Guardrail vs. Fall Arrest Systems: Choosing the Right Roof Fall Protection System

Introducing the Gen2 Rooftop Warning Line System Reading Guardrail vs. Fall Arrest Systems: Choosing the Right Roof Fall Protection System 3 minutes Next Rule the Roof: Rooftop Solutions from Unistrut Service Company

Is Cost a Factor?

Cost is often a consideration when comparing alternative forms of roof fall protection.  Many of our customers gravitate toward roof safety railing because they can self-perform the installation, which eliminates the need to engage a fall protection company for design and installation of a fall arrest system.  Although it is true that self-installing guardrail can create savings, there is a tipping point, especially with larger full perimeter rooftop jobs where a fall arrest system is actually the least expensive option.

Be Mindful of Total Cost of Ownership
For large, full perimeter fall protection applications, a lifeline system may be initially more cost effective than guardrail, but over time, the annual inspections and re-certifications of an engineered system add to the total cost of ownership.  Unlike engineered systems, a perimeter guardrail system is a one-time investment which does not require annual inspection and re-certification by a fall protection company.  If the goal is to minimize upfront investment, an engineered fall protection system, especially on larger rooftop applications, is often the best play.  That said, over time, the total cost of ownership on an engineered system will eventually eclipse the cost safety railing. 

Which Option Is Best For My Roof?
Making roof penetrations to install a permanent lifeline system is not always an option.  In some cases, the owner of the building may not allow installers to drill the holes required to secure lifeline posts to the roof deck.  In other situations, the building owner and occupant are one in the same, but the concerns over potential leaks means that non-penetrating, weighted base safety railing is the fall protection system of choice. 

Compliance and Safety Culture Considerations
Some companies make safety decisions based less on cost and structural considerations but more with an eye to minimize risk and ensure compliance.  A fall arrest system requires employees to don a harness and connect to the system before starting work, while a guardrail system offers instant protection for an employee the moment they step foot on the roof.  Unlike safety railing, fall arrest systems also require employee training.  If your safety team is looking for a system that minimizes the potential for human error (improper system use, failure to tie off, etc.), then a safety railing system may be the best option, cost and structural considerations notwithstanding.

Parting Thoughts
By now, you should have a better understanding of the various considerations that come into play when selecting a rooftop fall protection system.  Ultimately “best option” takes different forms depending on the relative importance of cost, the willingness to make structural alterations to the roof, and the desire to eliminate human error or non-compliance with corporate safety policies. 

At Unistrut Service Company, we pride ourselves on helping customers select the right materials for each project, and this is true whether the application calls for strut and fittings or roof safety products. If after weighing the pros and cons of competing solutions your organization settles on roof guardrail we can help--most of our orders ship from stock within 2 business days. If after careful consideration a roof fall arrest system seems to make the most sense, we encourage you to contact our sister company, Diversified Fall Protection, for further assistance.