In industrial work zones, workers are not the only ones at risk of getting hurt; pedestrians passing through the area are also subject to the inherent dangers of worksites.
But why do pedestrians have access to work zones if they are so dangerous, anyway? There are several reasons — one of the most important beings that it is actually the law. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration under 23 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 655, Subpart F, states that if a work zone affects pedestrians, then the overseeing company must provide adequate pedestrian access and walkways. The American Disabilities Act of 1990 also requires that pedestrians with mental or physical disabilities have adequate accommodation in work areas that impact their travel.
Another important factor is that work zones are often set up in places where pedestrian traffic is unavoidable, such as sidewalks, building entrances, or bus terminals; preventing access in these circumstances simply isn’t an option. Plus, restricting pedestrian access can seriously affect businesses near the work zone, limiting the number of patrons that can enter a store, restaurant, or office. And depending on the length of the construction, a lost business could result in significant financial setbacks for these companies.
And with the high number of pedestrian deaths that occur every year, implementing efficient pedestrian safety measures is imperative for protecting the public. For example, in 2007 alone, 4,654 pedestrians died in traffic crashes, accounting for 11% of all traffic deaths. And from 2002 to 2006, about 15% of fatalities resulting from crashes in work zones were non-motorists — including pedestrians, workers, and bicyclists.
Key Pedestrian Safety Concerns:
To decrease pedestrian deaths and injuries, consider these key pedestrian safety concerns:
- Safe street crossings and intersections in work zones are a top priority for ensuring the safety of passersby — especially for children, the elderly, and the disabled. Curbs should be accessible for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.
- Construction that blocks sidewalks is a major concern; make sure pedestrians have a safe path through the area without putting them in danger of moving traffic.
- Enforcing good motorist behavior is also key. Have personnel on hand to make sure motorists obey all traffic rules and directions in and around work zones.
Key MUTCD Directives
To keep industrial sites safe for both on-foot workers and pedestrians, the U.S. government has introduced several safety standards and guidelines, such as the above-mentioned Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Below are some key principles from the MUTCD to keep in mind when optimizing the safety of your work areas.
- “Make pedestrian safety an integral and high-priority element in every project, from planning through design and construction.” — Try to minimize any interference with pedestrians’ movement through the areas by maintaining a continuous, accessible route for all passersby at all times. Incorporate pedestrian paths into the planning process to make sure the design avoids as many risks as possible. Use clear, easy-to-understand signs and notices to alert pedestrians to the changing traffic pattern.
- “Guide pedestrians through work sites in a clear, professional, and helpful manner.” — Routinely inspect traffic-control devices to make sure they’re effective. Try to alert pedestrians before construction begins by supplementing onsite information with off-site information, such as online postings, TV and radio announcements, and signs in the community. Use barriers to clearly define travel routes, keep pedestrians out of hazardous areas, and create a stable, reliable barricade.
- “Work with trained personnel who are qualified to make work-zone safety decisions about the selection, placement, and maintenance of traffic-control devices.” — Collaborating with people experienced in designing pedestrian safety zones can help maximize safety and reduce liability. These professionals can help guide you in clearly defining any detoured routes, creating passersby accommodations that comply with the American Disabilities Act of 1990, protecting pedestrians from hazards, and making use of special devices that clearly denote the temporary route and guide people through it. Give pedestrians ample warning by placing signs at intersections with higher visibility rather than mid-block, and work to minimize any additional distance pedestrians must travel due to the reroute.
Here at Omega, we’re committed to worker and pedestrian safety on all job sites, and we’re proud to offer a wide selection of industrial guardrails, handrails, and fencing solutions — including our unique Ro/
ll-Up-Fence™ (R•U•F™) — all of which are designed to protect workers from injuries and hazardous working conditions. To learn about more strategies for maximizing pedestrian safety, download our comprehensive eBook, “How to Ensure Pedestrian and Worker Foot-Traffic Safety on Job Sites.”
To ensure efficient operations, the lowest possible costs, and, most importantly, employee health and wellbeing, manufacturing facilities across all types of industries must adhere to various safety standards.
In particular, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) helps ensure such workplace safety and health standards are met and workers are kept safe by providing training, outreach programs, educational resources, and general assistance for companies and organizations across the United States.
Safety best practices vary depending on the specific scenario and facility risk. Both safety handrails and guardrails, for instance, must meet specific OSHA standards to be considered effective in protecting workers.
These standards can often be confusing, however, as “handrails” and “guardrails” are used interchangeably in OSHA and other building codes. These two products (Guardrails and Handrails) are in fact very different, and companies should be sure to have a solid understanding of the unique properties and benefits of both; guardrails and handrails before purchasing either product.
Defining Guardrails and Handrails
OSHA and many building codes use the term “guardrail” to refer to fall protection for raised platforms and stairways, but the industrial safety industry uses the more specific term “handrail,” with “guardrail” used only to refer heavy-duty beams of formed steel.
In highway applications, for instance, guardrails are designed to absorb the energy of collisions from moving vehicles and are designed more for glancing blows and to keep a vehicle in its lane of traffic. In industrial plants, guardrails serve to protect workers, equipment, and structures from accidents caused by moving vehicles or machinery and are specifically designed to be able to absorb impact energy from a forklift, for instance, or a sweeper. Many times this heavy equipment weighs in at an excess of 10,000 lbs. and are operating in close proximity to pedestrian traffic.
Handrails, on the other hand, prevent people from falling off platforms, stairways, walkways, or landings. These structures must be able to sustain an outward or downward point load force of at least 200 pounds horizontal force at any point along the top rail. Also referred to as safety railing, handrails’ must have a smooth surface to prevent worker injuries — from potential injuries such as lacerations and punctures — and also eliminates the risk of hair or clothing catching on the railing. Providing people with an accessible handhold in areas where falls and slips are a risk, handrails are designed to improve users’ stability.
OSHA Requirements For Handrails
Handrails on stairways cannot be any more than 37 inches high, nor can they be less than 30 inches from the upper surface to the tread surface, in line with the riser face at the tread’s forward edge. If the top edge is serving as a handrail, the top edge’s height cannot be any more than 37 inches, nor can it be any less than 36 inches from the upper surface to the tread surface, in line with the riser face at the forward edge of the tread. For fall protection from raised platforms or working surfaces, handrails must be a minimum of 42” above the finished floor height, have at least (1) intermediate rail, and a 4” kick plate is required where objects on the floor could create a hazard if they roll or are inadvertently kicked off the platform and cause injury from a falling object.
The Importance of OSHA Guidelines in Preventing Injuries
OSHA guidelines for handrails and guardrails (though OSHA refers to both as “guardrails”) are critical in reducing the risk of falls and other injuries. As per standard 1910.28(b)(15), for instance, employees working on surfaces 4 feet or more off the ground must be protected by handrails, safety net systems, or personal fall protection systems.
Also, all walking and working structures in a workplace must be deemed by employers to have structural strength and integrity; employees will be not allowed to work on structures that fail to meet these requirements. As a final example, take standard 1917.120(a), which specifies that every fixed stairway — not just those connected to equipment — must be secured.
In all cases, these standards serve to protect workers while keeping facility operations running as smoothly as possible. Safety is as much a culture as its rules and guidelines. A strong safety program shows workers that it responsibility management takes seriously. This commitment affects employee morale and contributes directly to any organization’s financial health.
Since 1987, Omega Industrial Safety Products has been an innovator, working to create safer workplaces for businesses and organizations of all types while optimizing productivity; in addition to guardrails and handrails, we also manufacture pipe bollards, door guards, and industrial stairways and pedestrian safety products.
Still, have questions about the differences between handrails and guardrails? Contact our team today for help. Or, to learn more about the importance of OSHA guidelines for ensuring optimal safety in your workplace, download our new eBook, “3 OSHA Safety Guidelines Your Facility Should Be Meeting.”