Guardrails, Handrails and Rooftop Barrier Systems

April 11 2017 0comment

Guardrails, Handrails and Rooftop Barrier Systems

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With workplace falls one of the most important safety concerns for employers there are many factors that contribute to falls.  While it’s obvious that those working at height must be protected with adequate safety ladders, platforms, handrails and other dedicated safety equipment, many workplace falls are low level falls that may be the result of poor lighting, wet floors, cluttered work environments and the improper use of equipment. 

For general industry, 4 feet is the trigger height for providing fall protection (with exceptions for scaffolding, construction, fixed ladders, dangerous equipment and utility work).  It’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that adequate safety equipment is in place to protect workers from falls of all types.  There’s a variety of solutions available to help protect from falls in the workplace.  Each type of equipment must adhere to specific construction and use requirements in order to be appropriate for the tasks being undertaken.

Guardrails, Handrails and Rooftop Barrier Systems

Guardrails and handrails are the primary method of preventing employees from falling to lower levels in general industry and all platforms 4 feet or more above the ground or adjacent floor must be protected by a rail on all open sides (this is a legal requirement).  Guardrails and handrails must be of a minimum height of 950 mm.  New Working at Height Regulations (WAHR) came into force in 2005 and the minimum height for guardrails and handrails was increased from 910 mm.  This means that handrails and guardrails installed before 2005 must be replaced to comply with the new regulations.

When working on roofs, one of the most effective types of collective protection equipment is a rooftop demarcation barrier system that will prevent workers from accessing danger areas such as the edge of the roof, skylights or other fragile surfaces.

An added clause in the WAHR recommends that handrails are not cold to the touch in context.  Because external metal rails can become extremely cold in the UK’s harsh weather conditions some people may be reluctant to use them and this in itself represents a safety hazard.  This means that metal or wooden rails need to be coated with materials which have a low thermal conductivity (such as plastic) in order to minimize the risk of workers being reluctant to use them during cold weather.

The WAHR 2—5 has led to numerous free standing ‘up and over’ step units requiring a retro-fitted handrail solution.  Many free standing step units in the UK were manufactured before the new Regulations came into force.  Therefore it’s essential that any business owners/employers with step units that were installed or bought before 2005 check and ensure that they have provided the handrails that are now a legal requirement.  Even if the step unit is less than 1m high, a fall from one could result in serious injury.

Failure to comply with current legislation on handrails and guardrails could lead to costly legal action so keeping up to date with regulations is imperative for employers and small businesses.  All installations need to meet with UK health and safety standards and should be checked for wear/damage on a regular basis.  Keeping handrails and guardrails adequately maintained doesn’t just save money in the long term, it could save lives

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