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Posted by Stephanie on March 18, 2024

Maintaining a productive and efficient warehouse requires the proper layout, software, and personnel. It also requires a focus on workplace safety. Safety hazards are challenging to eliminate regardless of the types of items you ship in and out of your warehouse. However, you can mitigate risks and keep injuries to a minimum by implementing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. 

By effectively maintaining a safe work environment, you’ll keep your personnel from being injured, improving cost efficiency and boosting productivity. While there are many areas in your warehouse that you may need to address for full compliance, among the first investments you should make involves installing guardrails. OSHA has numerous guidelines that regulate guardrails. The following guide explains how to navigate OSHA compliance and answers, “When is a guardrail required?”.

Guard Rails

What is a Guardrail?

Guardrails are features that add a protective element to any warehouse. You can use them to set up boundaries in your warehouse or limit access to hazardous areas. These items define spaces in any facility and can effectively prevent falls and other hazards. They can also protect your racking and shelving systems from damage by heavy machinery or vehicle collisions.

A guardrail has three areas: the top rails, midrails, and vertical posts. Each component must adhere to OSHA’s size, material type, location, and height guidelines. 

OSHA Requirements for Guardrails: A Deep Dive

Guardrails are designed to protect personnel and prevent inventory damage. However, they can only be effective at preventing injuries and hazards if made with a suitable material or installed at the correct height. All industrial spaces can benefit from installing guardrails from warehouses to distribution centers. Diversified Fall Protection provides turnkey guardrail systems that comply with all the following OSHA requirements.

Guard Rails

Guardrail Height Requirements

When installing guardrails, the top rails need to be around 42 inches above the surface, give or take three inches. If the guardrail system meets specific criteria, the highest edge height can be above 45 inches. 

If a platform in your facility is at least four feet above the ground, you must install guardrails. Before finishing the installation, measure the vertical heights to ensure the distance from the top rail’s upper surface to the floor or ramp level is 42 inches. 

Mid-rails

Midrails should be installed in areas without a wall or parapet. Numerous components can be used as midrails, including everything from solid panels to screens. Parapets and walls must be 21 inches or higher to meet OSHA guidelines. If under 21 inches, you must install mid-rails around halfway between the surface and the guardrail’s top edge. Along with solid panels and screens, you can also use intermediate vertical members and mesh as midrails

If you decide to use mesh and screens, they’ll need to extend from the surface to the highest point of the top rail and cover the openings between the top rail supports. When using vertical members, install them 19 inches apart or less. Architectural panels also need to be installed in a manner that limits openings to 19 inches or less.

Guardrail Strength

Guardrail systems must be strong enough to withstand 200 pounds or more at any top rail section. To test the system’s strength, apply the force outward or downward within two inches of the rail’s top edge. If you push downward, ensure the guardrail system is at least 39 inches off the surface. 

Screens, solid panels, midrails, and mesh need to withstand 150 pounds or more in any outward or downward direction along the intermediate section. If any failure occurs, you need to switch out the rails you’ve installed with more durable ones. 

Smooth Surfaces

Guardrail systems must have a smooth surface to protect employees from injury. When systems like these have rough surfaces, there’s a higher risk of lacerations and punctures. Clothing can also catch on the edges. Look for guardrails with a powder-coated finish to prevent injuries more effectively

Remember that OSHA also has guidelines about the placement of the midrails and top rails. The ends of these rails can’t overhang the nearby terminal posts, which are positioned at each end of the rail. An exception to this rule is allowed if the overhang doesn’t create a projection hazard. 

OSHA also restricts materials like steel and plastic banding. They can’t be used for mid-rails or top rails. If you use these materials with guardrails, they need to be at least 0.25 inches in thickness or diameter. These restrictions are designed to protect personnel from injury caused by applying too much force. 

Guardrails in Specific Warehouse Areas

Every warehouse layout is different, making identifying the best spots for installing guardrails challenging. OSHA has comprehensive guidelines for installing guardrail sections around hoist areas, point-of-access holes, ramps, and runways

Guard Rail

Hoist Areas

According to OSHA, several things must be done when installing guardrail systems in hoist areas. For example, you must place a removable section along the opening when your personnel aren’t performing hoisting activities. The removable section can be a mid-rail or top rail. If you’d prefer to avoid installing a removable guardrail section, you can use gates or chains along the opening if they deliver the same protection as guardrails.

Holes

You’ll also need to be careful when installing guardrails around holes in your warehouse. If materials are going to be passed through these holes, your personnel must follow specific protocols. If you install guardrails in these areas, they must be positioned around every unprotected edge or side of the hole. 

When your personnel pass materials through the hole, ensure that only two sides of your guardrail system can be removed simultaneously. You can close the hole with a cover when materials aren’t passed through. 

Point-of-Access Holes (e.g., Ladderways)

If you place guardrails around holes that act as points of access, the system’s opening needs to come with a self-closing gate. This gate can either swing or slide away from the hole. Ensure the gate has a mid-rail or top rail that meets all other OSHA requirements. The only solution available is to offset the hole to ensure an employee doesn’t walk over it or fall through.

Ramps and Runways

When it comes to ramps and runways, guardrails must be installed along all unprotected edges or sides. It’s also essential to use the right materials when installing these systems. Make sure you use synthetic or Manila rope for mid-rails or top rails. The rope you install must meet the OSHA strength requirements, which involve the 150-pound and 200-pound tests.

Ensuring OSHA Compliance in Warehouses

No matter how many guardrails you need to install, you must follow OSHA regulations in your warehouse. These guidelines have been made to reduce employee safety hazards. Many work-related deaths and injuries are caused by falls. In 2022, the third-leading cause of work-related deaths was falling to a lower level. More than 700 deaths occurred from these falls in 2022 alone, and another 129,000 injuries took place. 

Whether you manage or own a warehouse, you must ensure that the workplace is set up to prevent employees from falling off elevated workstations or overhead platforms. If there are holes in the walls or floors, guardrails can prevent employees from falling into them and getting injured. By implementing a robust health and safety program at your facility, you can effectively:

  • Prevent deaths
  • Reduce the number of worksite illnesses and injuries.
  • Keep employees alert and informed about how to stay safe.
  • Boost employee morale
  • Identify and remove workplace hazards

If your company doesn’t comply with OSHA standards, it will also be at a higher risk of legal consequences. The penalties for not following OSHA guidelines include substantial fines of $70,000 per violation. If the violation continues, imprisonment is possible. 

Guard Rail

Where to Find OSHA-Compliant Guardrails:

When searching for OSHA-complaint guardrails and safety railing systems, consider Diversified Fall Protection. They are a trusted solution provider that offers many OSHA-compliant systems you can install in your warehouse. Diversified Fall Protection uses an engineered turnkey approach to deliver lasting guardrail solutions

Conclusion

If you’re trying to navigate OSHA compliance in your warehouse, ensure your guardrails meet the height, size, location, and material requirements. Failing to meet OSHA guidelines can be costly, so you must avoid mistakes during installation. Prioritize workplace safety by complying with OSHA standards while installing guardrails in your facility.

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