If your building has rooftop access or elevated walkways, you might have a fall risk or two on your hands. To stay compliant with OSHA, not to mention keep your employees and visitors safe, you’re going to need a guardrail system. But let’s say you don’t access these areas very often. Or perhaps your workers are extremely sure-footed. Or maybe you’ve got some pretty serious chops when it comes to DIY projects. It might be tempting to just go ahead and build your own guardrails. Right?
Wrong. Unless you are fully trained on the specific requirements for guardrails, it can be a much more elaborate endeavor than you anticipated. Nonetheless, if you’re still thinking about building your own, here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind before you add yet another job to your to-do list.
1. Safety Will be an issue.
Obviously, you’re considering a roof fall protection system or guardrail system for elevated areas because you know they’re dangerous. But safety can be tough to get right. Just because you’ve gone ahead and built some guard railings or other barricade doesn’t mean you’re protected. To make sure your safety rails can withstand the weight of your workers after a trip, slip, or misstep, they must live up to some pretty stringent requirements (which we’ll discuss in a moment). If any corners are cut or questioned, you run the risk of an accident. What’s more, you also create a false sense of security, encouraging workers to get closer to an edge than they would otherwise feel comfortable doing.
One more thought on safety: the actual installation of railings can also be dangerous. If you or the person constructing this guardrail system isn’t aware of installation best practices, you run a serious risk while building the very thing that’s supposed to keep your workers safe.
2. Compliance is a challenge.
OSHA gives clear requirements regarding guardrails as part of its guidelines for a compliant roof fall protection system. First, there is the issue of determining what materials you plan to use. Wood? Pipe? Structural steel? Each one has own specific regulations.
For example, wood components must be at a minimum of 1500 lb-ft/in(2) fiber (stress grade) construction grade lumber and the posts must be at least 2-inch by 4-inch lumber spaced not more than 8 feet apart on centers. The top rail has to be at least 2-inch by 4-inch lumber, and the intermediate rail shall be at least 1-inch by 6-inch lumber. For pipe railings, posts, top rails, and intermediate railings have to be at least one and one-half inches nominal diameter (schedule 40 pipe) with posts spaced not more than 8 feet apart on centers. Lastly, structural steel requires that posts, top rails, and intermediate rails be at least 2-inch by 2-inch by 3/8-inch angles, with posts spaced not more than 8 feet apart on centers.
No matter what material you choose, each of these guard railings must support at least 200 pounds of pressure, confirmed through testing, so you know your system will be able to bear the required weight.
3. They mean added liability.
This one’s pretty simple: if you build and install your own guardrail system, if something should happen, it is entirely on you. As we noted, you run a risk both during the construction of these railings, as well as during their tenure on site. It probably also means higher interest rates in the long run. By choosing a vetted professional and OSHA-compliant railings, you not only guarantee compliance, but also dependability.
A third-party roof fall protection system professional can offer insights that may not have occurred to you. Is there anything you overlooked? Do you have any ladders, skylights or roof hatches that need special consideration and/or protection? Are there specialized tools you need? What about toe boards and machine guarding? Do you need to have a safety harness on-site? Even if you’re a construction pro, it’s best to leave the safety audit and installation up to those who do it day in and day out.
5. They’re likely not cost-efficient.
Let’s say your business can get your hands on the tools, materials, equipment, and know-how to make, install, and test guardrails up to code. If that’s the case, then you already know that it’s probably not cost-efficient to procure all the above for a one-time job. Whether it’s faster than bringing in the professionals is arguable, but it’s likely a drain on resources when you consider the hours, training, and set up required to get your railings installed safely and correctly. Professionals dedicated to fall protection are ready to go: they have the gear, materials, and skills on hand. They do one thing, they do it well, and they do it with minimum man-hours.
If you’re still considering going the DIY route, take a moment. Review your safety needs, the OSHA requirements, the liability risk, and the money you’ll spend on time and labor before you begin a project that slows your business down. Instead, contact a professional and get the job done in an easy and efficient way right from the start. Have questions about the safety issues of your particular worksite? Give us a call at BlueWater Manufacturing. We’re happy to help — workplace safety is what we do.