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Guardrails are a stationary (or "fixed") system used to protect workers from falls when working at heights. Guardrails are a preferred means of protecting workers because the system does not rely on the worker to be trained to use, inspect, and wear a fall protection system.
Well built guardrails are a reliable and convenient means of fall protection because they act as a visible and physical barrier to help prevent falls from heights or between levels including falls from roofs, balconies, stairwells or falls into open holes. Guardrails are used where covers, floors or walls cannot be installed or are not practical.
Guardrails are used in every industry and can be seen in:
While guardrails often also have handrails, they are not the same thing. Handrails serve as a handhold people use to support themselves while using up or down stairs, ramps, or crossing flat surfaces. Guardrails are designed to prevent falls over an unprotected edge or into an opening.
Install a guardrail if the fall hazard or working at heights cannot be eliminated. Guardrails should be used when a worker could have access to the unprotected edge of any of the following work surfaces and is exposed to a fall from a height or between levels. If an employee can fall into or onto dangerous equipment such as a conveyor belt, it is also good practice to prevent such falls by installing guardrails and toe boards. Make sure the guardrail is installed around the edge or opening before work begins.
Installing a guardrail is good practice:
In most jurisdictions, use of a guardrail is specified for certain circumstances. Always check with your jurisdiction for exact requirements.
There are two main types of guardrails - job built guardrails and manufactured guardrail systems. While job built guardrails are typically made of wood, manufactured guardrail systems are available in a variety of materials and may have parts made of mesh, netting or fencing. Guardrails typically feature a top rail, mid-rail, toe boards with evenly spaced vertical posts.
Regardless of type, make sure all guardrails used meet the regulatory requirements and are built according to requirements (e.g., height and spacing requirements of guardrail components and/or are installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
To prevent people from falling, guardrails must:
Regulations often require a load specification. This requirement refers to the amount of force that guardrails may be expected to support, and is measured in newtons (N) or pounds (lbs).
The force requirements will depend on the application of the guardrail and the legislative requirements in your jurisdiction.
The CSA Standard Z797-18 Code of practice for access scaffold also provides minimum load bearing and height requirements for guardrails and toe boards.
Make sure workers in the area near the unguarded edge are protected from falls by other means (travel restraint, fall arrest, netting, etc.) until the guardrail is completely installed.
When building guardrails on the job,
Other items to consider include:
It may be necessary to remove guardrails or sections of a guardrail in a working area, such as unloading materials at a site above ground level. Follow good practice to ensure there are not falls through an unprotected opening. Improper removal of the guardrails can leave protruding edges or parts, like nails, that may injure workers, so use the right tools and follow all established construction procedures.
Before removing a guardrail:
After the guardrail is removed, everyone working inside the marked off area must use a travel restraint or fall arrest system at all times.
When reinstalling or rebuilding a guardrail, make sure it is installed as intended according to the manufacturer's instructions or its original design. Store the removed guardrails or sections in a place where they cannot fall on someone or become a trip hazard.