Guardrail System

Guardrail system: Used in fall protection to prevent accidents.  A barrier erected to prevent employees from falling to lower levels. SOURCE: OSHA guidelines for guardrails

Whether you’re a building contractor or an architect, guardrails and handrails should be part of your plans from the beginning. These safety features must be optimized for the type of building they will be used in and complying with OSHA requirements. For example, a guardrail should be installed outside the building roof’s edge, rather than on the inside to keep people from dangerous drop-offs.

Handrails vs. Guardrails

Both guardrails and handrails are essential for building safety. Guardrails have two types: a solid type or a split type with warning bars on one side to prevent falls from happening. In contrast, handrails have no gaps more extensive than an inch to ensure your hands don’t slip between them. Also, it is about waist height and designed for people to grip while they walk up or downstairs. 

Handrail DefinedGuardrails should be required in high-risk situations such as stairways, ramps, and landings. A guardrail is the best choice for these areas because it prevents falls from occurring. In any other case, a handrail will do just fine to prevent people from falling so long as they are within arm’s reach, like in crossovers or work platforms. (More details about Stair Railing Height)

Guardrails vs. Handrails




Handrails are rails intended to have a supportive handhold. The rails must tolerate being tightly grasped and kept safely away from any other stair or rail part. A handrail should maintain at least 2 1/2 inches of clearance between its segments and anything else that would interfere with the grip, such as adjacent railings or walls. The end of a handrail should not threaten by protruding out to injure anyone using the stairs/walkway where it is installed.

Guardrail systems — or guardrails — are barricading structures installed along an unprotected or exposed side or edge of a walking-working
surface to avoid fall injuries. These structures are usually found in building edges, decks, balconies, work platforms, roads or cliffs, around holes, moving pieces of machinery that can cause injuries, around dangerous areas where there are electrical, explosive, or drowning hazards, and on scaffolds.

OSHA Height Requirement

The minimum handrail height is 30 inches. The maximum height is 38 inches. Height is measured from the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the handrail.

The top-edge height of guardrails must be 42 inches, plus or minus three inches, above the walking-working surface. Guardrails with a top-edge height less than 39 inches are not permitted. The top-edge height of a guardrail may
exceed 45 inches if it meets the other safety requirements for guardrails.

OSHA Strength Requirement

Handrails must withstand, without failure, a force of at least 200 pounds applied in any downward or outward direction within two inches of any point along the top edge of the rail.

Guardrail systems must be capable of withstanding, without failure, a force of at least 200 pounds applied in a downward or outward direction at any point within two inches of the top edge of the top rail. The guardrail system must not deflect to a height less than 39 inches.

Table 1. Comparative Chart of Handrails vs. Guardrails


Guardrail DefinedGuardrails can be constructed from various materials, ranging from steel, fiberglass, aluminum, or concrete. Some of the best types of handrails are made out of steel because they are accessible, robust, and cost-effective for many applications. Aluminum guardrails, however, are lighter and more aesthetically pleasing for the most part.

OSHA Guidelines on Guardrails

OSHA Standard Number 1910.29(b) has an entire section devoted solely to the guardrail system. This section stipulates, in full detail, how guardrails and other safety barriers should be designed, installed, inspected, tested, and maintained in a manner that will prevent employees from falling.

If the OSHA regulations are ignored, drastic repercussions could arise, for example, fines and penalties against the contractor and building owner. These OSHA rules will protect your property and employees by preventing workplace mishaps. 

For this reason, it’s imperative to be aware of the potential fines that could come as a result of not complying with these regulations. These OSHA safety guidelines are also enforced not only to keep you and your employees safe in your workplace, but also to prevent potentially devastating occurrences such as fires, explosions, or electrocutions. These accidents can cost thousands, if not millions, for each event caused due to a lack of compliance with these standards.

Enacted to ensure worker safety, OSHA Standard Number 1910.29 (b) lays out specifications for guardrails and other protective devices. Contractors and building owners should implement these ‘guards,’ when appropriate, on all platforms with four or more open sides used by employees at a height greater than six feet above the ground level. They are exposed to fall hazards from unguarded edges such as roofs, pits, stairs without handrails. To summarize, here are the OSHA Standard Number 1910.29 (b) highlights:


Summarized OSHA Guardrail Guide

OSHA Guardrail Guide No Balusters

1910.29(b)(2)(i) to 1910.29(b)(2)(iv) tackle mid rails and intermediate vertical members (such as balusters). When there are no mid rails, intermediate rails must be installed with the height of the fall hazard in consideration.

Guardrail parts (top rails, mid rails, etc.) should not ‘jut out’ more than four inches into walkways. A clearance within eighteen inches from both the top rail and bottom rail is needed on intermediate supports.

OSHA Guardrail with Balusters

OSHA requirements primarily apply to areas not accessible to the public. Still, if you are in an area that is open for viewing by customers and employees alike, then building and facility owners should abide by these guidelines. On top of it, the integrity of all guards and handrails must be maintained at all points and extended in every direction, no matter what the concentrated load may be. If your company does not meet this requirement, it can result in penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, with each day of continuing violation constituting a separate offense. For help on meeting or exceeding these requirements, contact our team today!