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Safety Codes: What’s the Difference Between IBC and OSHA Stairs?

The experts at ErectaStep explain the differences between OSHA and IBC commercial and industrial safety codes.

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By Jamie Nute
May 09, 2024
Estimated 7 minute read

Stair construction is regulated, with each set needing to adhere to specific standards to ensure safety and functionality. Depending on their intended use and environment, stairs are subject to various regulatory requirements. These regulations are established by respective regulatory agencies to differentiate between commercial and industrial applications.

This article outlines the key distinctions between industrial stairs, which comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines, and commercial stairs for public use, which adhere to International Building Code (IBC) standards.

Stair - OSHA Requirements

Check out our visual, easy-to-scan OSHA reference guide.

OSHA v IBC stair code compliance
Risers 9.5″ max height
Open risers allowed
4″ – 7″ high
Solid risers in most cases
Tread9.5″ tread depth11″ tread depth
Stair22″ min-width44″ wide stair
36″ wide (under 50 people)
Handrail34″ – 38″ high
Guardrail42″ high (± 3″)42″ high
Balusters19″ min gap4″ min gap
LandingsStair width and at least 30″ in depthstair width and at least 48″ deep
Landing top, bottom, and every 12′
This chart is for general reference only. Additional requirements may be detailed in the building codes that are not covered in this chart.

Riser Height1910.25(c)(2) Have a maximum riser height of 9.5 inches (24 cm);
Tread Depth1910.25(c)(3) Have a minimum tread depth of 9.5 inches (24 cm); and
Stair Width1910.25(c)(4) Have a minimum width of 22 inches (56 cm) between vertical barriers
Guardrail1910.29(b)(1) The top edge height of top rails, or equivalent guardrail system members, are 42 inches (107 cm), plus or minus 3 inches (8 cm), above the walking-working surface. The top edge height may exceed 45 inches (114 cm)
Balusters1910.29(b)(2)(iii) Intermediate vertical members (such as balusters) are installed no more than 19 inches (48 cm) apart;
Landings1910.25(b)(4) Stairway landings and platforms are at least the width of the stair and at least 30 inches (76 cm) in depth, as measured in the direction of travel;

Riser Height & Tread Depth1011.5.2 – Stair riser heights shall be 7 inches (178 mm) maximum and 4 inches (102 mm) minimum. The riser height shall be measured vertically between the nosings of adjacent treads. Rectangular tread depths shall be 11 inches (279 mm) minimum, measured horizontally between the vertical planes of the foremost projection of adjacent treads and at a right angle to the tread’s nosing.
Solid Risers1009.7.5.3
Handrails – 1012.2 Height. – Handrail height, measured above stair tread nosing or finish surface of ramp slope, shall be uniform, not less than 34 inches (864 mm) and not more than 38 inches (965 mm).
Stairway landing1011.6 There shall be a floor or landing at the top and bottom of each stairway. The width of landings, measured perpendicularly to the direction of travel, shall be not less than the width of stairways served. Every landing shall have a minimum depth, measured parallel to the direction of travel, equal to the width of the stairway or 48 inches (1219 mm), whichever is less.
1011.8 Vertical rise. A flight of stairs shall not have a vertical rise greater than 12 feet (3658 mm) between floor levels or landings.

Commercial Stairs Built for the General Public – IBC

The International Building Code (IBC) regulates any set of stairs the public uses, including any stairway connecting a building to a public space. These regulations must account for the safety of every type of person, including children and the elderly.

According to the IBC, stairways with an occupant load of fewer than 50 people must be at least 36 inches wide. Stairs over 12 feet tall require an intermediate landing in the middle of the stairway. These landings should be the same width as the stairway and extend at least three feet long.

Handrails and guards are mandatory for open-sided walking surfaces like stairs and elevated platforms. IBC-compliant stairs can’t have gaps between handrails or guards that could allow a four-inch sphere to pass through. This ensures a child’s head cannot pass through any section of the stairway, landing, or platform.

The IBC also dictates the rise and tread measurements for each individual step. Rise is the vertical height between any two adjacent steps and can be open (gap between the stairs) or closed ( a solid piece of material between stairs). The tread is the depth of the step itself. IBC-compliant stairs must have a closed riser between four and seven inches, and a tread of at least 11 inches deep.

If your workplace is open to the public, all stairways should adhere to these IBC guidelines.

Industrial Stairs – OSHA

Many businesses have private facilities. Stairs in these environments are not for public use. They can include factory floors and manufacturing spaces where only designated employees work. Therefore, they are not bound by the IBC.

Instead, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Fixed Industrial Stair regulations (1910.24) govern the design, construction, and use of interior and exterior stairs to access equipment, machinery, tanks, elevated platforms, other floors, or pits.

All of ErectaStep’s industrial stair systems (and all our products, for that matter) comply with industrial codes, and there are distinct features we build to make them OSHA-compliant.

These stairs are used in industrial settings, so they must be strong. OSHA-compliant stairs are designed to carry a load five times greater than anticipated but never less than 1,000 pounds. Both handrails and guardrails must be capable of withstanding a minimum of 200 pounds of pressure applied from any direction along the rails.

Like the IBC, OSHA dictates specific measurements. OSHA stairs are required to be a minimum of 22 inches wide. Rise and tread measurements are dictated by the angle of the stairway rise. For example, stairs manufactured with a 45-degree stairway rise must have a minimum rise and tread of 8.75 inches each. Risers for OSHA stairs are allowed to be open. Handrails and guardrails are mandatory, but gaps are allowed between rails since children will not use these stairs.

Adhering to these regulations not only keeps you OSHA compliant but also keeps your workers safe and productive. However, if both IBC and OSHA stairs keep employees safe, how do you decide which option is the best for your business?

View our complete guide to OSHA Requirements created by ErectaStep’s compliance experts

Less Space, Less Cost

Larger IBC measurements mean these stairs have a bigger footprint than OSHA stairs. As a business, you want the most value out of your facility’s limited space, so it pays to invest in equipment that requires less square footage.

IBC vs OSHA Stairs Illustrated

Here’s a side-by-side comparison. In order to access a 12-foot-high platform, an IBC stair would need 21 steps (7-inch rise, 11-inch tread), making the entire horizontal run of the stairs 19.25 feet. Assuming the minimum width of 36 inches, the floor space used by these stairs is 57.75 square feet. That’s a lot of space used for a staircase! (Remember that any IBC stair higher than 12 feet must incorporate an intermediate landing area, taking up even more room.)

On the flip side, take ErectaStep’s stair system, which fully complies with OSHA’s codes. To access that same 12-foot platform with these stairs would require just 16 steps (9-inch rise, 9-inch tread), meaning the horizontal run would only be 12 feet long. Factoring in ErectaStep’s 26-inch width gives you a solution that uses 26 square feet of floor space — less than half the space required by an IBC stair to access the same platform.

Another key difference is cost. It takes less material to construct OSHA stairs since IBC stairs require closed risers and no gaps larger than four inches between handrails and guards. An OSHA-compliant solution can save thousands if the public doesn’t access your facility.

ErectaStep’s OSHA-compliant solutions require less space, cost less, and are completely customizable. The five components can be assembled in infinite ways, allowing you the flexibility to select a safety solution that will work best in your facility. We can customize individual measurements, like rise and tread, giving you the perfect configuration for your job site.

Regardless of the stair type, you’re looking for, be sure you speak with your vendor early about code compliance and what’s needed for your work environment.

What is the difference between a handrail and a guardrail on stairs?

A handrail supports movement on stairs or ramps, while a guardrail prevents falls from elevated areas.

Jamie joined ErectaStep in 2020, focusing on the development of aluminum stairs, work platforms, and crossover systems. His work involves leveraging advanced technology to improve response times, reduce lead times, and lower costs without sacrificing quality. Jamie's role includes enhancing safety and productivity for clients, continuously refining processes and products to strengthen long-term customer partnerships.