Work platforms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and configurations depending on the use and needs in your working environment. Platforms are commonly used in warehouses and other industrial areas for safe access, repair, and building maintenance. Because work platforms typically are positioned above the ground level, they pose risk for worker injury or falls from vertical heights. OSHA compliance in safety regulations for work platforms is one step toward protecting your workers from falls and fall hazards. This post discusses some OSHA platform requirements in general industry.
Whether mobile, fixed, permanently installed, or reconfigured to adjust to different vertical height or expanded for access to elevated work areas, how does OSHA define a work platform?
What is a Work Platform?
According to OSHA: “A platform means a walking-working surface that is elevated above the surrounding area.” As you can see, a work platform is any elevated platform used for walking or working.
Applications include platforms for industrial assembly lines, maintenance and service, mezzanines, catwalks, walkways, crossovers, access platforms, and more. A safe work platform is necessary, particularly when working at heights. What are OSHA guidelines to keep in mind when considering walking working safety in regard to platforms? We’ll begin with some general OSHA standards.
General OSHA Work Platform Requirements
You may recall that significant changes to fall protection requirements took place with OSHA’s 2016 Final Rule. Further, the Final Rule went into effect on January 17, 2017. In general, within this Final Rule under OSHA 29 CFR 1910.28 Duty to Have Fall Protection, “the employer must ensure that each employee on a walking working surface with an unprotected side or edge that is 4 feet or more above a lower level shall be protected from falling by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.”
Some facilities have workers completing tasks over dangerous equipment and machinery, working at vertical heights under 4 feet. If so, the duty to have fall protection standard still applies. Employers may provide personal fall arrest equipment to reduce the chance of injury or fatality should a worker fall. Personal fall arrest system equipment is required for powered platforms.
Now that we understand how OSHA defines a platform and that any unprotected side or edge that is 4 or more feet above a lower level needs fall protection to protect workers from falling, let’s consider guardrail requirements for work platforms.
Guardrail Requirements for Work Platforms
Any work platform which is 4 feet or more above a lower level must have guardrails. Guardrails must have a height of at least 42 inches on every open side. The guardrails must be capable of withstanding 200 pounds of force. See the following elevated work platform OSHA requirements in 29 CFR 1910.29:
29 CFR 1910.29(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).
29 CFR 1910.29(b)(3): Guardrail systems are capable of withstanding, without failure, a force of at least 200 pounds (890 N) applied in a downward or outward direction within 2 inches (5 cm) of the top edge, at any point along the top rail.
It is possible to create a solid and safe industrial work platform with unlimited configurations for your industrial platform application which satisfy OSHA platform requirements. For more information about OSHA guidelines pertaining to safety railing and guardrail system requirements, go here.
Further, to prevent injuries, employers must provide a guardrail and toeboard around every elevated open-sided platform.
If a worker can fall to dangerous equipment or machines, regardless of the vertical height, employers must provide guardrails and toeboards as a means of fall prevention. (Source: OSHA)
Toeboards as Falling Object Protection
OSHA platform requirements also states that employees beneath mezzanines or raised platforms need to be protected from falling objects. Toeboards provide falling object protection as they prevent tools and other objects from falling to a lower level on elevated work platforms. Further, a minimum of 3.5 inch vertical height toeboards are required on open sides of the platform, excluding the opening of the work platform.
29 CFR 1910.29(k)(1)(ii): Protection from falling objects. Have a minimum vertical height of 3.5 inches (9 cm) as measured from the top edge of the toeboard to the level of the walking-working surface.
And what about handrails? Are they required? It turns out that another OSHA standard specifies that if it takes four or more steps to access the work platform, the steps need handrails.
Work Platform Handrails
In OSHA 1910 Subpart D a guardrail is not the same thing as a handrail. A guardrail is on top of the platform to guard against falls, while a handrail is what is along a staircase. Handrails have different height requirements than guardrails.
29 CFR 1910.28 (b)(11)(ii): Each flight of stairs having at least 3 treads and at least 4 risers are equipped with stair rail systems and handrails.
Essentially, guardrails provide fall protection, while handrails provide stability for workers ascending or descending from one level to another level. Elevated platforms have practical applications for maximizing workspace and facilitating access to equipment and materials. If elevated platforms are used for access to equipment or materials and it takes 4 or more risers, a stair rail system and handrails are needed.
Let’s turn our attention to some guidelines for platform stairs.
Requirements for Platform Stairs
There are specific OSHA stairs requirements which include riser height, tread depth, and stair landing platform. Note in the following standards that in addition to requiring that stairs have uniform step intervals, platforms are to be greater than or equal to the width of the stairs and greater than or equal to 30 inches deep. Furthermore, stairs should have a maximum step interval of 9.5 inches, a tread depth of 9.5 inches, and a width of at least 22 inches.
29 CFR 1910.25(b)(3), (b)(4), and (c): Stairs have uniform riser heights and tread depths between landings; 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; In addition to paragraph (b) of this section, the employer must ensure standard stairs:
29 CFR 1910.25(c)(2): Have a minimum riser height of 9.5 inches (24 cm).
29 CFR 1910.25(c)(3): Have a minimum tread depth of 9.5 inches (24 cm); and
29 CFR 1910.25(c)(4): Have a minimum width of 22 inches (56 cm) between vertical barriers.
There’s one more element to consider in this post about OSHA work platform requirements, and that is access openings.
Access Openings and Work Platforms
Unless an opening is offset and nobody can fall directly though an opening, self-closing safety gates are required around openings.
29 CFR 1910.29 (b)(13), (b)(13)(i), and (b)(13)(ii): When guardrail systems are used around holes that serve as points of access (such as ladderways), the guardrail system opening: Has a self-closing gate that slides or swings away from the hole, and is equipped with a top rail and midrail or equivalent intermediate member that meets the requirements in paragraph (b) of this section; or is offset to prevent an employee from walking or falling into the hole.
These regulations provide for guardrail systems around holes that are points of access, such as ladderway openings, to protect workers from walking or falling into the hole. A safety gate is one way to protect the opening, but another way is an offset. Safety gates are spring loaded and can open and close behind a worker after they enter the work platform.
We’ve looked how OSHA defines a work platform and some general OSHA platform requirements. In summary, rails are required at 4 feet or more above a lower level, and guardrails must be 42 inches high with a toeboard. Also steps need handrails if it takes four or more steps to access the work platform, some requirements for stairs, and access openings either need to be offset or protected by safety gates. For additional information about OSHA work platform requirements, refer to OSHA’s website and 1910 Subpart D.
Platforms provide workers with safety as they regularly complete work and access an above ground level location. Some facilities require indefinite access to elevated work platforms and may require a permanently installed, customizable work platform. Edge Fall Protection offers platforms which can be permanently installed or they can be adjusted to different heights, expanded to new configurations, or moved. Edge’s work platforms, made to industry standards, are easy to use and have safety features. These safety features include guardrails, handrails, midrails, toeboards, safety gates, and stair treads.
Whether you’re looking for crossover platforms to safely traverse rooftop obstacles or to provide an elevated walking surface or other work platform, our work platforms can be configured for your unique project needs. All EDGE work platforms are built to meet and exceed OSHA compliance requirements. Do you have questions? Let us help you. Reach out with your questions and one of our knowledgeable EDGE team members will help you.