Regardless of how sure-footed and well-balanced you may think you are, working on rooftops can be dangerous. As a result, it’s essential to implement fall protection systems such as guardrails to protect workers from falls.
Before installing a fall protection system, performing a roof safety audit is crucial. The safety audit will highlight the hazards on the roof and guide the implementation of a guardrail system. There are several types of roof guardrails, each suited to different kinds of roofs and working environments. Roof safety audits will help determine which guardrail systems to use.
Why Are Roof Guardrails Important?
Guardrails are passive fall protection systems that help prevent falls, protecting workers. They are essential safety systems used when fall hazards can’t be eliminated completely.
These systems are designed specifically to stop falls on rooftops, walkways, stairwells and elevated platforms. They’re used by industries where rooftops are accessible, like warehouses, data centers, office buildings and shipping facilities. Guardrails are made using strong materials, usually high-tensile aluminum, that can handle the weight and pressure of a falling worker. They’re also designed to be the right height and length to provide safety across a falling hazard.
There are two main reasons why guardrails are important:
- Fall protection: The main reason for installing guardrails is to help protect against falls when working at heights or over dangerous equipment. Guardrails can protect workers from falling over edges on roofs, walkways, platforms, near skylights and other edges.
- OSHA compliance: Roof guardrails help ensure rooftops and elevated work platforms comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fall protection regulations. For example, OSHA states that workplaces need fall protection at 4 feet in general industries and 6 feet in construction. Employees and work site managers must follow these regulations to prevent falls and fall-related injuries or accidents.
Benefits of Rooftop Guardrail Systems
Other than providing fall protection, there are additional benefits to using rooftop guardrails. They are easy to install, require no training, need little maintenance and are available in various configurations to suit any rooftop.
- Easy installation: Most guardrails are easy to install. Many fall protection companies can deliver your guardrail systems within a few days and with all the required components for easy installation. There is typically no need for welding or specialized installation.
- No training requirements: Guardrails are passive fall protection systems that don’t require human interaction. Workers can benefit from the protection as soon as the guardrails are installed.
- Low maintenance requirements: Once guardrails are installed, they require little to no maintenance. You’ll need to conduct annual maintenance checks for missing or broken components.
- Structural variety: You can choose from several types of guardrails depending on the application, safety needs, rooftop appearance and roof type. Guardrails come in different lengths, heights and colors. They usually also come with other components such as warning systems and mats.
Understanding Fall Hazards With Roof Safety Audits
A roof’s layout, the material it’s made from, the weather conditions, its slope and existing rooftop structures impact its safety. Even roofs built with the same materials and layout may have slight differences that result in different fall hazards. Before implementing a guardrail system and other fall protection, take the time to understand the unique fall hazards of the roof your team will be working on.
Roof audits help break down your roof into three zones based on their level of danger. These zones are red, orange and green. OSHA’s fall protection guidelines define the type of protection required for each zone. The zones are broken down as follows:
- Red zone: This area is 6 feet closest to a leading edge and is usually the most dangerous. It requires guardrails, anchors or lifelines.
- Orange zone: The orange zone is between 6 and 15 feet from the leading edge. It’s considered less dangerous than the red zone but still requires fall protection, including guardrails and anchors.
- Green zone: This is the least dangerous zone and is 15 feet or further from the leading edge. These zones still require fall protection, especially if other risks such as trip hazards, pits or skylights are present.
High-Five Fall Protection Program
At FIXFAST USA, we have developed our extensive High-Five Fall Protection Program to complement the OSHA regulations and help you identify additional safety concerns. The High-Five Program is a roof safety audit examining five crucial elements of a rooftop:
- Roof access: How is the roof or elevated area accessed? Is this access secure against unauthorized persons and is it OSHA-compliant? Many falls can occur while accessing a roof, so it is essential to have sufficient fall protection in place on and around access points.
- Roof access fall hazards: Are workers exposed to fall hazards of 4 feet or more when accessing the roof? If they are, fall protection measures need to be in place. Access points also need to be physically secured during use to prevent falls.
- Designated walkway routes: Rooftops and elevated work sites need designated walkways that are safe from fall hazards. They must be clearly marked, and workers should be trained to stick to these routes when navigating a worksite. Walkways help protect workers from hazards like skylights, smoke vents, elevation changes and other leading edges by guiding them away and around them. Guardrails can be added for additional protection.
- Equipment near fall hazards: Rooftop equipment requires maintenance at some point. If the equipment is near a leading edge or other fall hazards, it is necessary to provide fall protection around it to keep workers safe. Depending on the fall hazard and danger zone, this can range from guardrail systems to warning lines.
- Unprotected edges: Unprotected edges are dangerous and should have been identified when breaking the roof into zones. However, seasonal changes can turn orange zones into red zones. Rain, snow, ice and sleet can introduce new tripping and slipping hazards. Take the time to make sure all unprotected edges are protected and consider how seasonal changes may affect them.
Types of Guardrails
There are several types of guardrails to choose from when implementing an edge protection plan. Each guardrail system has its potential benefits. The type of guardrail system you choose from will depend on the roof you are working on and the edge protection you need.
As the name suggests, non-penetrating guardrails can be set up without penetrating the rooftop or roof walls. Instead, these guardrails are free-standing, using a system of counterbalances and weighted bases to attach to the roof and provide edge protection. These guardrails are ideal for all types of roofs, including rooftops that are built up and membrane roofs.
There are several advantages to using non-penetrating guardrails, including:
- Versatility: Non-penetrating guardrails are available in several configurations depending on your edge protection needs. They can be used as permanent solutions on worksites and adjusted according to the site’s needs.
- No penetration: The biggest advantage of non-penetrating systems is that they require no penetration into the roof. This installation method helps maintain the roof’s integrity and warranty, reduces the potential for leaks and makes installation considerably easier.
- Easy installation: There is no need for drilling, welding or other attachment methods, so installation is easy. Fewer workers are required for installation, saving time and money.
- OSHA compliance: Most non-penetrating guardrails are OSHA-compliant as they can meet the OSHA fall protection guidelines. It is essential to check that the system you install meets these guidelines.
- Durability: Non-penetrating guardrails are made from durable materials, including aluminum and steel, ensuring they can last once installed.
- Aesthetically pleasing: The rails can be powder-coated or painted in different colors to suit the aesthetics of your building.
Internal Wall Mount Guardrails
These modular guardrail systems are designed to provide comprehensive passive fall protection in internal wall mount applications. They’re mounted to the inner sides of parapet walls to protect teams and equipment from fall edges, making roof work sites safer.
Internal wall mounts are ideal for permanent applications and have discreet attachments that are invisible from the surfaces below them.
There are numerous benefits to using internal wall mount guardrails. They’re aesthetically pleasing, durable and versatile — these guardrails have a clean and simple design. Most internal wall mount guardrails can be painted and powder coated to meet your building’s specific appearance. Protective coatings can also be added to the rails to protect them from the elements.
Usually, internal wall mount systems are made from high-strength aluminum, making them strong enough to withstand the elements and the pressure from people using them. These systems are also easy to install. However, it’s best to get a skilled and experienced team member to install the internal wall mount guardrails, as they typically use plates to attach to walls.
Metal Roof Mount Guardrails
When working on metal roofs, you need specific guardrails that protect your workers, machinery and equipment from falls. The uneven and often slippery surfaces of metal roofs can make them extremely dangerous for teams to work on. Metal roof mount guardrails are specifically designed for metal roofs, including R panels, standing seams and corrugated metal roofs.
There are various benefits of using metal roof mount guardrail systems. Advancements in technology and hardware have helped ensure metal roof guardrails are economical and easier to install. They’re also less invasive, maintaining the integrity and warranty of the roof without investing in additional systems to prevent leaks and other structural damage.
Installation is relatively simple and can be done by experienced professionals on your team. Metal roof mount systems can be customized according to the work site, including color and length.
There are three varieties of metal roof mount guardrails suitable for the three main types of roofs:
- Corrugated: The unique profiles of corrugated roofs make them challenging to work on and install guardrails on. Metal roof mount guardrails are designed for corrugated roofs by attaching to the metal fold, allowing for the force and weight of the system to be distributed.
- Standing seam: The base of the guardrails attaches to the metal roof seam rather than the flat middle. Being connected to the roof this way helps maintain the roof’s integrity while still providing comprehensive fall protection.
- R panel: R panel roofs have a complex design of raised ribs with flat areas between them. Metal roof mount systems are designed to fasten to these ribs.
Surface Mount Guardrails
Double-point stud plates attach surface mount guardrails directly to the roof’s substrate layer. Being secured this way helps ensure the guard rail system is tightly connected to the roof and can withstand various environmental conditions, including wind, snow, rain and sleet. These guardrail systems are used in permanent applications on flat and sloped roofs.
A major benefit of these guardrails is their durability. They are often made from lightweight yet strong aluminum, making them ideal for roofs that experience harsh weather and other elements. They can also be customized depending on length and color to match the rooftop’s appearance.
Installation is relatively simple but requires a competent person to correctly install the system. Make sure the attachments used to secure surface mount guardrails to a roof are waterproof to prevent water from seeping into the substrate.
External Wall Mount Guardrails
Like internal wall mount guardrails, external wall mount guardrails provide passive fall safety for external wall mounted applications. They are well-suited to permanent applications, as they provide extensive fall protection along a roof’s edge. Most external wall mount guardrails use a z-shaped mounting system for secure and water-tight attachment to a rooftop.
Some of the advantages of external wall mount systems include:
- Customizability: The guardrail’s length and color can be customized based on your needs.
- OSHA compliance: These guardrails provide OSHA-compliant passive fall protection when working on roofs.
- Ease of installation: Installation can be done by your team of competent roofing professionals. The guardrails are often made from lightweight aluminum, making lifting and attaching the system easier.
How to Choose a Roof Guardrail System
By understanding the different roof guardrail systems available for edge protection, you can start determining what kind of guardrails you need for a work site. There are various factors to consider, including:
- Type of roof: What is the roof made of? Does the roof slope? How steep is the slope? How built up is the roof? These factors will impact the type of guardrail system you choose. A metal roof will need a metal roof mount system, while other roof types can use surface mount guardrails, for instance.
- Nature of the work: The type of work you’re doing and for how long will influence which system you choose. If you only do short-term or temporary work, you may want to use a non-penetrating, temporary system. If you provide long-term maintenance work on the rooftop, you may want to install a combination of internal, external and surface mount guardrails based on the roof structure.
- Fall hazards: Once you have completed a roof safety audit, you can identify the various fall hazards on the rooftop. For example, skylights, parapets, walkways and other edges need different guardrail types. You can use external and internal wall mount guardrails where required, along with surface mount systems.
Using different types of guardrails can create a comprehensive fall protection plan. Every roof you work on will be unique and have different requirements. Based on your safety audit, you may need different types of protection in different roof areas. You may also need permanent protection in some areas, while others only need temporary fall protection.
Choose Proper Fall Protection With FIXFAST USA
Choosing the right fall protection for your work site is essential. Taking the time to perform a safety audit and map out the various fall hazards and leading edges on a site can help you determine the right guardrails to use. At FIZFAST USA, our aim is to make rooftops as safe as possible. Our comprehensive High-Five Program analyzes every aspect of a roof and helps you determine how to protect your team best. We also offer a wide range of industry-leading fall protection systems, from guardrails to anchor lines, you can use to help prevent falls.