Stepping up on stool safety
Date Posted: 06/25/2019
Ladders must be inspected before initial use on each shift, but did you know that OSHA considers stepstools to be a type of portable ladder? Not every device sold as a "stepstool" meets OSHA's definition, but many stools are regulated as portable ladders.
According to 29 CFR 1910.21, a stepstool means "a self-supporting, portable ladder that has flat steps and side rails." The definition clarifies that a stepstool would be no more than 32 inches in height. The reference to side rails limits the scope of this definition, however. For example, a simple platform or two-step stool without side rails would not be a "stepstool" according to the standard.
Still, your employees might use stepstools with side rails, and when OSHA updated the walking-working surfaces rule, the preamble stated that §1910.23(b), General requirements for all ladders, applies to all ladders including stepstools.
Stepstools meeting OSHA's definition must be:
- Inspected before initial use on each shift, and more frequently as necessary, to identify any visible defects that could cause employee injury; and
- Immediately tagged and removed from service if any structural or other defects are found until the unit is repaired or replaced.
To properly conduct these inspections, employees must know what to look for. Defects might include sharp edges, dents or bends, slippery treads, damaged rivets or connections, and so on.
Using stools safely
In addition, OSHA's regulation includes requirements for using ladders that would, of course, apply when using stepstools. These include:
- Using the stool only for the purposes for which it was designed;
- Facing the stool when climbing up or down it;
- Using at least one hand to grasp the stool when climbing up and down it; and
- Not carrying any object or load that could cause the employee to lose balance and fall while climbing up or down the stool.
One difference, however, is that §1910.21 says, "a stepstool is designed so an employee can climb and stand on all of the steps and the top cap." Unlike ladders, therefore, employees may stand on the top step of a stepstool.
Before employees start climbing that stool, be sure they know how to properly use it and how to inspect it. If OSHA asks whether your stepstools are inspected before use, you'll want to be able to answer positively. And of course, safely using equipment that is inspected regularly for defects can help prevent injuries in the first place.