OSHA Railing requirements

OSHA Guardrail Requirements

OSHA regulations simplified for a safe and compliant workplace

Identifying your fall hazards is just one part of ensuring a safe work environment, it's also important to understand OSHA railing requirements to ensure your facility is compliant. Designing an OSHA compliant railing system is equally important; post-spacing, material choice, finish, toeboard, and gates are all things to consider when designing your guardrail.

Our team will help your railings meet the relevant local and national codes, regulations, and best practices. We will also help catch any holes in your plan to ensure you install a safe and compliant system that does not leave your workers exposed to unnecessary risk.

What to Look For When
Selecting OSHA Compliant Railing

OSHA railing guide

Quick OSHA Guide

OSHA's requirements for guardrail can be found on the OSHA website. Below is a quick reference guide for ensuring your facility is OSHA compliant.

You must ensure that:
  • Fall hazards over 48 inches are addressed.
  • The top rail is between 39 inches and 45 inches above the walking surface.
  • The midrails are placed halfway between the top rail and the walking surface.
  • The rail is able to withstand a 200 lb force in a downward or outward direction.

It is important to note that you should always follow the manufacturer's installation instructions.

Material Choice

The material must be durable, the top rail and the midrail must be at least 1/4 inch (.6 cm) in diameter. OSHA also requires the surface of the railing itself must be smooth to protect employees from injuries; such as cuts, punctures and to prevent snagging.

Railing Must:
  • Be 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) in diameter.
  • Be smooth in texture to avoid injuries such as lacerations, cuts, or snagging of clothing.

It is important that the railing should not only protect the employee from a fall, but it cannot pose any other hazards.

OSHA parapet railing
osha railing requirements

Railing Positioning

OSHA provides a range for the railings to ensure your system is safe and compliant. Guardrail height must be between 39 inches and 45 inches. The midrails should be placed halfway between the top edge of the railing and the working-walking surface.

  • Top railing height must be 39 inches and 45 inches above the walking-working surface.
  • Midrails are placed halfway between the top rail and ground.

Railing must not cause additional hazards; ensure the ends of the top rails and midrails do not hang over the ending or terminal posts if there is a chance someone could walk into it. This could add additional hazards to the working area.

In-fill Panels & Toeboards

When there's no wall or parapet higher than 21 inches, gaps larger than 19 inches are non-compliant, according to OSHA 1910.29(b)(2).

  • In-fill panels or midrails must be installed so that no opening is greater than 19 inches.
  • In-fill panels, such as mesh or screens, must extend from the walking surface to the top-rail and the entire opening between vertical rails.
  • Toeboards must be 3.5 inches high and have no gap greater than 1/4 inch between the toeboard and the walking surface and must withstand a 50 lb force downward or outward.
  • Toeboards must be solid and run the entire length where there's potential for objects to fall to the lower level.
Railing with toeboards


OSHA Guardrail Code & Requirements

The section of the OSHA code that specifies most of the primary guardrail requirements and directly relates to safety railing is 1910.29. Specifically, the following sections are the most relevant to railing and guardrail for fall protection.

1910.29(b)(1) - A standard railing shall consist of a top rail, an intermediate rail, and posts, and shall have a vertical height of 42 inches, plus or minus 3 inches, above the working-walking surface.

1910.29(k)(1) - A standard toeboard shall be 3 1/2 inches in vertical height from the top edge to the bottom level of the floor, platform, runway, or ramp. It should be securely fastened in place and with not more than 1/4-inch clearance above floor level.

1910.29(f)(3) - Surfaces. Handrails and stair rail systems are smooth-surfaced to protect employees from injury, such as punctures or lacerations, and to prevent catching or snagging of clothing.

1910.29(b)(9) - Top rails and mid-rails must be at least 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) in diameter or thickness.

OSHA Railing FAQs

At what height does OSHA require railing or fall protection?

OSHA deems any change in elevation of 48 inches or more to be a fall hazard requiring a form of fall protection in walking-working areas. Protection can range anywhere from company policy and warning signs to railings systems. It’s important to contact an expert to fully understand what you need or might not need.

What are OSHA guardrail requirements?

OSHA states that guardrail must reach a height of 42 inches, plus or minus 3 inches, above the walking-working surface and withstand a force of 200 pounds at any point in a downward or outward direction. If the railing dips below 39 inches, due to the force, the railing is not OSHA compliant. Parapets or railings that are preexisting are acceptable at a minimum of 36 inches under OSHA code 55 Federal Register 13360, siting that replacing the parapet or railing would introduce unnecessary risk to the workers replacing it. In addition, if there is no parapet or wall that reaches 21 in. in height, an installed railing will require midrails, screens, solid panels, or other equivalence.

How much weight should safety railings support?

Railings should be able to support a force of at least 200 lb (890 N) in any direction, downward or outward, without failing, to be OSHA compliant according to code 1920.29. This applies to any point in the railing whether you’re in the middle of the rail or at either end.

What is OSHA compliant railing vs what is grandfathered into OSHA compliance?

Per OSHA 1910.28, railings installed 60 days before April 10, 1990, can be grandfathered into OSHA compliance at a minimum of 36 inches in height from the working-walking surface. Anything after that date, 42 inches is the standard height that must be met and support a force of 200 lb at any point in the railing.

Does OSHA require railing to attach to a structure or building?

OSHA does not require railing to be mounted to a supporting structure. OSHA states that railing must withstand a force of 200 lb at any point along the railing. If it does withstand 200 lb force loads, it doesn’t need to be attached to the structure.

What are the OSHA requirements for railing post spacing?

OSHA requires guardrail posts to be spaced no more than 8-feet apart on center, no matter if it’s wood, pipe railing, or structural steel. If posts are spaced more than 8-feet on center, it will no longer be OSHA compliant.

What does OSHA require for the diameter of the top rails and mid-rails?

OSHA requires railing to be .25-inches (.6 cm) in diameter or thickness.

How far apart can the vertical rails or balusters be apart?

Intermediate vertical members, such as balusters cannot be more than 19 inches (48 cm) apart. Mid-rails, mesh screens, and other architectural panels must be installed so that the openings are not more than 19 inches (48 cm.) wide.

When is a toeboard required by OSHA?

Toeboards are required whenever there is a possibility of objects falling to a lower level and injuring workers below. Toeboard must be added where there is a hazard and continue along the working area that is exposed. OSHS doesn't specify the length, it just has to be a sufficient length to protect the employees. Toeboards must be solid and not have a gap of more than 1/4 inch at the bottom. The height of the toeboard must be at least 3½ inches (8.9 cm) high from the ground to the top edge and be able to withstand a force of 50 lb (222 N) in any direction.

Simplified Safety was very knowledgeable in terms of OSHA requirements and provided a product that would satisfy OSHA requirements. The customer service was great.

-Christopher, Timberline Communications Inc.

Helpful OSHA Safety Articles

Additional OSHA Questions?
Talk to a Specialist Today

Michael Hannah at desk
Michael Hannah
Fall Protection Specialist
Or call a specialist at:

Contact Information

Michael Hannah
Fall Protection Specialist
Shopping Cart

Show Pricing

Option available in footer.