Non-penetrating Guardrails: A Solution To Fall-Related Fatalities In Construction Sites

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    According to the Workplace Fatal Injuries In Great Britain 2019, falls are among the top three causes of work-related fatalities. While in a study conducted by the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR), 0.3% of tragic falls that took place between 1992 and 2009 occurred from roofs.

    Meanwhile, a study in Ergonomics in 2010 revealed several factors that contribute to this kind of workplace accident. These factors include workers’ lack of training and experience, poor load handling, visual exposure to elevation, defective or improper personal safety equipment, and, most especially, fatigue.

    Employers can avoid such a situation by implementing a fall protection system on the site. Among the many options to choose from, a non-penetrating guardrail is something professionals must consider. Efficient and easy to install, non-penetrating guardrails can minimize general construction-related risks and accidents.

    Types Of Workplace Falls

    Workplace falls can be classified into three types:

    • Falls on a single level: This type of fall usually refers to “slips and trips” or “slips and falls.” Slips can be a result of not carefully walking on slippery surfaces, while trips, on the other hand, can be a result of uneven ground, intrusive equipment, or curved surfaces.

    Also, worn footwear or an inappropriate footwear tread can lead to accidental slips. For this kind of workplace fall, simple safety measures, like specifying footwear tread or maintaining a clear working path, are more than enough. However, if simple measures aren’t enough, fall accidents can be prevented using passive fall protection systems like non-penetrating guardrails.

    • Falls to a lower level: Most fall-related injuries and workplace fatalities result from workers falling from an upper level to a lower level. That said, workers may need to wear full-body harnesses because working in these areas risks serious injuries, or worse, even death from falling down a high place.
    • Swing falls: Swing falls can also be tagged as a fall to a lower level. However, this type of fall hazard is unique. This occurs when workers fall from a high platform while fastened to a fall arrest system while the placement of the systems’ attachment point is not directly over the worker’s head.

    Because of this, the harness the worker is wearing creates an angle, and if a fall occurs, they will swing akin to a pendulum. Swing falls are common in industrial settings like maintenance or aircraft manufacturing and could damage equipment, lead to serious injury, or fatality.

    Non-penetrating Guardrail Systems

    This passive fall protection system can operate even without any activity or interaction from users. Once a passive system is installed, it lowers the risk of workers falling from the roof. Not only that, but compared to active systems, passive fall protection systems only require minimal maintenance.

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    What's more, even construction workers with hardly any training can install these guardrails themselves. Non-penetrating guardrails are one example of a passive system that offers many advantages to both the workers and employers.

    Advantages Of Non-Penetrating Guardrails

    Here are some of the major advantages provided by non-penetrating guardrail systems:

    Minimal Damage

    Once a penetrative fall protection system is mounted on roofs, you run the possibility of damaging the integrity of the structure and handling unnecessary costs. However, unlike in a penetrative system, non-penetrating systems lessen the risk because this guardrail system is substantial and hefty enough to be kept in place.

    Still, they are also light enough to avoid damaging the roof while complying with the OSHA load requirements. Non-penetrating guardrails not only prevent workers from falling, but it also prevents damage to the building.


    Non-penetrating guardrails can be customized and altered depending on the needs of a project. This makes them excellent for different structures, such as manufacturing facilities, distribution centers, government buildings, commercial spaces, offices, and schools.

    Easy to Install

    Non-penetrating guardrails systems can be installed and removed as required. These guardrails can be installed in three easy steps. First, put the bases at the location where the rails will be installed. After that, insert the rails into the base ports. Lastly, secure them tightly.

    The complexity of the installation largely depends on the kind of guardrail used. If, for example, construction workers are working on uneven equipment or surfaces, they can use individually adjustable rails instead of the standard ones. However, it will take more effort and time to install.

    OSHA Compliance

    When non-penetrating guardrails systems are correctly installed, they can provide the right amount of security and safety per the OSHA guidelines. The standards enabling non-penetrating guardrails to meet OSHA guidelines are the rails used as outriggers, the ballasted bases, and the placement of the mid-rails and top rails.

    Disadvantages Of Non-Penetrating Guardrails

    Here are some significant disadvantages of non-penetrating guardrail systems:

    Higher Installation Cost

    Unlike other fall protection systems, non-penetrating guardrails can have higher initial installation fees. The upfront cost would start around 50 dollars per foot, with at least 16 hours of work needed for every 600 ft.

    Unsuitable Surfaces

    Even though these rails are very adjustable, some surfaces may not be appropriate for their use. These areas include a roof that slopes at least five degrees or any surface where the support system can't stay straight.

    Low-quality Guardrails

    There are a lot of non-penetrating metal roof guardrails for sale out there, making it hard to choose and filter the good ones. If you use low-quality guardrails or if they're not installed correctly, they may not offer as much security against falls compared to a permanent railing system. Specifications must be as detailed as possible to avoid such situations.

    Design Options

    You have several choices when it comes to picking the correct non-penetrating guardrail for your site. These are the following:

    • Standing Seam Non-penetrating Guardrails: Before, there are hardly any solutions for installing fall protection guardrails on a standing seam roof. However, by using roof clamps, you can now mount guardrail systems on different standing seam roofs.
    • Architectural Non-Penetrating Guardrails: This design option is curved away from the edge of the roof to ensure that the equipment's appearance won't distract or sidetrack the overall aesthetic of the facility. Architectural non-penetrating guardrails are particularly common on buildings sheltering a "green roof."
    • Collapsible Non-penetrating Guardrails: This non-penetrating guardrail is an excellent solution for keeping your facility's visual appearance while preventing hazardous falls. Collapsible guardrails have one-way pivot bases. That said, when they're not in use, these rails can be lowered.


    Despite the stricter regulations implemented by the OSHA, falls continue to be among the leading causes of work-related fatalities in construction sites. That said, everyone in the industry, such as safety specialists, specification writers, architects, construction workers, and contractors, should formulate ways and methods to keep fall-related accidents at a minimum and protect workers.

    Author Bio

    Richard Perkins is a freelance writer and contributor based in Oakland, California. Since he was young, he had shown great interest in industrial tech and made it his life goal to be part of the industry. Richard might have been writing for five years now, but he still has a lot of knowledge he wants to share with the world.

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