The IBC and OSHA Guardrail Requirements - Dakota Safety

Developed by the International Code Council (ICC), the International Building Code (IBC) is a standard for all builders, contractors, and construction workers to follow for optimal building safety.  

The ICC was formed in the 1990s when the building safety community decided to combine several regional groups and standardize building codes for the entire country. By 1997, the International Building Code was published for the first time.

The IBC is a model providing minimal standards to safeguard the occupants of commercial buildings.  Local building codes may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but most are based on the IBC and ICC as the base standard.  Local codes may exceed the IBC minimums but cannot be lessor than the defined codes. These codes are used by each state as well as the federal government when building a new construction or remodeling an existing structure. The primary goal of the standardized national code is to help ensure building safety for all occupants and visitors.

Likewise, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is another organization that plays an important role for safety in the United States. OSHA’s primary purpose focuses on the safety of workers on the job.

The key to providing a safe atmosphere within your building is to follow the standards set by both of these organizations. That way, any individual – whether it be someone who occupies, is visiting a business or someone who is working inside a business-owned property – will be in a safe environment.  Areas within a building known as "back of house" or maintenance areas that are exempted from IBC must adhere to the OHSA guidelines.

One of the key areas where the IBC and OSHA crossover is in fall protection and building guardrail requirements. Providing safety precautions in both areas can help companies make sure they’re following all the proper procedures and avoiding any potential tragic accidents. Here are some things to know about the IBC and OSHA standards for fall protection and guardrails.

When Guardrails Are Needed

One of the first things to know about guardrails is when they are required in a building. Generally, guard rails are required when the building has steps, landings, platforms or accessible roof spaces. The purpose of these guard rails is to prevent falls or unauthorized access to certain areas. According to the IBC code, guard rails are required when there is a difference of 30 inches or greater between two upper and lower surfaces.

Roof Non Penetrating Fall Guard Rail

OSHA requirements for guardrails are also quite stringent. Depending on whether you’re in the construction industry (standard no. 1926.501) or your line of work falls more within the “general industry” category (standard no. 1910.28) It is the employer’s responsibility to provide some sort of protection to workers against falls. If the work area is more than 6 feet higher than the lower level, a guardrail or other fall protection system is required. Additionally, if there is more than a 6 foot difference in a working surface that is lower than the ground level, such as a well or a pit, some sort of railing system is necessary.  

Problems With Improperly Installed Guardrails

Having guardrails in your building for visitors and employees will help you stay in compliance with both the IBC and OSHA, but it’s not enough to simply have a set of guardrails for your building. If your guardrails aren’t installed properly, you may run into trouble meeting either organization’s detailed standards. Then, you’re leaving your company, yourself, and the people who work for you vulnerable to dangerous accidents.

This situation can also cause your company to pay more money over time due to fines and more expensive insurance premiums. If disaster happens and your lack of oversight causes someone to get hurt, your company could potentially be held liable for a significant amount of money due to lawsuits and medical expenses.

Installation Requirements for Guardrails

Once you are aware of the responsibility you have as either a building owner or a business owner to install guardrails, the next thing you’ve got to do is get them properly installed. For your guardrail to be up to code, it must be at least 42 inches above the ground level space.

OHSA Fall Protection Guardrail on roof

For the roof area of your building, the IBC requires a guardrail to be in place, unless there is some other sort of fall protection system installed.

OSHA doesn’t dictate quality control for guardrails or installation criteria, but it does state that any employee working on the roof of your building must be protected from falling with a quality protection system. If it’s not possible to use guardrails on the building, you can use a personal fall arrest system instead. Other types of fall protection options that are recommended by OSHA include safety nets, monitoring capabilities or warning systems.

Guardrail Load Levels

The last important component to consider when installing a guardrail system or fall protection setup is the strength of it. The IBC defines a guardrail’s strength by its structural load capacity. Structural load refers to the ability of the guardrail to withstand different types of forces and actions that cause stress on its design. If the guardrail isn’t up to the standard for structural load capacity, it could potentially fail or break, leaving an individual in a dangerous situation.

The IBC indicates that guardrails used throughout a building must be able to handle at least 50 pounds per linear foot. In addition, guardrails must be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of concentrated force at all times. This helps certify that the guardrail is strong enough to be a safe barrier between a person and a steep drop that could cause injury or death.  

OSHA has a similar stipulation in its documentation regarding guardrail minimum strength requirements for those areas that serviced by maintenance or general industry personnel and are off limits to occupants or visitors - the "back-of-house" areas. The requirement states that a guardrail must be able to resist 200 pounds of pressure when applied to the structure. This standard is important for workers because of the constant wear and tear a guardrail may experience in a busy industrial setting. In order for a guardrail to sufficiently provide enough protection, it’s got to be strong and stable.  Typically, to meet the 200 load requirement, non-penetrating fall protection guardrail systems have outriggers or returns, perpendicular to the leading edge.

OSHA Compliant guardrail assembly

Compliance Issues

A commercial building that isn’t up to code faces stiff fines from their local jurisdiction and possible shut down. Every region creates their own fines for building code violations, so consequences may vary. If you ignore OSHA’s requirements, expect to be harshly reprimanded. Fines for businesses that are repeatedly noncompliant could cost more than $100,000 per violation.

Non compliance guardrail liability

The reality is that if you don’t follow the standards set by the IBC for your building and those set by OSHA for your workplace, you’re putting people at risk. Businesses that don’t meet regulations don’t stay in business very long due to large fines, increased safety risks, and damage to their reputation.

Thanks to the standards set by the IBC and OSHA, you’ll have a much better handle on the safety of your building and the people who work and travel inside it. Not only will you be in compliance, but your business will also be in a much better position for true success.

To find out more about how to choose the best guardrail system for your business, contact us today.

Dakota Safety is a specialized safety rail company dedicated to passive fall protection systems for roofs, mezzanines, and other elevated surfaces.  Our team can assist in keeping your personnel safe and allowing access points in mezzanines and upper levels with a variety of safety gates including horizontal mezzanine gates, vertical mezzanine gates, ladder safety gates, loading dock gates and pallet safety gates.  Dakota Safety can also assist with non-penetrating fall protection guard rail, fixed modular guard rail.  Be sure to also check our air purification / surface disinfection systems by CASPR (Continuous Air Surface Pathogen Reduction).  You can reach our customer service team directly at 866-503-7245 or

The post The International Building Code and OSHA appeared first on Dakota Safety in April 2017.  Updated 8/8/2022.

ConstructionFall arrestGeneral safetyGuardrailsIbcInternational building codeOshaOsha regulationsSafety gates and guarding

1 comment

Site Safety NSW

Site Safety NSW

Very Informative

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