Proposed rule to address stair rail height confusion

Date Posted: 08/16/2021
Stair Railing Heights

When OSHA published the 2017 Walking-Working Surfaces revisions, one provision on stair rail height caused some confusion. That rule revised stair railing heights, but included a grandfather provision so employers wouldn’t have to replace as many railings. Unfortunately, some employers believed that the grandfather provision was an acceptable standard for new installations. The agency is now working on a clarification.

Section 1910.29(f) requires new stairs to have both a handrail for grasping (at 30 to 38 inches high) and a stair rail for fall protection (at no less than 42 inches high). New stairs therefore need two railings: a handrail and a stair rail.

Since this change could have required replacing a lot of railings, OSHA allowed a combination hand rail and stair rail if the exiting railing was 36 to 38 inches high. OSHA later published a memo to clarify that this grandfather provision applied only to stairs installed before 2017.

The problem

OSHA later noted that the pre-2017 rule allowed stair rails at 30 to 34 inches, and the 2017 revision allowed combination railings of 36 to 38 inches — but that height was not allowed under the old standard. That may be why some employers installed new railings at 36 to 38 inches, thinking it was acceptable. OSHA published a proposed rule in May 2021 to clarify this.

Since many employers installed new railings at that height, OSHA is proposing to expand the height range by allowing a railing of 30 to 38 inches. This would apply to railings installed prior to the effective date of the clarification. The final rule could appear in late 2021 or early 2022.

If an OSHA inspection occurs before then, you might show compliance with the proposed rule of May 2021, which should be only a de minimis violation.

To summarize:

  1. The 2017 revision required new stairs to have a hand rail at 30 to 38 inches plus a fall protection rail at 42 inches, but allowed a grandfather provision for a single railing at 36 to 38 inches.
  2. Since the pre-2017 rule required railings at only 30 to 34 inches, the grandfather provision caused confusion that resulted in some employers installing new railings at 36 to 38 inches.
  3. The May 2021 rule proposes to allow railings at 30 to 38 inches for structures installed before the rule takes effect.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

With hundreds of pages of OSHA regulations to consider, employers may need help finding the correct provision — or finding a OSHA clarification on a confusing provision. When you can’t find a regulation or interpretation, submit your question through the Expert Help tool. The Subject Matter Experts who support the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE will provide a response within one business day.

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