If you’re a safety manager, keeping your employees healthy and safe is a top priority. To serve that purpose (and to avoid hefty fines), staying compliant with the OSHA regulations on fall protection should be a top priority, especially on commercial rooftops. Fortunately, there are several OSHA-approved solutions available that make staying compliant simple. Since each situation is different, your fall protection system needs to match your individual requirements. Let’s take a look at the two main ways to keep your team out of harm’s way and how you can choose the right system for the job.
What Fall Protection System Is Best?
Safety Guard Rails
Safety guard rails are precisely what they sound like: a railing system that creates a barrier from the leading edge of your rooftop. They are a form of passive fall protection — that means they prevent a fall from ever happening. They can also be used on steps, landings, platforms, around skylights and hatches, mezzanines, and other elevated surfaces. Depending on the kind you choose to install this type of fall protection system, they can be a temporary or permanent solution.
Horizontal lifelines (HLL) are a form of active fall protection. That means they stop a fall as it occurs by arresting or restraining the user before they reach the surface below. They include a safety harness system and a cable attached to two or more anchor points. Those who use horizontal lifelines must be thoroughly trained in how to assemble, inspect, put on, and use the system. Furthermore, users must inspect the components for wear and tear before each and every use. All elements of the system must meet installation and load requirements of IBC and OSHA standards to ensure safety.
Each of these systems has advantages for certain applications. Understanding their respective benefits allows safety managers to choose the fall protection system best suited for the job or environment.
Best Applications for Safety Guard Rails
Safety guard rails provide all-around safety, and for many reasons, are often the best general system for meeting fall protection requirements. Here are some situations where guard rails make the best choice:
- Flat or Low Slope Areas. Guard rail systems work well for areas with low slopes of less than 18 degrees or less than 4/12 pitch.
- Lower Heights. Just because an elevated surface isn’t high doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt. But it might not make sense to use a lifeline in a space that’s only 6 ft. — you’d have to use a very short, restrictive cable.
- Frequently-Accessed Areas. If you have people — workers or not — frequently accessing your rooftop, you’ll need a general protection system that doesn’t require a lot of training and certification.
- Lots of Workers. Like the point above, if you have many employees on your rooftop at once, it might not make sense (or be structurally possible) to accommodate them with individual lifeline systems.
The advantages of safety guard rails include:
- Non-Penetrating. A quality guard rail system does not penetrate the rooftop membrane, so your rooftop stays structurally intact.
- No Additional Equipment. Guard rail systems do not require personal harnesses, cables, pulley systems, or other additional equipment.
- No Specialized Training. Unlike HLL systems, no specialized training of personnel is necessary with guard rails.
- Fewer Compliance Challenges. Meeting the compliance standards with guard rails is must simpler and imposes fewer challenges than horizontal lifelines.
- Lower Inspection Costs. Inspections of guard rail systems are minimal when compared to the costs of HLL system inspections.
- No Rescue Plan Needed. Because they are passive systems, there is no need for a rescue plan for these systems in the event of a fall.
- No Delay In Getting To Work. There’s no need to inspect and don a harness and cable before getting to the job at hand.
While a great general solution, safety guard rails aren’t always the right choice for your fall protection environments of objectives. When it comes to cost-effectiveness and performance efficiency, sometimes lifelines are the way to go.
Best Applications for Horizontal Lifelines
Horizontal lifelines are often a good choice for situations or circumstances where passive barriers don’t provide adequate safety, or simply aren’t cost-effective. Situations where HLL systems better accommodate fall protection objectives might include:
- Higher Slope Areas. Areas that exceed 18 degrees of slope or a 4/12 pitch are better served with HLL systems.
- Larger Perimeters. Larger spaces that exceed the cost-effectiveness of installing guard rail systems. This leaves the dimensions open to interpretation.
- Leading Edge Work. If work needs to be done in a precarious place, like directly along the roof edge (and outside the perimeter of a guardrail), you’ll need a lifeline.
- Fewer Employees. If there are only a few workers on your rooftop or elevated work area, it may make sense financially to invest in one or two lifeline systems versus a guard rail system.
The advantages gained by the installation of horizontal lifelines include:
- Possibly More Cost-Effective. Depending on the size of your roof and the number of people accessing it, it may be more cost-efficient to use a horizontal lifeline. However, you will need to continue inspections and annual training, so the life of the project needs to be taken into consideration.
- Safer in High-Risk Applications. There may be high-risk jobs where a guardrail simply isn’t adequate. Horizontal lifelines provide a proactive solution for preventing and arresting falls when an employee may be more exposed.
- May Give Your Workers Access to Different Areas. A lifeline may be necessary for a job outside of the parameter of a rooftop guard rail.
OSHA Fall Protection Regulations
Regardless of which system you choose, it must comply with fall protection regulations set forth by OSHA. There are five general standards provided by OSHA when it comes to fall protection. Here is a brief list of what you can expect to learn about:
- Barriers for Floor and Wall Openings – (Standards – 29 CFR) 1910.29
- Scope, Application, and Definitions of Fall Protection – (Standards – 29 CFR) 1926.500
- Employer/Owner Responsibility to Provide Fall Protection – (Standards – 29 CFR) 1926.501
- Systems Criteria and Practices – (Standards – 29 CFR) 1926.502
- Fall Protection Training Requirements – (Standards – 29 CFR) 1926.503
Remember, proper compliance in fall protection and prevention must meet or exceed the standards outlined by OSHA.
An adequate fall protection system is not just a regulatory requirement, but something that any responsible organization should provide for the safety of employees and/or visitors to their facility. When choosing your system, whether safety guard rails or horizontal lifelines, it helps to speak with a professional team that can help assess your needs. At Blue Water Manufacturing, safety is our business. Give us a call and we’ll help you get the right fall protection system for the job at hand.