Safety Tips for Building Stairs

Protect workers from injury and protect yourself from OSHA fines with these standard procedures.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls rank among the top four causes of death in construction work, and building stairs can be extremely dangerous. But you can make your workers safe by using simple building safety practices.

Every year, thousands of workers are injured falling from stairs and landings and through stairwells. Workers often take safety for granted when they’re building stairs, because they don’t consider a fall from only a few feet dangerous, but a fall from just 4 feet is enough to cause a debilitating injury, and a fall from over 6 feet can be fatal.

Besides putting workers at risk of serious injury, poor safety practices on stairways and around stairwells can come with a high price tag for the builder. OSHA fines range from thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for repeat offenders and can raise a builder's insurance rates. If an accident occurs, work can stop on the job site during an investigation, and the builder can lose a productive member of the team.

That's why whenever stairs are part of a home's design, it's a best practice to make sure workers are following stair-safety procedures. Here are a few standard procedures to follow when building stairs:

  • During construction, make sure any landing that's 6 feet or higher above the surrounding area has standard 42-inch guardrails installed around the landing to prevent falls.
  • Wherever a door or gate opens directly onto a stairway, extend the floor space at least 20 inches beyond the swing of the door. This will help give workers a solid footing before they use the stairs.
  • Make sure any stairway that's taller than 30 inches (or has more than four steps) has at least one handrail, as well as OSHA-approved rails along each unprotected side or edge.
  • Make sure the side rails are from 36 to 37 inches high and spaced be at least 11 1/2 inches apart. Each rail should be built to withstand at least 200 pounds of resistance.
  • Make sure temporary handrails have at least 3 inches of clearance between the rails and any nearby walls to ensure that workers can firmly grasp the rails while using the steps. Temporary handrails must be independent of the home's structure.

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