In considering systems to prevent falls, non-penetrating guardrails can keep workers safe and has the potential to minimize general construction-related fall risks. It may not be surprising that work-place related deaths are mainly caused by falls. More than one-third of U.S. construction deaths are from falls from heights. At the end of 2018 the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced that the U.S. fatal work injury rate dropped slightly in 2017, but fatal falls were at their highest level in the 26-year history of the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI). Further, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Fall Protection Standard 29 CFR 1926.501 is its most frequently cited violation for multiple years, and again in fiscal year 2018. There are various fall protection measures which employers put in place and those sanctioned by OSHA.
Here are two main types of systems for protection from falls. These two types, active and passive, are described below to understand what they are and their implications for safety needs.
Active Fall Protection Systems
Active systems use equipment designed to prevent a fall from occurring or restricting a worker from a free fall. A worker uses a harness which is connected via a lanyard to an anchored point. There are two categories of an active fall protection system: fall restraint and fall arrest. Fall restraint systems are such that a lanyard connected to a worker will not allow the worker clearance to pass a threshold where a fall off an edge could occur. Fall arrest systems stops workers from hitting the ground in the event of a free fall.
There are a variety of requirements, such as tie-off anchors must be able to hold a minimum 500-lb load, be certified and be inspected on an annual basis. In addition, fall retrieval plans need to be in place so that in the event of a fall, the worker can be attended to quickly and effectively.
Per OSHA’s Training Program Standard 1926.503, all personnel need training for use of active fall protection systems. This training should include fall hazard types; procedures for use, maintenance, and inspection of fall protection systems; the role of employees in using these systems; as well as the limitations of each type of equipment for protection from falls.
Yet, there is still risk in using active fall protection systems. Even with training, workers may not install or use these systems correctly and be susceptible to fall-related injuries or fatalities. Active fall protection systems can be used in conjunction with a passive fall protection system.
Passive Fall Protection Systems
Passive fall protection systems are stationary, can function without any human interaction to serve its purpose. Once installed, passive systems protect workers for as long as they are up, need little to no maintenance. With minimal training, workers can install and benefit from them. One such passive fall protection system is non-penetrating guardrails.
Advantages of Non-Penetrating Guardrails
Zero Roof Penetration: Installing systems which penetrate the roof runs a risk of damaging the roof’s integrity and incurring additional costs. A non-penetrating guardrail system minimizes this risk. The weighted ballasts keep the rails in place without penetrating the roof. This system meets OSHA’s load requirement to protect workers and the roof structure.
Ease of Installation: Non-penetrating guardrails can be assembled without the use of welding or drilling and disassembled as needed. To assemble these guardrails, position cast iron bases, insert rails into the built-in ports of the base, and secure the rails into the ports with securing pins. Very few people are required for the installation process, which in turn saves time, energy, and expense. In some situations, individually adjustable rails need to be used to accommodate uneven surfaces or equipment, and this may take more time and labor for installation.
Versatility: If there is temporary or ongoing construction, these systems can be mounted and dismantled as needed. Transporting non-penetrating guardrails can be done from one place to another for multiple construction projects at different locations. A portable rail base mover can be used for positioning and placement of cast iron bases. Therefore, non-penetrating guardrail systems have an added benefit of being either permanent or temporary safety solutions.
Complying with OSHA: Non-penetrating guardrails comply with OSHA’s guidelines including resisting loads as described in OSHA’s Standard 1910.29. Further, OSHA requires that the top rail of the railing withstands 200 pounds of pressure at any point in any direction.
Durable and Aesthetically Pleasing: Non-penetrating guardrail systems include durable fittings and pipes, can be powder coated to blend with the building and be aesthetically pleasing to the eye. In addition, the railing can be angled away from the roof edge to blend in with the roof line.
Whether your site utilizes active or passive fall protection systems, worker training, system maintenance, and regular inspections are essential. Select appropriate fall protection systems to maximize workplace productivity and minimize risk. Non-penetrating guardrails is among the possible solutions to fall prevention and fall protection measures.