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Falls From Heights At Construction Sites: The Importance Of Guardrails

Many workers in the construction industry are exposed to vertical drops or heights, from roofers to steel frame workers.  Falling from heights is one of the leading causes of fatalities in the construction industry.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency of the United States Department of Labor, has set regulations and standards to ensure workers' safety and reduce work injuries, illnesses and deaths.

When workers are exposed to heights of 6 feet or more, OHSA regulations require employees to have fall protection.  It is the employers’ duty to provide fall protection for their workers.

Related Case Result: Roofer falls from roof awarded $3,300,000 settlement

There are 3 types of fall protection:

  • guardrails,
  • safety nets, and
  • personal fall arrest systems.

Which type of fall protection is used depends on the nature and location of the work.  This article will address the use of guardrails.


Guardrails are typically used to prevent workers from falling to lower levels when they are working from heights above 6 feet.  The relevant OSHA requirements pertaining to guardrails are provided in Section 1926.502(b) and portions of this section provide:


Top edge height of top rails, or equivalent guardrail system members, shall be 42 inches (1.1 m) plus or minus 3 inches (8 cm) above the walking/working level. When conditions warrant, the height of the top edge may exceed the 45-inch height, provided the guardrail system meets all other criteria of this paragraph.

Note: When employees are using stilts, the top edge height of the top rail, or equivalent member, shall be increased an amount equal to the height of the stilts.


Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, or equivalent intermediate structural members shall be installed between the top edge of the guardrail system and the walking/working surface when there is no wall or parapet wall at least 21 inches (53 cm) high.


Midrails, when used, shall be installed at a height midway between the top edge of the guardrail system and the walking/working level.


Screens and mesh, when used, shall extend from the top rail to the walking/working level and along the entire opening between top rail supports.

OSHA standards regarding guardrails also require the guardrail system to be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force applied within 2 inches of the top edge, in any outward or downward direction, at any point along the edge.

This requirement is important because if a worker accidentally falls into the guardrail, it will not collapse and cause the worker to fall.

Injured After A Fall At A Pennsylvania Or New Jersey Construction Site?

If you fell and were injured due to a lack of a guardrail system at a construction site in PA or NJ, you have legal rights.  Call Daniel J. O’Brien, a construction accident injury lawyer to schedule a FREE consultation. 877.944.8396

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