To keep your workers safe—and comply with OSHA’s fall protection guidelines—you must provide rooftop guardrails for crews working at elevations of six feet or more. Recognizing the necessity for fall protection systems is the first step towards workplace safety, but OSHA compliance requires extra diligence, in-depth knowledge, and preventative troubleshooting.
From years of experience with OSHA’s regulations, we know that certain aspects of safety rails can present unforeseen challenges for safety managers. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the six most common mistakes we have seen. Additionally, we provide some actionable solutions to these common mistakes—and hope to help provide better protection for you, your workers, and your equipment.
Mistake #1: Missing the Fine Print in OSHA’s Guidelines
Though you already know you need fall protection systems for rooftop safety, sifting through the fine print in OSHA’s guidelines can be challenging. Because of the detailed requirements, we have seen many cases in which compliance was impacted by small errors. Here are some of the commonly missed or misunderstood fine points of fall protection systems, many of which can present an issue even if off by an inch:
- Intermediate members (like balusters) must not be placed more than 19 inches part.
- Midrails and panels must be carefully installed so that there are no openings in the guardrails more than 19 inches wide.
- At not more than 6 feet intervals, you must use high-visibility material to flag wire rope used for top rails.
- A guardrail system must have top rails and midrails of at least 1/4 inch thickness.
As you can see, guidelines for OSHA guard rails are exacting and precise. One of the best solutions for catching all the fine print—down to the difference of a quarter inch—is to partner with a company that is intimately acquainted with the minutiae of OSHA regulations. Make sure that your safety rails are created with OSHA compliance in mind, so that you don’t need to stress about the fine print.
Mistake #2: Failing to Account for Your Roof’s Specifications
When it comes to rooftop guardrails, it’s important to take the specifics into account. Each roof has a different combination of factors, and it’s easy to make mistakes by disregarding any of the following specifications:
- Skylights & Holes. OSHA requires that each employee be protected from falling in through skylights or holes in the roof. This requires a guardrail system or a cover to protect against accidents. In cases of inclement weather like snow, make sure that you have a skylight demarcation plan in place to highlight potential dangers.
- Ramps & Runways. To comply with OSHA’s guidelines, make sure that you install guardrails on the sides of ramps or runways to protect employees from falling through.
- Wall Openings. According to regulations, any employee working “on, at, above, or near” wall openings needs to be protected by a relevant fall protection safety system.
- Access Ways. If your rooftop areas are accessible by hatches, chutes, or ladderways, you need to have guardrails in place around these openings.
Mistake #3: Failing to Plan for Dim Lighting Conditions
Although most of the work on your structure will probably be done during daylight hours, it’s important to have a system in place for extenuating circumstances. Under OSHA’s general guidelines, it’s pivotal to provide safe working conditions no matter the circumstances. If there’s any possibility your workers will access rooftop areas in dusk or dim lighting, it’s crucial to provide adequate lighting.
Choosing bright, steady lighting to highlight rooftop railings, gates, skylights, or hatches can provide a solution for dim lighting conditions. To save on energy, consider investing in solar-powered lights that will provide long-lasting light in dim (and therefore unsafe) conditions.
Mistake #4: Damaging the Roof with Penetrating Guardrails
Most mistakes regarding OSHA guard rails are completely preventable—yet unfortunately manage to create an expensive hassle for safety managers. One of the most common involves inadvertently using guardrails that damage the structural integrity of your roof. Though these can satisfy OSHA requirements, they also cause incredible damage to your rooftop’s expensive membranes due to aggressive drilling techniques.
Luckily, there is a painless alternative to damaging your roof with your fall protection system. Simply install non-penetrating guardrails. OSHA-compliant, non-penetrating guardrails do not require drilling. In fact, some non-penetrating systems require no tools whatsoever, and offer an incredibly streamlined and damage-free alternative. In addition, the physics of well-designed no-drill systems means that they can lock in place without the use of intermediate counterweights. This not only protects your roof, but also minimizes trip hazards for your employees.
Mistake #5: Failing to Train Workers on Fall Protection Safety
As great and well-managed as your fall protection systems may be, they may not accomplish their purpose if workers aren’t properly trained on operating or working around a guardrail system. In fact, proper training is an integral aspect of Workers’ Rights as defined by OSHA. Each member of your team should receive training on, among other things, the following:
- Warning lines. Recognizing what warning lines look like—and what they signify for each area.
- Designated areas. Remaining within designated areas while work operations are underway.
- Safety gates. Understanding how to operate safety gates that admit to leading edges.
- Access ways. Knowing how to appropriately access rooftop areas.
In addition, it’s pivotal to train your employees on how to recognize and remove hazards in the workplace that would impact the efficacy of their safety rails. Help them to understand that inclement weather like snow or ice might create dangerous work conditions. As a safety manager, it’s important to ensure that this safety information trickles down to the managers, supervisors, and crew on staff at any given time.
Mistake #6: Misinterpreting Installation Instructions
Installing safety rails requires a strong attention to detail. It’s important to follow the included diagrams and instructions to the letter. Just a few simple issues or miscalculations can result in the entire system being dangerously askew or unreliable. Unfortunately, this can result in rooftop guardrails that are not only non-compliant to OSHA’s standards—but aren’t adequately protective of workers.
These mistakes can be prevented by a close and thorough understanding of installation instructions. Additionally, utilizing the services of a professional installation service can make all the difference. Professionals who are familiar with every aspect of OSHA guard rails will ensure a smooth, safe, and compliant system to protect your workers.
Every work space is unique, so to ensure compliance, your OSHA guard rails must be too. At Blue Water Manufacturing, we have years of experience adhering to OSHA guidelines and providing a safe work place for rooftop workers. Our expertise makes us specially equipped to recognize and prevent mistakes before they happen. If you’re seeking professional input on fall protection— from non-penetrating guardrails, to solar safety lighting, to professional installation—please reach out to us today for more information.