What Is The Difference Between A Guard Rail And A Handrail?

Difference between guard rail and handrail

What Is The Difference Between A Guard Rail And A Handrail?

The two terms sound like they could be used interchangeably, and they often are. However, there are several differences between guard rails and handrails.

Industry standards are in place to reduce the risk of falls, which is a stark reality for workers who must access roofs and other places of increased height for certain jobs and projects. Within industries such as manufacturing and construction, falls are a leading cause of death and injury. This can lead to physical and emotional suffering, unexpected financial outlays for employers and workers, reduced productivity and team motivation, and a slower completion of the job.

The fall restraint system is at the forefront of safety planning to keep potential hazards and workers apart. Guard rails and handrails are critical elements of this system. So, what are the differences and how do you know which one to use on your work site?

What Are Guard Rails?

The definition of guard rails is in the name. They are used to stop a worker from falling off the high structure or surface they are on, such as a roof. Their vertical barrier design means they will stay in place if someone pushes or falls against them, preventing that person from rolling further. The presence of guard rails also demonstrates and warns that there are potential hazards, such as the edge of roofs or cliffs.

Ultimately, they guard certain areas that are high up and pose a risk to workers.

Guardrails consist of:

  • An adequate number of posts.
  • A top rail.
  • An intermediate or middle rail, also known as a knee rail.
  • A toeboard, which prevents feet, tools, and materials from sliding over the edge.

What Are The Guidelines For Guardrails?

It is crucial that regulations are set and strictly abided by to obtain optimum safety. Falling hard against a poorly installed guardrail can have catastrophic results.

It is important that you consult local regulations for specific clarification. Some guidelines include the following:

  • Guardrails must have a top rail and a knee rail that are parallel with each other and the flat surface workers are on.
  • The distance between the knee rail and the surface must be equal to or more than 560mm.
  • If a toe board is in place, the distance between the knee rail and the top of the toe board must be equal to or more than 450mm.
  • The guardrail must be able to withstand a single acting force of 600 N or 350 N/m acting outwards or downwards at any part of the system, without deflecting elastically by more than 100mm under a load.

These are examples and you must confirm with relevant regulatory bodies to suit your situation.

What Are Handrails?

Handrails differ from guardrails because they provide people with something to securely hold on to as they walk along a structure that is high up from the ground, such as a roof, platform, or walkway. A handrail contributes to a worker’s stability and balance to reduce their risk of stumbling or slipping. Unlike guardrails, they are not designed to save a person from falling off the edge of a structure. They provide support and are not intended to withstand the weight and force of a falling person.

What Are The Guidelines For Handrails?

As with guardrails, there are regulations that should be followed to ensure handrails are installed and used correctly.

You must comply with local regulations for the specific details. Some guidelines include the following:

  • Handrails must be mounted to a wall or partition.
  • Mounting should involve relevant brackets attached to the lower side of the handrail.
  • The handrail must be designed to allow a firm grasp by users.
  • The top of the vertical handrail must be between 900mm and 1,100mm from the top of the flat surface workers are on.
  • The handrail must be consistently parallel to the flat surface.
  • The rail/s between the top rail and the surface also must comply with specific measurements.

Why Choose One Type Over The Other?

The choice between guardrails and handrails is clearly dependant on the project, work site, and local height safety regulations. Both options are often combined to create a barrier that prevent falls and provide a support as people work.

Decrease Risk With Guardrails And Hand Rails

Work sites that involve high structures such as roofs, involve a high risk factor when it comes to injury and death due to falls. Subsequently, it is vital for the safety of all employers, employees, and visitors that regulations are suitably followed, and guardrails and handrails are correctly installed.

Knowing the difference between these safety measures is important so that the right choices are made for specific circumstances. The team at Australian Height Safety Service can advise you on what is required for your project, provide high-quality products, and assist in the installation. Contact us today for more information about our fall prevention systems and services.


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