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Stairway Guardrail, Stair Rail, & Hand Rail Requirements

Fall Protection Systems

General Requirements

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The employer must provide and install all fall protection systems and falling object protection before any employee begins work that necessitates fall or falling object protection.

Guardrail Systems

The employer must ensure guardrail systems meet the following requirements:

1. Top rails: The top edge height of top rails must be 42 inches (107 cm), plus or minus 3 inches (8 cm), above the walking-working surface.

2. Midrails: Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, solid panels, or equivalent intermediate members must be installed between the walking-working surface and the top edge of the guardrail system as follows when there is not a wall or parapet that is at least 21 inches (53 cm) high:

  • Midrails are installed at a height midway between the top edge of the guardrail system and the walking-working surface;
  • Screens and mesh extend from the walking-working surface to the top rail and along the entire opening between top rail supports;
  • Intermediate vertical members (such as balusters) are installed no more than 19 inches (48 cm) apart; and
  • Other equivalent intermediate members (such as additional midrails and architectural panels) are installed so that the openings are not more than 19 inches (48 cm) wide.

3. Guardrail systems must be able to withstand an outward or downward force of at least 200 pounds.

4. Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, solid panels, etc., must be able to withstand an outward or downward force of at least 150 pounds.

5. The ends of top rails and midrails must not overhang the terminal posts if they pose a projection hazard.

6. Steel banding and plastic banding must not be used for top rails or midrails.

7. Top rails and midrails must be at least 0.25-inches (0.6 cm) in diameter or in thickness.

8. When guardrail systems are used at hoist areas, a removable guardrail section must be placed across the access opening when employees are not performing hoisting operations.

9. When guardrail systems are used around holes, they must be installed on all unprotected sides or edges of the hole.

10. When materials are passed through holes, at least two sides of the hole must be protected by guardrails.

11. When guardrail systems are used around holes that serve as points of access (such as ladderways), the guardrail system opening must have a self-closing gate or be offset to prevent an employee from walking into the hole.

Note: The criteria and practices requirements for guardrail systems on scaffolds are contained in 29 CFR part 1926, subpart L.

Safety Net Systems

The employer must ensure each safety net system meets the requirements in 29 CFR part 1926, subpart M.

Stairways

The employer must ensure the following:

  • Each employee exposed to an unprotected side or edge of a stairway landing that is 4 feet (1.2 m) or more above a lower level is protected by a guardrail or stair rail system;
  • Each ship stairs and alternating tread type stairs is equipped with handrails on both sides; and
  • Each flight of stairs having at least 3 treads and at least 4 risers is equipped with stair rail systems and handrails according to the table below:

Stairways

Handrails and Stair Rail Systems

A handrail is a horizontal or sloping rail intended for grasping by the hand for guidance or support. A stair rail is a guard along the open side or sides of a stairway. The employer must ensure:

Height criteria

Handrails are not less than 30 inches (76 cm) and not more than 38 inches (97 cm), as measured from the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the handrail.

The height of stair rail systems meets the following:

  • The height of stair rail systems installed before January 17, 2017 is not less than 30 inches (76 cm) from the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the top rail; and
  • The height of stair rail systems installed on or after January 17, 2017 is not less than 42 inches (107 cm) from the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the top rail.

The top rail of a stair rail system may serve as a handrail only when:

The height of the stair rail system is not less than 36 inches (91 cm) and not more than 38 inches (97 cm) as measured at the leading edge of the stair tread to the top surface of the top rail; and

The top rail of the stair rail system meets the other handrail requirements above.

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