective equipment to achieve greater levels of safety within their facilities. The following three examples highlight ways in which facilities can use safety guard rail as a physical barrier to protect some of their most important assets:

  1. The most efficient way to prevent injuries between lift truck and pedestrian traffic is to create defined travel lanes within the facility for each party. By separating motorized and foot traffic with safety guard rail, the likelihood of collision is greatly reduced. Additionally, unencumbered by slower-moving pedestrians, lift trucks can move more quickly, increasing operational efficiency.
  2. One of the most effective ways to protect personnel from machinery-related injuries is by using industrial machine guards around equipment that could potentially cause bodily harm. By safely guiding the casual onlooker away from a potential hazard, trained personnel can work without distraction.
  3. Floor mounted, steel rack protectors are a type of guard rail that can help mitigate the damage caused by a lift truck collision with a racking or shelving unit. In addition to increasing the storage unit’s visibility, these specialized guards are designed to absorb the impact, reducing the potential for unit and product damage.

When installed correctly, guard rail systems help facilities achieve more than just compliance with OSHA’s regulations. These essential pieces of protective equipment can help facilities reduce downtime, cut workers’ compensation claims and lower insurance costs. Additionally, the strategic application of guard rail within a warehouse or distribution center can help companies achieve greater levels of protection for their employees and equipment.

Companies looking to enhance their facility’s safety with guarding solutions should consider partnering with an experienced material handling solutions provider like Wildeck, Inc. Their knowledgeable and friendly staff can help companies protect the things that matter most.

Learn more about Wildeck's comprehensive suite of guarding solutions.

If you are interested in learning how Wildeck's OSHA compliant guard rail can help your facility achieve greater levels of compliance, contact us at info@wildeck.com or (800) 325-6939. Our team of experienced material handling experts are ready to help your company achieve their safety goals.

Editor's Note: This content was authored by Wildeck and was initially published as an article in the June 2019 Forklift Safety insert in Material Handling Network magazine.

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