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Benefits of non-penetrating fall protection guardrails

Dakota Kyp May18 1

As of Fall 2016, the Occupational Safety and HealthAdministration (OSHA) established new regulations regarding fall safety. These include the requirements that any equipment within 6 feet of a fall situation needs to have some type of fall protection, and any equipment between 6 and 15 feet of a fall situation needs to have a fall protection plan.

Yet, according to the Department of Labor Statistics,fall protection is the number one category of cited violations that OSHA encounters each year. Although the regulations are clear, workplaces simply are not providing safe, up-to-code fall protection systems, especially for rooftops—where installing guardrails can be pricey and employees are almost always in danger of falling.

The problem with many guardrail systems is that they require penetrating part of the building’s roof in order to install, damaging the structural integrity of the roof and creating a potentially dangerous situation. The solution is a non-penetrating, ballasted guardrail system.

Non-Penetrating Guardrail Systems

Typical guardrail systems require penetration of the roofing membrane in order to install. While this gives stability to the guardrail itself, it can wreak havoc on the roof. Over time, leaks can develop that may cause irreparable damage to the roof, in addition to creating an unsafe working environment. Non-penetrating guardrail systems are not attached in this way, and are therefore a much safer and cost-effective alternative. These rails are held in place by reliable weights rather than fasteners.

While there are different types of non-penetrating guardrail systems, most of them have a base system that ballasts the railing to provide the resistance needed to withstand the 200-pound load requirements.

Benefits of Non-Penetrating Guardrails

To be OSHA-compliant, a guardrail must possess:
• A top rail, intermediate rail, and posts, along with a vertical height of 42 inches from the upper surface of the top rail to the floor, platform, runway, or ramp level.
• A strength to withstand at least the minimum requirement of 200 pounds top rail pressure.

Non-penetrating fall protection guardrail systems can achieve all of that and more, in addition to keeping the roof intact. Because they are not permanently attached to the roof, they can be moved as needed. They’re also highly customizable and are available in multiple varieties, so you can find the guardrail that looks and functions best for your business.

Sized Rail Systems

Sized rail systems are fabricated from steel to fit standard lengths, ranging from 3 feet to 10 feet in even increments. These rails are mechanically attached to the base and are usually more cost effective because they can be mass-produced. They have a top rail at 42 inches and a mid rail at 21 inches with two rail legs attached to each base except at the end of the runs.

The sized guardrails can be made in custom colors and are typically finished in powder coat paint, with safety yellow being the standard option. Collapsible options are also available, with a pivot point on the legs and a locking pin so that rails can be folded down and out of view if visibility is a concern. You can also find rails with legs of varying lengths so they can adjust to different roof heights without interrupting a run of rail sections, as well as adjustable rails that can accommodate equipment in the way of the roof line such as pipes.

Mechanically Assembled Guardrails

Mechanically assembled guardrails offer more of an architectural appearance and often work better for working around equipment, as they can be cut to fit the required space. In this type of rail, a section of pipe is used as the vertical stanchion, while lengths of pipe are used as the horizontal rail and are attached with connection sleeves. The horizontal pipes are supported at the stanchions using fittings.

This is a more custom option, as the rails are assembled on-site using fittings and fasteners rather than coming pre-assembled. Some manufacturers offer incline or curved stanchions that reduce the visibility of the rail from lower sight lines. Because mechanically fastened systems segments are cut on-site and slipped through fittings, they are mostly created with a galvanized finish due to work needing to be done on the pipe. If you would like a custom color, it would have to be painted over the galvanized finish.

Overall, the type of non-penetrating guardrail fall protection systems used depends on the building, aesthetic preferences, and the limitations of roofing space. By taking the time to research the guardrails that work best for your business, you can ensure a safer work environment for employees and avoid getting hit with an OSHA citation down the line.

Andrew J. Miller is the founder and president of Saint Paul, Minn.-based Dakota Safety, which specializes in passive fall protection systems and guarding equipment. He has more than 30 years of experience in construction product representation, sales and marketing. To learn more, email or visit