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While they may seem the same, the terms guardrail and handrail are actually very different. In this month’s blog, we help sort out how these two similar terms are actually very different in application. 

So, what is a Guardrail?

In the simplest of terms, a guardrail is exactly as it sounds, it is a railing system that is designed to guard from potential dangers. According to the Meriam-Webster Dictionary guardrail is defined as “a railing guarding, usually against danger.” Furthermore, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires guardrails to be at least 42 inches above the walking work surface. Guardrails can be higher than this 42” destination, but never below, assuming it passes other OSHA requirements for guardrails. Pretty straight forward, right? So where would this be in terms of applications? One common example would be in which railing is placed to protect, or guard, against long falls, such as on an open stairway. Guardrails can come in a variety of styles, such as a Square Aluminum Railing or a Round Aluminum Picket Railing.

What is a Handrail?

Similar to its guardrail counterpart, a handrail provides a similar straight forward definition. Typically, individuals will use their hand to grab ahold of the railing to assist them. Because of this, handrails are often referred to as “assist rails”. Assistance can come in many forms but is primarily used to help the movement of an individual, often times on stairways or ramps. According to OSHA requirements for handrails cannot be less than 30 inches and more then 38 inches above the walking work surface. Due to the need to be grabbed onto, handrail often times comes in a round shape such as the Series 500 Aluminum Pipe Railing

So, What’s the Difference? 

The best way to differentiate between a guardrail and handrail is how it is being used. Guardrails are used as a barrier, while handrails are designed to assist an individual. Furthermore, guardrails have a minimum height of 42”, where as handrails must fall between the 30” – 38” height as defined by OSHA. While these are two distinct terms, guard railing and handrailing can be used in tandem to provide both fall protection and assistance!