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What Are The OSHA Requirements For Guardrails?

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is probably a name you’ve heard of if you work in the manufacturing, industrial, or construction sectors. OSHA is in charge of establishing rules and regulations for workplace safety in the US. Fall prevention is one of the most important components of workplace safety, which is where guardrails come in. In this essay, we’ll examine more closely at OSHA guardrail requirements and discuss their significance.

What Is A Guardrail?

A guardrail is a physical barrier that is placed around the perimeter of an elevated surface like a roof or balcony to prevent falls. It typically consists of a top rail, a mid-rail, and posts, all of which are engineered to withstand a certain amount of force and protect workers from falls.

To minimize the risk of falls in workplaces with high fall risk, guardrails are designed as railings. OSHA has set regulations for the implementation of guardrails in such circumstances and employers are legally required to comply with these standards. Fall hazards are the major cause of death in the construction industry, making it essential to have specific guardrail standards set by OSHA

OSHA Requirements For Guardrails

  • Height

OSHA guardrail height standards require the height to be 42 inches, measured from the walking or working surface to the top edge of the guardrail. There is a 3-inch flexibility in this measurement, as long as it adheres to the rest of the code.

  • Midrail

A midrail is required for every guardrail, unless there is a wall or parapet adjacent to it that is at least 21 inches in height. The midrail must be placed halfway between the surface and the top edge of the guardrail.


There should be no more than a 19-inch gap between the horizontal members. Additionally, vertical members can be used for the barrier under the top rail, but there must not be more than a 19-inch gap between two members.

  • Strength

The loads that an OSHA guardrail should be able to withstand are different for the top rail and the mid rail. Specifically, the top rail should be able to bear 200 pounds of force, applied both outward (towards the hazard) and downward (towards the surface), without deflecting below 39 inches in height. On the other hand, midrails should be able to withstand a force requirement of only 150 pounds, with no deflection below the specified height.

Extra Details

Guardrails must be designed in such a way that they do not pose any risk of lacerations or punctures to users, and their clothing should not get snagged on the railing. The top and mid rails should terminate into the post, wall, or surface to avoid being a projection hazard for users, which can occur due to incomplete installation, rusted handrails, or design flaws. There are several materials available for handrails, such as galvanized steel, aluminum, or wood, but steel banding or plastic banding is not allowed.

Regardless of the material used, it must have a minimum diameter or thickness of ΒΌ-inch, and the gap between the rails must be no more than 19 inches. Additionally, guardrails may require a toe board to prevent debris, tools, or other objects from falling onto an exposed employee. Two examples of applications that may require guardrails include boardwalks and wastewater treatment facilities.

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