Your guardrail is up. What other precautions should you be taking?
If you’ve read part one of our Put Your Guard Up blog series, you know the reasons why making sure guardrails are installed on your job-site is so critical. 140 people set foot on a typical residential job-site, with many more for a commercial project. Installing guardrails should be a must, not a maybe. But simply installing a guardrail and crossing it off the list isn’t enough.
What are some common mistakes made on a job-site when it comes to installing guardrails? What things might get overlooked? We spoke to two industry experts, Builders Mutual Senior Risk Management Consultant Ed Protzman and President of Safety Maker, Inc. Andrew Hilliard, to get their thoughts on what things might get missed on a busy job-site and how you can ensure you Put Your Guard Up without letting your guard down.
Simply putting up a guardrail is not enough. You need to ensure that it has been installed properly so it provides proper protection. Some things to consider when installing guardrails:
- If guardrails are placed on the inside of a staircase when also being used as a handrail, do not place landing railings or flat surface guardrails on the outside of the support posts. When the railing is outside the support post, you lose structural integrity as the nails or screws attaching the railings to the post become the weakest link when pressure is applied to the rail. Make sure the guardrails are placed inside the support posts to ensure structural integrity.
- The failure to tie handrails and guardrails together, using blocking or short cross members, creates a railing structure with a greater flexibility as the independent sections won’t have the support and benefit of the other structural members when lateral force is applied. The guardrail may meet the 200 lb. requirement, but stiffening the railings by tying them together creates a firmer structure which allows a falling party to stabilize themselves quickly.
- An additional technique to strengthen a guardrail system is to alternate the orientation of the vertical posts to transfer the shearing forces when the load is applied to the guardrail. Alternated posts will not have the directional weaknesses as posts with alternative orientation.
- Extra care should always be taken when a guardrail ends without a structural attachment point as the end point can easily flex or move under the weight being placed on the top rail in a fall.
The material you choose to use for your guardrail can be as important as the way it is constructed. Here are a few things to look out for when you are choosing guardrail materials:
- Scrap or substandard lumber that have splits, rough edges, or knot holes are often popular guardrail choices because they are seen as materials that cannot be used in construction. They often create substandard guardrails, as splits lead to a less structurally sound railing, rough edges can lead to hand injuries from cuts and splinters, and knot holes can compromise structural integrity and potentially lead to broken fingers, especially if the guardrail is incorporated and used as the handrail.
- Be aware of protruding nails through the railing lumber, as this can cause a potential puncture hazard to users.
- Ensure that toe boards are installed and maintained. Over time on a job-site, toe boards can be bumped and kicked and eventually become loose, which can create a falling hazard below. These are especially easy to miss or forget about on stairway or platform landings.
Working at Height
Guardrails are designed as barriers aimed to keep workers safely distanced from fall hazards on the job, but workers at heights using stilts or working from step or platform ladders are above the benefits of the guardrail. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help protect these workers:
- Take the height of the elevated work surface, such as worker shoe placement on the stilts or work surface ladder tread, from the base floor surface, then add a top rail of equal distance, up to 42 inches, from the top rail of the existing guardrail. Then place another mid rail between the new top rail and the old top rail.
- You can also take the measure distance and add railings at 21-inch increments until the top of the last railing exceeds the additional number of inches from the new elevated work surface.
- Vertical support posts may need to be extended for landings and leading-edge work. The strength of the vertical posts should also be assessed, as workers working from elevated platforms may generate a greater fall force since they are falling from a higher origin point.
Keep in mind that anyone on your job-site should be responsible for maintaining the same level of guardrail safety that you do. When you are working with subcontractors, be sure to consider the following:
- Any work done with framers should begin with a conversation about guardrail safety, which may include offering a brief baseline training for either employees or subcontractors.
- Any contractor who uses a subcontractor that removes guardrails as part of their work, such as drywall installation, should make it clear that reinstallation of proper guardrails is a requirement prior to leaving the jobsite.
- Stating these guardrail requirements in the bid specification process and contracts can help add clarification and remove confusion on the job-site.
In addition to a standard guardrail, there are other pieces of equipment that can help ensure safety on the job-site. Here are a few things to consider when you put up a guardrail:
- Non-penetrating guardrails that can clamp on to the edge of a concrete slab or staircase
- Tall-guardrail braces that ensure safety for workers at heights
- Stair rail clamps that help create compliant stair rail systems on commercial or multi-family job-sites
- Guardrail clamps that can be utilized on both horizontal and odd-angle structures
Learn more about these types of products and more from our partners at Safety Maker, Inc.
While guardrails are installed to prevent sudden falls, there are many things to consider when installing them to ensure your job-site is safe. By installing them properly, and checking all the boxes, you ensure that everyone who enters your job-site is safe with every step they take.