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Choosing the right stairs – Commercial or Industrial

Choosing between OSHA and IBC compliant stairs is a common challenge for companies, with factors like application, user, and cost influencing the decision. These stairs differ in construction and measurements, impacting safety and compliance, while staying updated on legislation changes is crucial to avoid penalties and ensure workplace safety.

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By Dan Matz
Dec 12, 2017
Estimated 4 minute read

Many companies manufacture both OSHA compliant stairs and IBC compliant stairs and purchasing managers are left with the task of deciding which models and stair variants to choose.

In the petrochemical and other industrial application, risk mitigation, and in this instance, specifically when working at height, must be one of the main health & safety priorities for any company.

When it comes to colleagues who spend a large amount of their time administering to the connections of top-loading distribution loading arms to road or rail tankers, operators have a responsibility to ensure their workers have proper fall protection (Fall protection 101) and safe work environment at all times. This is where the need, expectation and a legal requirement to ensure OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) or IBC (International Building Code) compliant stairs are used at all times to access working platforms. OSHA compliant stairs are typically for industrial stair applications, rolling or mobile stairs and IBC compliant stairs are commonly used for commercial stairs.

OSHA regulates and enforces workplace safety and health. IBC was created to standardize building codes across the U.S.

Operators do not always have a choice regarding which code, OSHA or IBC, to follow as that may be dictated by local jurisdictions, but that is not always the case. In this article, we will outline the main differences between the two codes in order to assist you in making an informed decision when choosing regulation compliant stairs for your facility.

Items to consider when choosing stairs

Apart from local jurisdictions, as mentioned earlier, road tankers and rail car terminal operators should consider:

  • The application
  • Who will be using the equipment
    • If accessed by the public, highly unlikely in a terminal setting, IBC is preferred
    • If the facility is private and only trained and insured workers have access, OSHA compliant stairs are more commonly used
  • Cost
    • OSHA is considered more cost-effective than IBC
  • Floor/group space allocated to hold the stairs
    • OSHA stairs tend to have a smaller footprint than IBC versions
    • IBC vs OSHA Stairs Illustrated

What is the difference between OSHA and IBC compliant stairs

The two type of stairs is differentiated by a range of factors all related to their construction and measurement. The below table simply depicts these factors:




Risers & Tread8″ open riser
a 9.5″ tread
7″ closed riser, max 4″ open gap. 11″ tread
Stair WidthA minimum 22″ wide stairA minimum 44″ wide in most cases
(36″ wide areas served by less than 50 people)
Railings & GuardrailOSHA requires railings on open sides of stairwells and a handrail on at least on the side, preferably the right side descending at 42″ high.IBC Stairs require guardrails of 42″ high and handrails of 34″ high on both sides of the stairwell.
(vertical members in handrails)
Space between balusters should be no more than 19″ (48 cm) apartSpace between balusters should be no more than 4″ apart
LandingsBoth OSHA and IBC require landings at the top and bottom of the stairs, although IBC landings are larger, typically 4′ square.IBC also requires an intermediate landing on stairwells for stairwells over 12′ high, as well as handrail extensions at the bottom landing.

*This chart is for general reference. Regulations do change.

Regulation Reference:
Risers & Tread – OSHA stair tread requirements 90 | IBC stair width 50 | OSHA stair maximum riser height 70 | OSHA stair riser height 70
Stair Width – OSHA stair tread requirements 90
Railings and Guardrails – OSHA handrail requirements 390 | IBC handrail 320
Balusters – OSHA 1910.29(b)(2)(iii)

Keeping up with legislation

As well as choosing the right stairs for your application it is also important to keep up to date with legislation changes. As of January 13th, 2017, the penalty for a serious violation of OSHA regulations stands at $12,675*. In certain states, the penalty for violations of the IBC can be a fine or a year imprisonment depending on the severity of the violation**.

The latest amendment to OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems – the legislation that covers stairs – became effective as of January 17th, 2017. OSHA’s website states that: “Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths.”***.

The changes address slip, trip, and fall hazards (subpart D), and adds requirements for personal fall protection systems (subpart I). OSHA estimates that the changes will prevent 29 fatalities and 5,842 lost-workday injuries every year***.

Full details of the changes can be found at www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces/

The IBC code is updated every three years with the next version due in 2018 with no amends made since the last printing.

For full details of the code visit https://codes.iccsafe.org/public/document/toc/441/

* https://www.osha.gov/penalties/
** http://www.lakewood.org/City_Clerk/Codes_and_Laws/Municipal_Code/Title_14_-_Buildings_and_Construction/Chapter_14_02_-_International_Building_Code/2147487894/
*** https://www.osha.gov/walking-working-surfaces/

Dan, our National Account Sales Manager since 2011, brings extensive expertise in mechanical and industrial engineering solutions, focusing on access and stair safety compliant with OSHA standards. He excels in strategic planning, customer engagement, and negotiation, ensuring clients receive tailored, effective access solutions for their needs.