Safety Through Separation: Protective Guarding and Pedestrians

Would you let children walk on the side of a busy street that doesn’t have an elevated sidewalk? That sounds pretty dangerous, right? So why would you let your employees do something similar all day at work?

People in industrial workplaces often underestimate the importance of proper separation between pedestrians and forklifts or other industrial vehicles.

For example, an unloaded product transfer vehicle can weigh two or three times more than a Honda Civic and therefore has similarly compounded energy that it can transfer when in motion. To keep pedestrians from being on the receiving end of this energy, it’s important to have physical barriers in place to keep pedestrians separated and safe from accidental impacts.

Older buildings often do not provide the necessary space to effectively allow for pedestrian separation, due to changing warehouse demands. New developments plans for these types of buildings are more often including space based on robust traffic flow analysis, but unfortunately these analyses are mostly accounting for the efficient flow of goods and processes and not including pedestrian separation. Providing adequate space, as well as organizing process around pedestrian/vehicle separation should truly be a focus of any new development, thereby avoiding any type of pedestrian/vehicle intersection with the proper use of industrial guardrails.

Over the years, many different type of guardrails have become available, and a few evaluations need to be made:

Handrails vs Guardrails

A Handrail is made to provide a physical barrier, visualize pedestrian areas for vehicles, and stop people from directly penetrating vehicle areas. While they might absorb smaller impacts, handrails are not made to stop moving vehicles at significant speeds. Guardrail is also made to provide a physical barrier and visualization but can withstand more significant impacts. To determine which strength is required, both possible impact speed and lift weights need to be taken into account. Your material handling supplier should be able to help you in evaluating what strength guardrail will meet your expectations.


This is extremely important when using a guardrail for pedestrian separation. While the height on level work floors is not regulated by OSHA, a proper 42/43” height hand- or guardrail is advised. This provides for a better visual deterrent, keeps pedestrians from stepping over them and avoids trip hazards that may be associated with lower guardrails.


Traditionally guardrails have always been made in steel. However, since the early 2000’s, several alternatives with flexible materials such as polymer have become available, and guardrails are available in steel/flexible combinations.

There now are many methods to increase the safety of pedestrians at work, from dots warning pedestrians of a vehicles trajectory and early collision detection systems to proper and regular forklift and safety training. However, nothing replaces the security that comes with making sure pedestrians and vehicles are separated by a physical barrier. To learn more about guardrail and protective guarding, contact the members of ProGMA today at