The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) provides rules and regulations for stair safety both in the construction and repair of buildings and the design of fixed structures. OSHA requirements for stairs are designed to make stairways safe not only for the people who use finished stairways, but also for the employees involved in building, repairing, painting and demolishing structures, since falls from stairs and ladders cause tens of thousands of preventable injuries among construction employees every year.
When Stairs are Required
OSHA regulations dictate that employers must provide stairs for employees to use any time that a break in elevation of 19 inches or more occurs without another means of ascent, such as a ramp or embankment. If only one access point exists between levels, employers must keep an open passage and remove all obstacles, or add a second point of access to ensure compliance with OSHA requirements for stairs. At least one clear access point should exist at all times.
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Stairs Used During Construction
OSHA requirements for stairs used during construction apply to any stairs, fixed or temporary, that construction employees may use. These stairs must have a 22-inch wide and 30-inch deep landing for every 12 feet of vertical rise and be set at an angle between 30 and 50 degrees from the horizontal. Variations in stair height cannot exceed 1/4 inch. A platform of at least 20 inches beyond the swing of the door must be provided for any stairways where a door opens directly onto the stairs. Employers must also eliminate any dangerous projections or slippery conditions to ensure stair safety.
No temporary spiral stairways are allowed, according to OSHA regulations, and employees cannot use stairs that are under construction until the metal pans have been filled, either with concrete or temporary wood, which should be replaced if they become worn below the top edge of the pan. If temporary frame steps are used, employers must fit the frame with temporary steps and landings that fill the complete width and depth of the frame.
Stair rails describe a structure placed alongside stairs to prevent falls over the edge of stairs. According to OSHA requirements for stairs, employers must install stair rails on stairs with four or more risers or a height higher than 30 inches, whichever is less. Stair rails must be between 36 and 37 inches above the surface of the steps for stairs built after 1991 (stairs built before 1991 must be at least 30 inches). Landings require a 42-inch high guardrail on all unprotected sides, and any balusters must be no more than 19 inches apart. Employers should check the surfaces and ends of the stair rails to prevent injuries, snags and cuts.
Handrails are a specifically designed for people to hold onto for support, rather than just providing a barrier. Handrails should be between 30 and 37 inches above the step surface, with a clearance of at least three inches between the rail and the wall. At least one handrail must be provided for stairs with four or more risers or 30 inches of ascent. OSHA requirements for stairs also dictate that any spiral stair must have a handrail. Handrails should have a contour that offers a handhold and should be able to withstand 200 pounds of weight applied within two inches of the top edge in any direction.
Industrial Fixed Stairs
Additional OSHA regulations exist for fixed stairs in industrial environments. Spiral stairs are not permitted in industrial environments, and winding stairways may be used around round objects only if the diameter exceeds five feet. Stairs should be at least 22 inches wide with a vertical clearance of seven feet and should be strong enough to carry a load of at least 1,000 pounds, or five times the normal anticipated amount of weight they will bear. Industrial stairs should have railings for stair safety on all open sides, and a handrail on at least one side.