How to Build Safer Guardrails
Toprails should be about 42 inches above the walking/working surface. On window openings where the bottom sill is less than 39 inches high, you will still have to install a toprail at 42 inches. Follow these rules when building guardrails:
- Be sure that the materials you use to build the guardrails are strong enough to stop a fall. The top rails should be able to take 200 pounds of load without moving more than a couple of inches.
- Be sure the top and midrails are at least one-quarter inch thick, and make sure they go all the way around any openings or holes.
- The height of the guardrail should be near your center of gravity, about hip high.
- The midrail is placed midway between the toprail and the walking/working surface, about 21 inches.
- Don't use plastic banding for top rails or midrails. Plastic banding is too sharp and not necessarily strong or sturdy enough to protect you.
- Screens or mesh can be used in place of a midrail. Install the screen between the toprail and the walking/working surface and be sure to cover the entire opening.
- Keep the rails from extending too far past their upright posts so you don't get hit by them or bump into them. A little extension is OK, but not so much that it can cause an injury.
- To ensure that guardrails remain safe during the life of the job, keep the wood smooth in order to prevent splinters and the snagging of clothes.
Particular Hazards to Watch For
- Drywalling. Drywallers sometimes remove guardrails during their work. To help ensure that the guardrails remain in place, install the guardrail upright in a location detached and away from the wall. That way, the drywallers can still get to the wall to do their jobs quickly and efficiently, and both you and the drywallers can still be protected from fall hazards.
- Stilts, Ladders and Scaffolds. A guardrail cannot stop your fall if you are higher than the protection. If you use stilts, ladders or scaffolds near fall hazards, raise the height of the guardrails as much as you have raised yourself above the walking/working surface. If your stilts are three feet high, then you need to raise your guardrail and toprail another three feet so your protection remains hip high to you when you are on stilts.
- Keep an eye out for fall hazards during the entire job. Because your job site changes as the work progresses, you need to be on the lookout for new fall hazards and continue to install guardrails or some other kind of fall protection as needed throughout the job.
For more information, contact Robert Matuga, director, Labor, Safety & Health Services at 800-368-5242 x8507.
The complete Toolbox Safety Talks series and other safety training information are available through BuilderBooks.com or by calling 800-223-2665. NAHB Toolbox Safety Talks are available in English and English-Spanish editions.
NAHB Toolbox Safety Talks are designed to supplement your employee safety training program and help you identify those areas where you may need to develop additional safety training for your employees.
Each individual talk is intended to be used as a brief, job site training session of approximately 15 minutes. Each talk includes questions that encourage employees to share their experiences about working safely or accidents that they may have been involved in. Hearing others talk about what has happened to them will make the reality of injuries more apparent, and the safety message much clearer.
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