Everyone knows stairways need guardrails or handrails as fall protection, but how do you keep workers safe when the stairways are under construction, like the ones being built and used at construction sites?
Stairways are a very common walking surface on construction worksites as they are being built and then during the construction phase as they used to move materials from one level to another. Falls from stairs may lead to serious injuries or even death. Employers must take measures on their jobsites to protect workers from slip, trip and fall hazards on any walking/working surface and workers have a responsibility to use stairways correctly, as intended.
OSHA Construction Standard 1026.1052(c)(1) Stairways having four or more risers or rising more than 30 inches (76 cm), whichever is less, shall be equipped with at least one handrail and one stairrail system along each unprotected side or edge.
Stairways typically consist of:
- Landing Platform
- Handrail or Stair Rail System
- Steps (Risers)
- Each flight of stairs having at least 3 treads and at least 4 risers must be equipped with stair rail systems and handrails.
- Except for the entrance, stairway floor openings must be guarded by a standard railing on all exposed sides.
All workers should take the following precautions when stairways are used on any jobsite:
- Always use handrails when ascending or descending any stairway.
- Be cautious of environmental conditions such as ice, snow, or rain accumulation that may build up on the steps of stairways.
- Stairs must be kept clean and free of trash, debris, and anything that could cause the steps to be slippery.
- Never use stairways or landings as a storage place, even temporarily.
- Only take one step at a time when ascending or descending the stairway.
Employers are responsible for ensuring all stairways that are in use on the job site are safe. Workers should alert management to any unsafe issues or potential hazards noticed on or near stairways.
- Inspect stairways for irregularities such as missing steps, loose handrails, corrosion, holes, grease, spills, or loose carpet/rugs.
- Watch for opening doors on platforms of stairways.
- Ensure there is adequate lighting in stairways.
- Keep loose tools and trash off of the stairways to prevent tripping hazards.
- Ensure stairways have the safety rails required, even if temporary.
- Stairways must be free of any dangerous projections, like loose nails.
- Stairways under construction should have safety barricades in place.
OSHA Construction Standard 1026.1052(b)(1) Except during stairway construction, foot traffic is prohibited on stairways with pan stairs where the treads and/or landings are to be filled in with concrete or other material at a later date, unless the stairs are temporarily fitted with wood or other solid material at least to the top edge of each pan. Such temporary treads and landings shall be replaced when worn below the level of the top edge of the pan.
The majority of stairway workplace incidents occur when an employee is not paying attention, they are rushing and they are not watching their footing.
Never carry a load with both hands while going up or down the stairs. This is dangerous for many reasons:
- Your attention is focused on balancing the load
- Your vision is blocked and you can’t see the stairs in front of you
- Your hands are too full to grip a handrail.
More tips to be sure to emphasize in your next safety meeting on stairways:
- Make sure your shoes or boots are tied before using any stairway.
- When walking with others, set a good example by walking up and down the stairs carefully while using the handrail.
- Report or clean up spills or trash found on the stairs.
- Report any situation in which there is insufficient lighting provided on any workplace stairway, indoors or outdoors.
- Never run up or down the stairs and avoid distractions like trying to get a co-workers attention or looking at your cell phone.
Just because walking up and down the stairs seems basic, don't assume you can skip the safety meeting on this topic. Slips, trips and falls happen everyday on construction sites, on stairways under construction and on stairs used on the job. All team members can benefit from these great reminders on stairway safety.