OSHA Guidelines for Guardrails in Warehouses

Guardrails in Warehouses

The warehousing industry has a higher average rate of injury than any other industry in the country. Warehouse safety is one of the most important parts of running a successful warehouse operation. A safe work environment not only protects workers from injury but can also boost productivity and improve cost efficiency. Installing guardrails in your facility is a worthwhile investment, and it is important to adhere to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) guidelines for using guardrails in your warehouse. Learn more about why you need to install guardrails in your facility and how to comply with OSHA guidelines.

How Do Guardrails Work?

Guardrails clearly define the spaces in your facility, separating workers from potentially hazardous equipment or situations. They also protect the shelving and racking systems and inventory from damage due to collisions with vehicles or heavy machinery by distributing the force of the collision along the length of the rail.

Why Install Guardrails?

Guardrails are a cost-effective safety precaution that protects warehouse employees from injury and inventory from damage. This simple solution can help to boost warehouse productivity by providing visible demarcations to direct the flow of vehicles and foot traffic around the warehouse and reduce overhead costs associated with replacing damaged stock, equipment and storage systems.

Types of Guardrails

Different warehouse facilities will require different types of guardrails according to the layout, types of equipment and machinery used, and the type and volume of inventory processed daily.

Industrial Steel Guardrails

Industrial steel guardrails are the best basic guardrail and suitable for almost any facility. The maximum collision force for an industrial steel guardrail system is 10,000 lbs. from a vehicle moving at 4-mph. They are available in both double and single height depending on the level of protection your warehouse requires and can be customized to suit the layout of your facility.

Pipe-sleeved Guardrails

For high-volume operations or facilities that process heavy pallets and inventory, pipe-sleeved guardrails offer increased protection from more forceful collisions. The system is constructed from tough schedule 80 and schedule 40 pipe that is covered in hi-density thermoplastic polyethylene (HDTP) which is then drilled directly into a cement surface or mounted to a base plate allowing for extreme force to be distributed evenly along the entire length of the system.

This type of system is designed to resist multiple impacts and requires very little maintenance, and sleeves can simply be wiped down after impact or removed and replaced.

Drop-In Guardrails

In cases where the layout needs to be reconfigured regularly or if workers need regular access to areas behind the rails, drop-in guardrails offer a versatile option that allows you to remove elements as necessary without sacrificing the integrity of the system.

Fixed Barriers

For designating pedestrian walkways or defining sensitive areas, your facility needs fixed barriers. The low level brightly colored rails help to control traffic by preventing vehicle access and clearly defining sensitive or public areas. They can also be used as end of aisle rack protectors for use in facilities that use hand carts or dollies for transporting inventory, or as pallet back stops.


For multilevel warehouses that feature mezzanines, ramps, loading docks and other areas that exceed 4-feet, handrails area necessary addition to prevent injury from falls. Handrails and constructed from solid steel for stability and can be coated in thermoplastic polyethylene for durability. They feature both mid- and top-rails that comply with OSHA standards.

Loading Dock Guards

Loading docks are some of the most hazardous areas around the warehouse. Loading dock rails prevent damage from a collision with trucks, and interior guards prevent falls and injury to employees. Loading dock guards are highly visible and are easily maneuverable for easy access to loading bays.

Interlocking Barriers

Interlocking barriers are a single free-standing unit that feature connector to lock units together to create a barrier. They are constructed from durable steel and can be either galvanized or powder-coated yellow to comply with OSHA visibility standards. These barriers have multiple uses due to their portability but are most often used for crown control.

Rack Protectors

Protecting the racking systems that store your inventory helps to reduce the costs associated with replacing damaged stock. Rack protectors come in a variety of types according to where your system needs the most protection and the best access.

End of aisle rack guards generally feature curved pieces around the rack end posts joined by a plate that spans the end of the rack and is suitable for both double and single pallet racking systems.

Bollards and Wrap-around Guards

Bollards area versatile way to designate areas both inside and outside the warehouse. They are available as permanent poured concrete, steel or plastic covered structures and also as portable guards for separating temporary hazards.

Wrap-around guards are designed to protect supporting structures such as columns inside the warehouse. The cushioned guards reduce the need for costly maintenance, and high visibility reduces the likelihood of collisions.

Bollards and Wrap-around Guards

OSHA Guidelines for Guardrails

The OSHA guidelines for warehouse guardrails are outlined in the articles which are a part of the Walking and Working Surfaces standards and Fall Protection Standards. Here are some of the important guidelines to remember when installing and using guardrails in your warehouse and how you can be compliant.


To maintain the efficacy of the guardrail system, the OSHA has strict standards on the spacing of vertical posts and horizontal rails.

It is also important to choose the right diameter and type of guardrail for your warehouse. The OSHA guidelines state that guardrails must be constructed from materials and in such a way that employees are not at risk from lacerations, punctures or entanglement. The rounded surface of standard steel guard rails and pipe-sleeved guardrails ensure that


When installing guardrails in your warehouse, the OSHA standards designate which areas should be prioritized to optimize the safety of the employees and equipment.

Raised Walkways and Work Areas

According to OSHA article 1910.28(b)(15), “the employer must ensure each employee on a walking working surface 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected from falling by…guardrail systems.” This means that in order for your warehouse to be OSHA compliant, you need to ensure that all mezzanine levels have sufficient height guardrails all around the unprotected edges of the level to prevent falls.

Loading Docks

Loading docks are also a huge source of workplace hazards and require visual warning near dock edges according to the latest OSHA warehouse safety publication. Dock gates such as the Defender Gate™ 20 exceed OSHA standards and feature high-contrast reflective tape for visibility and can be easily removed for loading dock access, so your dock areas will always be OSHA compliant.


Installing guardrails is especially important around hazardous areas such as electrical panels and working machinery as indicated in article 1910.28(b)(6)(i) “Each employee less than 4 feet (1.2 m) above dangerous equipment is protected from falling into or onto the dangerous equipment by a guardrail system…unless the equipment is covered or guarded to eliminate the hazard.”

For an OSHA compliant warehouse, floor-level hazards including picking equipment, or the unprotected ends of pallet racking systems should be surrounded by high-visibility guardrails to prevent not only injury to employees but also collisions with other equipment and vehicles.


If your warehouse office or other storage system features stairways, you will also need to install guardrails along the unprotected edges according to OSHA article 1910.28(b)(11)(i) “Each employee exposed to an unprotected side or edge of a stairway landing that is 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected by a guardrail or stair rail system.”

Height Restrictions

The OSHA has strict standards dictating how high guardrails need to be in order to be effective. Most floor-mounted guardrail systems come in both single and double height, with the double height systems reaching to 44-inches which typically exceeds the height limits as set out in article 1910.23(e)(1), which states that the nominal height of the top rail of guardrail system be 42-inches. This article is also applicable for guardrail systems installed on structures over 4-feet to prevent falls.

However, the type and size of your guardrail systems depend highly on the layout of your warehouse and the types of hazards you are protecting against. Guardrails around machinery must be over 44-inches to prevent falling inside; however, barriers to direct the flow of traffic or surrounding office structures do not have a height limit unless that office is located on a structure above 4-feet.

The best way to ensure that you comply with the OSHA height restrictions is to consult a Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc expert to discuss how you can customize your guardrail system to suit your warehouse while still keeping within the height limitations.

Materials and Capacity

The OSHA guidelines state that guardrails must be made of materials that not only stop the force of a fall or collision but do not cause harm to employees as laid out in article 1926.502(b)(6) “Guardrail systems shall be so surfaced as to prevent injury to an employee from punctures or lacerations, and to prevent snagging of clothing.”

At Shelving + Racking Systems, Inc, our guardrail systems are designed with rounded surfaces, with many types such as pipe-sleeved guardrails offering features that prevent injury or damage to clothing and work gear.

The capacity refers to the minimum permitted force that guardrails can withstand. Guardrails to prevent falls are more strictly enforced than collision guardrails. For fall prevention, the minimum capacity for a top guardrail installed on a structure more than 4-feet is 200 lbs. of force from any direction. Top rails are also not permitted to deflect to a height less than 39-inches above the walking surface after the application of force.

Fall prevention guardrails must also be constructed from materials that are no less than a quarter-inch in diameter to ensure structural integrity and to prevent injury to employees.


One of the primary purposes of guardrails to provide a visual cue as to the presence of a potential hazard in the workplace or to direct the flow of traffic. The OSHA publications on warehouse safety recommend that guardrails either be tagged at regular intervals to indicate hazards or be bright yellow, which is the industry standard color of ‘warning’.

To comply with the OSHA guidelines on guardrail visibility, as stated in article 1910.144(a)(3) “Yellow shall be the basic color for designating caution and for marking physical hazards such as: Striking against, stumbling, falling, tripping, and “caught in between.”

Though steel guardrails can come in many colors, they should be painted yellow to enhance visibility and will need to be repainted and maintained after every impact. Pipe-sleeved guardrails, which are already brightly colored, eliminate the need for repainting or replacement and can simply be wiped down to remove scuff marks.

Tips for Installing Guardrails

Before you install any guardrail system in your facility, it is important to consult an expert who can not only perform a hazard assessment of your warehouse but also recommend which guardrail systems will be the most effective for your operation and ensure that you are in compliance with OSHA guidelines.

Regular checks and maintenance of your guardrail system are essential to be sure that they are operating effectively, as continued impact with picking equipment and other damage weakens the structure and will need to be repaired or replaced as soon as possible to adhere to the OSHA standards.

Final Thoughts

OSHA guidelines for warehouses are important standards that help you maintain a safe work environment for your employees. Compliance with these guidelines regarding Warehouse safety structures like guardrails and handrails not only protect warehouse employees from injury and prevent damage to inventory and storage racks, they improve the productivity and efficiency of your warehouse operation.

Learn more about which guardrails are most suitable for your warehouse by contacting a member of our team at Shelving + Rack Systems, Inc on 800-589-7225 (RACK) and let us help you create a safer, more productive workplace.