Guardrail safety on a build site

Let’s talk about openings, as in a hole in the floor or roof. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a hole is anything with a void of 2 inches or more at its least dimension. Simply put, if any part of a hole is 2 inches or more, it must be protected either by a cover or a barricade. Covers must be able to support at least twice the weight of employees, equipment and materials. It must be secured to prevent accidental displacement from wind, equipment or workers’ activities and must bear the markings “hole” or “cover.”

Openings in the ceiling or roof present a second hazard. Not only can someone fall through, objects can be dropped onto unsuspecting workers below. Of course those workers are wearing hard hats, because they read the RV Care-A-Vanner newsletter.

If your opening is an area meant to be used, such as a stairway to the basement or upper level, you obviously wouldn’t cover it up. For this opening, you would use a guardrail on all unprotected sides. When a guardrail protects a hole used for the passage of materials, the hole can have removable guardrail sections on no more than two sides. When the hole is not in use, it needs to be covered or the guardrail must go back around all edges. When the guardrail is around holes used as points of access such as ladder-ways, the guardrail needs to have a gate, or be so offset that a person cannot walk directly into the hole.

Of course there are OSHA standards for your guardrail system. The top rail must be between 39 and 45 inches high. It must withstand 200 pounds of force applied downward and outward. The surface must be smooth enough to prevent punctures, lacerations and the snagging of clothing. Your mid-rail is halfway between the ground and the top rail and must withstand 150 pounds. Screens, mesh or other material may be used instead of the mid-rail.

Wood, chain, wire or rope may be used for top rails and mid-rails. If wire or rope is used:

  • It must be flagged at 6 foot intervals with high visible material.
  • It must not deflect below 39 inches when a 200 pound force is applied.
  • It must be inspected regularly for defects.
  • It must be at least 1/4 inch in diameter.

Whenever there’s a possibility for objects to fall on workers below, you must install toe boards:

  • Toe board capable of withstanding 50 pounds applied downward and outward.
  • Toe board at least 3 ½ in high and no more than ¼ inch clearance above working surface. It must be solid with no openings over 1 inch.

For more information on floor and roof openings or guardrails, see 1926 CFR Subpart M – Fall Protection, 1926.501.

Lisa Crawford
Master Safety Training program coordinator
Lcrawford@Habitat.org