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OSHA Proposes 2 Revisions to Walking Working Surfaces Standard

Posted on 6/23/2021 by Roger Marks

In May 2021, OSHA proposed two revisions to the Walking-Working Surfaces Standard at 29 CFR 1910, Subpart D, to clarify new requirements added when the Standard was overhauled in 2016.  

The requirements for handrails and stairs in the 2016 Final Rule led many employers to seek clarification from OSHA about when handrails are required on stairs, as well as handrail height.

With its most recent announcement, OSHA proposes to clarify the Walking-Working Surfaces Standard requirements without changing the intent of the 2016 Final Rule. Public comments on OSHA’s proposed clarifications are due by July 19, 2021.

Narrow Stairs, Open on Both Sides

The proposed rule would amend 29 CFR 1910.28(b) to clarify that a stair rail system with the handrail is required on the open side of certain stairways.

This change concerns stairs less than 44 inches (1.1 m) wide that are open on both sides. OSHA will correct a formatting error in Table D-2, which shows requirements for these types of stairs (see 29 CFR 1910.28).

The current text reads, “One stair rail system on each open side.”
The proposed update would read, “One stair rail system with handrail on each open side” (emphasis added).

OSHA will not require employers to modify existing stair rail systems that comply with the requirements of the 2016 Final Rule.  The revised language will apply to new handrails and stair rail systems.

Handrail Height Confusion

The proposed rule would amend 29 CFR 1910.29(f) to ease a restriction on stair rail systems installed before the 2016 Final Rule took effect.

The 2016 Final Rule of the Walking-Working Surfaces Standard set a new height requirement of at least 42 inches for top stair rails. For systems installed before the 2016 Final Rule took effect, OSHA had allowed the top rail of a stair rail system to serve as the handrail when it is “not less than 36 inches and not more than 38 inches” high. * 

Here’s the problem: Before 2016, the Standard required the top rail of a stair rail system to be between 30 and 34 inches. In other words, handrails installed to meet the Standard before the 2016 Final Rule were made non-compliant as a result of the updated requirements.

Under the most recent proposed revision, the top rail of a previously installed system (i.e., installation before the effective date of a new final rule) can serve as a handrail if that top rail is 30 to 38 inches in height and meets all other requirements of paragraph (f).

* See 29 CFR 1910.29(f)(1)(ii)(B) and (f)(1)(iii)(A).

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Tags: 29 CFR 1910, fall hazards, OSHA compliance, walking working surfaces, workplace safety

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