As safety professionals what we’ve learned during inspections over the years is light gauge painted rails are only dependable in the short-term. They often rust and erode within 5 years and can become a safety liability. Unfortunately, light gauge painted steel safety guardrails have become expected and acceptable for leading edge fall protection. Yet, falls are the leading cause of death on construction sites and we know rust and corrosion weakens painted rails causing potential grave liabilities.
Light gauge painted gaurdrails often rust and erode within 5 years and can become a safety liability.
You did not have many options before, but now you do. The most recent “modern” steel guardrails have come a long way from their yellow painted predecessors. If you are in the market for a robust construction guardrail system, here are four factors you should consider before you invest.
How long do you need the guardrail to last? Do you need to move it, reuse it, crane it, lift it, or transport it? What is the project location’s climate?
Guardrails for construction require durability. They are left in extreme weather conditions, craned and forked around a job site, and are often stacked and transported to multiple locations.
If you are looking for a long-lasting guardrail system that can meet the demands of construction, invest in heavy-duty steel that is hot-dipped galvanized inside and out. Why? Galvanized rails can last 15-20 years longer than non-galvanized “painted” yellow rails. And because galvanized steel extends the longevity of the guardrail it is reusable and can be transported to future job sites.
A galvanized guardrail can take the wear and tear of construction equipment, like forklifts, with minimal dents. Its integrity is upheld in harsh weather conditions where snow and rain can pool at its bases or the sun’s harsh UV rays oxidize and deteriorate the clear coat finish.
Expert Tip: If you absolutely need “yellow” then have it galvanized before you paint it to limit risk of rust and corrosion.
Time to Install and Maintain
Although many guardrail systems appear similar at quick glance, their assembly mechanisms vary. Many old standard guardrails have complicated components for guardrail installation that take more time to install and leave room for user error.
Twisty knobs and mechanical compression styles with multiple parts open the door for installers skipping steps or incorrectly installing the guardrail system. They can also and take longer to assemble and dismantle.
Guardrail styles that hide the locking mechanism and make them difficult to inspect should be reconsidered. In this scenario you do not know you are at risk or that the guardrail is unsafe until it fails.
Expert Tip: You want a system that is simple with minimal assembly components. A guardrail, a base, and a visible locking mechanism that can be easily seen and inspected.
Cost vs Value – ROI
While up-front costs of the old standard painted rails are generally less than those of modern galvanized rails, the long-term return on investment for modern galvanized guardrails is much higher. A galvanized system costs 5-10% more than a painted yellow light gauge system but the galvanized guardrail is reusable and lasts 20+ years vs the limited 5 year lifespan of a painted light gauge rail.
Reusability also means saving money on costly disposal fees and the durability of the system offers less financial risk of potential OSHA fines and serious accidents due to faulty rails.
Expert Tip: Hot Dipped Galvanized rails can be reused and re-rented for 20+ years. Create a revenue stream in your fleet with a guardrail system that pays for itself.
There’s a place for a rail and a base only, but not in construction. Leading edges, elevator shafts, floor holes, excavations, trenches, parapet walls, retaining walls, roofs and access areas all pose different challenges and require different attachment options.
When these options are not available makeshift attachments are made. Job site safety becomes at risk and is left in the hands of carpenters or laborers and their level of creativity and workmanship. Beyond anchored and weighted bases attachment options are available like Stair / Slab Grabbers, Guardrail Wall Mount Plates, and Parapet Wall Mount Clamps.
Guardrail kit “carts” also offer a versatile way to transport, inventory, stack and store guardrail systems. A kit significantly decreases deployment time and is quickly and effortlessly rolled to each guardrail installation location. On project completion, the guardrail system rapidly disassembles and stacks for storage.
Expert Tip: For safety, efficiency and versatility choose a guardrail system that has engineered attachment and cart options.
Get more information about the Hilmerson Safety Rail System™
Hilmerson Safety® is a full-service safety product design and manufacturing company serving the construction industry. Since 2001 Hilmerson Safety® has been working with construction industry leaders and contractors to develop safe, lean, construction-grade™ products and solutions that add to the company’s bottom line.
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