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Dakota Safety Recent News

Grasping non-penetrating fall protection guardrail systems published in Construction Specifier Magazine May 2017 by Andrew Miller

Non-penetrating fall protection guardrail systems

As their name suggests, non-penetrating guardrails avoid penetration of the structures on which they are installed. They use a ballast or counterweight system to hold the guardrail in place instead of drilled structures.
Non-penetrating guardrails are typically used by maintenance personnel, contractors, inspectors, and workers with similar occupations. However, they are not intended for use with public systems. Like all fall protection systems, non-penetrating guardrails have their advantages and limitations.
In the construction industry, falls are a major cause of workplace-related deaths. They are responsible for over a third of construction worker fatalities. There are several factors that contribute to roof-related fatalities. Some of these factors include: visual exposure to elevation, unreliable visual cues and information, excessively inclined or confined support spaces, inadequate load handling and excessive physical exertion and fatigue. OSHA also has some of their own set safety standard requirements that can be found under OSHA standard 1926.501. OSHA recently updated their penalties for violating these regulations, an updated list can be found at

Active fall protection systems

Active systems depend on the user to be effective. They typically involve tie-off anchors or harnesses—as in the case of personal fall arrest systems, and feature a variety of requirements. OSHA’s set standards for this practice can be found under OSHA standard 1926.502(d). However, even with training, there is still risk inherent in using active fall protection systems. Since individual workers can use these systems as they please, it is possible they will fail to install them correctly and become more susceptible to fall-related injuries or fatalities. It is better if active fall protection systems are used in conjunction with their passive counterparts.

Passive fall protection systems

Passive systems can function without any action from users. Once installed, they protect construction workers for as long as they are up. Passive fall protection systems need little to no maintenance, and even workers with minimal training can install and benefit from them. Non-penetrating guardrails fall under this category, providing numerous advantages. There are multiple benefits to a passive fall protection system. Some of these benefits include: minimum structural damage, ease of installation, mobility, flexibility and OSHA compliance.

Architectural and owner requirements

In addition to basic safety, contractors should consider architectural intent and owner requirements when installing non-penetrating guardrails. These considerations should include: areas to be covered, aesthetics, placement of roof attachments and materials. Manufacturer specifications and compliance with OSHA standards are not the only considerations for specifying non-penetrating guardrails.

Types of Non-Penetrating Guardrails

There are many diverse types of non-penetrating guardrails, these include: collapsible railings, rails with different leg lengths, customizable safety gates, adjustable mid-rail and D-rails/finish rails. Additionally, most non-penetrating guardrails have a base system ballasting the railing. These systems are unique to each manufacturer, so rails from different suppliers cannot be used for the same base. However, a single base can support different rail systems if all are from the same manufacturer.

Finish & Layout Options

For sized rail sections, one important consideration is finish. Most manufacturers offer various solutions for this, although a ‘safety-yellow’ powder-coat finish is considered the standard. Layout is one of the area’s most often overlooked by architects and specification writers. At the points where non-penetrating guardrails start and end, enough room should be provided for the system to withstand the 90-kg load requirement. Other factors to consider when positioning a rail system include equipment, vents, drains, crickets, seams, and roof undulations on the construction site.


Even with OSHA’s tightened standards, falls continue to be one of the leading causes of fatalities in construction. Thus, every stakeholder in the industry—including contractors, workers, engineers, architects, specification writers, and safety specialists—must devise ways to keep fall-related hazards at a minimum.
Non-penetrating guardrails are a strong contender among the many practical solutions to fall-related fatalities.


Guardrail Basics: What You Need to Know   Published on EHS Today website April 18, 2017

OSHA’s fall protection and guardrail requirements along with the International Building Code (IBC) are standards all builders, contractors and construction workers should follow for optimal building safety.