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OSHA and IBC Guardrail Regulations

OSHA Guardrail and IBC Guardrail Regulations

We often come across scenarios where OSHA guardrail regulations are being compared to IBC (International Building Code) regulations.  Here at EDGE, we see them in plans and specifications everyday, but there are a few key differences between the two types of regulations that should be highlighted so we better understand when each regulation should be implemented.  We are going to compare both IBC guardrail and OSHA guardrail regulations side by side.

IBC Guardrail Regulations

IBC guardrail regulations call for a system that will withstand constant forces and take into consideration the fact that multiple people may apply force at the same time, or that children may also be next to a leading edge and could be susceptible to a fall.  

OSHA Guardrail Regulations

OSHA guardrail regulations are designed for general industry or construction applications.  This guardrail is meant to limit employees, contractors, or individuals from a dangerous falls in the workplace.  By its very nature, OSHA standards apply to scenarios that should have limited access to the general public; therefore, the rules and regulations are less stringent as the guardrail does not need to withstand the same forces as in IBC guardrail.

IBC Guardrail Load Requirements

For the reasons above, IBC requires that handrail, guardrail, and their supports must be designed for 50 pounds per lineal foot, applied in any direction at the top of the top rail, and a concentrated load of 200 pounds applied in any direction at any location along the top of the top rail.  What does this mean?  If a removable handrail or guardrail run is 50 lineal feet in length, that system must be able to withstand 2,500 pounds of force (50lbs/ft x 50 ft run = 2,500 lbs).

OSHA Guardrail Load Requirements

OSHA standard 1926.502(b)(3) requires railing systems meet a 200 pound concentrated load test.  This 200 pound load test is designed to stop an employee from a potentially fatal fall, as opposed to the IBC requirement that takes into account the idea that many people may be leaning on the railing at the same time.

IBC Guardrail Height Requirements

IBC guardrail is required to be a minimum of 42” above the leading edge of the tread or walking surface.

OSHA guardrail Height Requirements

OSHA also requires a top rail at 42” above the working working surface, but allows for some flexibility of +/- 3 inches from the 42”.  This allows construction applications more leeway in setting up OSHA compliant guardrail.

IBC Guardrail Opening Limitations

Rails in IBC applications shall not have openings that allow passage of a sphere 4 inches in diameter from the walking surface to the required guard height.

OSHA Opening Limitations

OSHA requires a 21” midrail such that a 19” or larger spherical object cannot pass through the guardrail.


While the requirements of IBC guardrail are quite different than OSHA standards, IBC rules allow for exceptions on their opening limitations, load requirements, and placement, depending on the scenario.

Florida Building Code Guardrail Exceptions

Earlier this year, EDGE Fall Protection ran into a scenario where our freestanding EDGE AccuFit Safety Railing was to be implemented for a project in Orlando, FL.  The requirements of the railing in the specifications was railing must meet a 50 pounds per lineal foot load test, which the system could meet, but required additional material and subsequent costs.  While the architect and engineer mandated that this load requirement must be met, they were in fact applying the 50 pounds per lineal foot requirement to an area that did not require such a load test.

In chapter 16, section 1607.8 of the 6th edition 2017 Florida Building code, it states, “Loads on handrails, guards, grab bars, seats, and vehicle barriers […] shall be designed to resist a liner load of 50 pounds per lineal food” (CITE).  In this project, the architect and engineer required this portion of the Florida building code to be met.  What they failed to recognize is that the code continues to explain in chapter 10, section 1015 exceptions such as, “for areas that are not accessible to the general public and that have an occupant load less than 50, the minimum load shall be 20 pounds per foot” (CITE).  In addition, the code continues to specifically address fall protection near mechanical equipment, which is where the EDGE AccuFit Safety Railing was being placed to protect, requirements stating, “guards shall be provided where various components that require service are located within 10 feet of a roof edge or open side of a walking surface and such edge or open side is located more than 30 inches (762mm) above the floor, roof or grade below.  The guard shall extend not less than 30 inches (762mm) beyond each end of such components.  The guard shall be constructed so as to prevent the passage of a sphere 21 inches (533mm) in diameter (CITE).”

Why Exceptions to IBC Matter

Florida building code, like many state building codes, has specific requirements for rooftop mechanical units that are next to a fall hazard, but infrequently accessed.  In this example, a 20 pound per foot load could have been required as opposed to the 50 pound per foot load.  In most states, you will find that rooftop units need to adhere to OSHA standards as they are generally considered “exceptions,” and do not need to meet the same requirements.

Each state requirement should be carefully reviewed before implementing fall protection, but give us a call if we can be of service!


EDGE Fall Protection, LLC


If you are in need of guardrail to meet IBC load requirements of 50 pounds per lineal foot, please check out some of the products below!

For some of our freestanding rooftop railing or roof edge fall protection systems that meet OSHA’s 200 pound load test, please check out these systems!

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