To use an old expression, fall protection equipment comes in many shapes and sizes. From top to bottom (another old favorite), it can be a rooftop tie-off with an anchorage system down to a safety gate at a basement accessway.
The latest data from the National Work Injury/Disease Statistic Program (NWISP) reports that in 2021 there were 45,468 accepted lost time claims due to falls in the workplace. “Accepted” does not count all falls reported. It does not count unreported falls. It does not count falls outside the workplace; for example, a person may trip on the steps walking into a public building.
Could that hypothetical fall have been prevented by the person using a handrail? Handrails are a specific type of fall protection that still has some variety in shapes and sizes; however, they should adhere to specific guidelines and regulations.
The terms handrail and guardrail are often used interchangeably. Sometimes this is acceptable because a guardrail can also have a handrail in a safety railing system. However, there is an essential distinction between the two.
A guardrail is a safety barrier. It provides fall protection if installed on an elevated surface, like a mezzanine or rooftop. A guardrail also restricts access, such as a railing set that helps keep people away from vehicular traffic or unauthorized personnel away from machinery.
A handrail means what it says. Handrails are railings intended to be grasped by hand to provide guidance and support. They help people traverse walkways, stairs, and ramps.
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