Rooftop Guardrail and Loading Dock
Safety Railing Systems

Portable Guardrail Base Plates: Why Weight Matters

Non-penetrating, free-standing, or portable guardrail is a common solution for rooftop fall protection applications because it is simple to install and easy to use.  Because most portable guardrail systems look the same–yellow, steel railing sections and weighted base plates—folks often assume the primary differentiating factor between competing systems is price.  Although price is always an important factor, the main differences between guardrail systems are where you might least expect—base plate design. Most guardrail manufacturers suggest that heavier base plates are safer and more secure, but heftier base designs are not always the best option.

Heavier Base Plates Cost More
Many portable guardrail systems feature base plates that weigh 100 pounds or more.  As a rule of thumb, heavier base plates cost more to purchase and ship.  Heavier base plates also add time (and cost) to the installation process.  The base plates for our Lorguard™ guardrail system weigh just 57 lbs.  Our low weight base plates, coupled with the built in easy grip handles allow installers to lift and move two Lorguard base plates simultaneously—something that can’t be done with base plates weighing 100 lbs. or more.  Remember, setting up the base plate pattern is one of the most time-consuming steps during a portable guardrail installation.  Lighter bases set up 50% faster.

Heavier Base Plates Place More Strain On Structural Members and Roofing Materials
If your application calls for an installation around a roof hatch or an HVAC unit, you probably aren’t giving much thought to the higher roof loads associated with heavier base plates.  For larger installations, additional weight becomes an important consideration.  It is not uncommon to use 200-300 base plates to create full roof guardrail perimeters.  The chart below quantifies the additional strain placed on structural members and roofing materials when using heavier base plates:

base plate weight savings data

Heavier Guardrail Base Plates Don’t Provide Greater Safety

With free-standing guardrail systems, the base plate makes the connection between the roof and the railing section.  Because the guardrail is not anchored or connected to structural members beneath the roof deck, one might assume a heavier base plate design is safer but is this truly the case?

From an OSHA perspective, guardrail is deemed compliant when the top rail can withstand 200 lbs. and the mid-rail can withstand 150 lbs. of force applied from any direction.  Most casual observers mistakenly assume the structural integrity of a guardrail system is primarily a function of railing design.  Make no mistake—strong, steel railings are important, but without good base plate design, the system will not provide an adequate margin of safety or comply with OSHA regulations.  Some manufacturers rely on sheer mass to create the appropriate safety factors, but with proper engineering, we can eliminate nearly half the weight of the base plate while maintaining OSHA compliance.

Another way to express the strength and relative safety of rooftop guardrail is to assess the system’s ability to withstand sustained wind gusts.  The engineering behind the Lorguard system allows our guardrail to stand up to 150 mph winds even though our base plates are up to 50% lighter than the competition.

Parting Thoughts
Competing portable rooftop guardrail systems often share visual characteristics, but the real differences lie in base plate design.  Why pay to purchase, ship, and install for heavier anchors when a lighter, better-engineered base plate provides a similar margin of safety?  To learn more about free-standing rooftop guardrail, or to purchase portable guardrail, contact the safety experts at Diversified Fall Protection or visit us online at www.portableguardrail.com.