June 10, 2021

Proposed Rule Would Update Requirements in OSHA's Walking-Working Surfaces Standard

A proposed rule announced by OSHA on May 20 would update certain handrail and stair rail system requirements for the agency’s general industry walking-working surfaces standard. OSHA’s proposal seeks to clarify two of the standard’s provisions. The first proposed change would make clear that “a stair rail system with a handrail is required on the open side of certain stairways,” and the second change would ease a restriction on previously installed stair rail systems. The second proposed change would allow the top rail of previously installed stair rail systems to serve as a handrail when it is as low as 30 inches.

The Federal Register notice announcing the proposed updates explains that OSHA has received many questions and requests for interpretation of the requirements for handrails and stair rail systems since it finalized a rule in 2016 that updated requirements for slip, trip, and fall hazards in its general industry walking-working surfaces and fall protection standards. According to OSHA, its new proposed rule does not reopen for discussion any of the regulatory decisions made in the 2016 rulemaking.

“OSHA believes there is confusion in the stakeholder community regarding when handrails are required on stairs as well as what the height requirements are for handrails on stairs and for stair rail systems, depending on date of installation,” the Federal Register notice reads. “With this notice, OSHA is proposing language that it believes is clearer without changing the intent of the 2016 final rule.”

OSHA encourages stakeholders to submit comments regarding the proposed language by July 19. Further details are available in the Federal Register.