I never thought I would spend as much time as I do talking about, and writing about, guardrails or, in many cases, the lack thereof. I mean, it seems we take them for granted so much of the time yet, once you spend as much time as I do trying to push them down (more about that in a second), you gain a keen awareness of their existence and suitability.
Think about them the next time you go on a hotel balcony 25 stories up or when you are at a rented beach house and there is a carefully constructed deck on the house. What about at a stadium? I wish we could go to one at this point. Thanks, Coronavirus. All around us are guardrails that, in most instances, keep us from toppling over to our certain doom and we don't give them a lot of thought.
I do, though. It's kind of annoying. But for my clients, I need them to be in place. They need to guard window openings and open edges on rooftops. Also, hoist areas, and hatches, and ramps, and scaffolds. They are everywhere. And not only do they need to be present, they need to be able to withstand OSHA's requirement of 200 pounds of minimum downward and outward force for the toprail (this is why I push on them but, of course, careful not to push them or myself off), 150 pounds for the midrail, and they must have a toe kick to prevent things from being, well, toe kicked over the side onto someone's head.
Guardrails are so much more effective than wearing a harness and a lanyard to stop from falling. If you are familiar with the Hierarchy of Controls (see below), guardrails are a few steps higher than PPE in effectiveness as they are located at the Engineering level, and it makes sense. If the edge at which one might fall over is guarded, they won't fall over unless they jump over, and that's an entire other issue altogether.
It's critical, therefore, that guardrails be considered when at all possible. It's even more critical, though, that if they are used, they are used properly and completely. One opening disrupts the entire system. Almost doesn't count.
So the next time you casually lean on a guardrail (I always do a little test before I do lest it give way), give a small shout out to its inanimate soul for keeping you on the right side of the edge. They are with us while the building is constructed and their more attractive selves are there when it's occupied, thus guarding us from gravity, too many cocktails, and that random trip. God speed, Guardrail. God speed.
Owner of LowRisq, by Pinnacle Safety Solutions and devotee of guardrails everywhere.