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July 6, 2017 

By: Andrew Miller 


Keeping your employees and customers safe is a vital part of running a successful business. Guardrails play a significant role in every organizational safety plan and like most commercial facilities, you probably have them in various locations around your workplace.

Being familiar with the differences between varying guardrails and their appropriate applications may seem like unimportant trivia. However, staying well versed with OSHA’s expectations and the encompassing needs in your own workplace can be the barrier that stands between you and a nasty violation and potential fine.

We’ve put together a quick crash course on the major guardrail variations and industry applications to help you make an informed decision.

Where Does OSHA Stand?

OSHA has laid out general regulations for guardrails, many of which are applicable in major industries such as retail or foodservice (often referred to as “general industries”  – see OSHA standard 1910.23). Though they previously were separated, the construction industry now follows the same set of rules.

Here’s a brief overview of the most common standards that are constant between the two lists:


  • Railings must be 42 inches tall, +/- 3 inches above any walking or working level.

  • All railings must include 3 basic parts: a top rail, an intermediate rail and posts. Intermediate rails are approximately halfway between the top rail and the walking or working surface; posts are to be placed no more than 19 inches apart.

  • Guardrails must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force from every direction.

  • All guardrail surfaces must be smooth so as to avoid the possibility of injury by scraping hands or catching clothing, potentially leading to falls.

Permanent vs. Temporary Solutions

The first thing to consider when choosing which type of guardrail protection is right for you is to determine whether you need something with the ability to move. Permanent guardrails are secured to some other structure or object, such as a roof or a wall. This obviously makes them impossible to move without serious alterations. Temporary solutions, on the other hand, are designed not to be permanently attached to the surface which makes them mobile, and generally require minimal setup and teardown effort.

Deciding whether you need permanent or temporary fall protection may seem like an easy task but there are a few things to consider before you can be certain. The biggest question to answer is whether your guardrails will be needed for short-term or long-term use.

So, what constitutes short-term use? Generally speaking, anything lasting a few days to several months is considered short-term. If a project is ongoing for an extended period but once it is finished, won’t require the same kind of safety precautions (such as repair work or building on to an existing structure), you likely don’t need permanent protection. If maintenance or other safety checks are periodically required, the decision ultimately falls to you and should be based on how often those checks take place. If it’s just once or twice a year, temporary guardrails are likely the best way to go.

Breaking Down Temporary Systems

While permanent guardrails are fairly self explanatory – they’re generally seen on rooftops, around loading docks and along mezzanines or catwalks – temporary solutions have even more options to choose from. If you’re planning to go the temporary route, it’s important to brush up on the different models available to you.


There are 4 major types of temporary guardrails:

  • Non-Penetrating Guardrails. Non-penetrating guardrails use heavy post bases to withstand OSHA’s minimum 200-pound force requirement.

  • Architectural Guardrails. Architectural guardrails are most often found on rooftops. They keep workers away from dangerous roof and parapet edges and thanks to their backward sloping design (as opposed to fully vertical rails), they’re less visible from the ground, thus maintaining a pleasing exterior visual aesthetic.

  • Collapsible Guardrails. Collapsible guardrails fold flat without moving their bases. Many times, these guardrails are the best option when the rails need to be placed in exactly their previous spot. As they are never fully removed from their location, there’s no guesswork in getting them back into position.

  • D300 Series Guardrails. D300 series guardrails exceed the minimum requirements set by OSHA: these rails can withstand 300 pounds of pressure from any angle and have 3 horizontal rails with vertical rails running every 6 feet.

Industry Applications

Guardrails have a place in every industry. You may be wondering where they best fit into your facility and where they’re most likely to be needed. Here are a few examples:


Retail businesses fall into OSHA’s “general industry standards” bucket and require any drop at 4 feet or above to be protected by some sort of guarding system.

Industrial Settings

Like the construction industry, industrial sites have some specific OSHA regulations to follow, including implementation of fall protection systems when employees are working 4 feet or more off the ground.


Rooftops have a number of regulations that apply to every business, regardless of industry. Not only should your rooftop have a railing system running along its edge, but any skylights you may have should also be secured with guarding screens.

As an employer, you know that protecting your workers is invaluable. Staying familiar with the ins and outs of guardrails and changes in OSHA’s regulations could save you a number of headaches and trouble down the line.

Need help determining which type of guardrails are best for your facility and circumstances? Don’t keep guessing – contact Dakota Safety today.

Dakota Safety specializes in providing passive fall protection systems and safety products for clients all across America. They are based in Saint Paul, Minnesota.