Most employers understand that scaffolding, stairs, aisles and other walkways in the workplace must be safe for workers to traverse. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an agency under the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), has created a list of general requirements for walkways to protect those who navigate their workplace on foot. Businesses must do their part to keep walkways clean and free of obstacles and protrusions, and maintain their structural soundness.
OSHA Standards for Walkways
OSHA requirements for walkways state that "all places of employment, passageways, storerooms, service rooms and walking-working surfaces are kept in a clean, orderly and sanitary condition." Employers must keep these areas clean and dry whenever possible. If a walkway is in a consistently wet area, it must have proper drainage, mats and dry places to stand. Employers should remove any sharp, protruding, corroded or leaking objects before workers use a pedestrian walkway. They must also remove spills, ice and snow to decrease the chance of accidents; falling from significant heights is another common danger in the workplace.
Other regulations put in place to protect workers from danger are:
- Loads: OSHA requires businesses to create walkways that can support the weight of both workers and equipment.
- Accessibility and egress: Businesses must ensure that every walkway is safe for workers to use. They must also ensure that workers use only these areas to get from place to place in the building and leave the job site easily and quickly.
- Inspection, repair and maintenance: Employers must have walkways inspected regularly and immediately fix whatever inspectors deem hazardous. While an employer fixes a walking-working area, workers must use alternate walkways. The employer must pick a qualified person to make a walkway safe and usable.
Floor Marking and Aisle Width
OSHA requires employers to mark permanent aisles and walkways, according to iFloortape. Stripes in OSHA-designated yellow are often markers to note caution and physical hazards located on a walkway. A solid yellow color shows maximum contrast against most walkway backgrounds, which is why OSHA has designated it as the preferred color to highlight potential dangers.
OSHA requires businesses to have aisles at least 3 feet wider than their largest pieces of equipment or be at least 4 feet wide. Corridors in rooms where employers store flammable and combustible liquids should be a minimum of 3 feet wide, with an emergency exit at least 28 inches wide. In places where the use of mechanical equipment occurs, OSHA requires what it calls "sufficient safe clearances." This width depends on how workers use the aisle. For example, someone driving a forklift will need more room than someone walking. The average width for an aisle in this instance is about 4 feet.
OSHA Scaffolding Safety Requirements
When working with scaffolding, OSHA has a lengthy list of requirements for businesses to follow. Scaffolds must show sturdiness, be structurally sound and hold their weight with an additional four times the maximum load without any displacement. They must have solid footing and cannot stand on unstable objects, such as bricks, boxes or barrels to support them.
They must have toe boards, mid-rails and guardrails, and be a minimum of 10 feet from power lines. Scaffolding top rails built and used after January 1, 2000, must be 38 to 45 inches high; those manufactured before that date and currently employed must be 36 to 45 inches high.
Erecting Scaffolding and Fall Hazards
When erecting, dismantling, moving or altering scaffolding, a "competent person" must supervise the job. This person will also routinely re-inspect the structure and its rigging. An employer must immediately replace or repair any weak parts and ensure that the scaffold has tight connections and a tightly planked platform built from plank-grade material. The inspector should monitor the use of natural or synthetic rope in the scaffold's setup, particularly when near any heat-producing machinery.
OSHA also requires the training of workers on the dangers of utilizing diagonal braces as fall protection systems, which businesses must provide for workers 10 feet or more above the lowest level, and have a professional, registered engineer design any scaffolds over 125 feet high.
OSHA Requirements for Stairways
When a building is under construction, stairways that are not permanent must have landings at a depth of at least 30 inches; they must be 22 inches wide for a vertical rise of every 12 feet or less. Installation must be 30 to 50 degrees horizontally with variations in riser height or stair tread depth not exceeding 1/4 inch, including any foundation structure. Openings onto a stairway, such as doors and gates, must have platforms that are a minimum of 20 inches beyond their swing. To protect worker safety, there must be no hazardous protrusions or slippery conditions on stairways.
All stairways with over four risers or higher than 30 inches, whichever is less, must have handrails installed along all unprotected sides and edges. If the top edge of the stairway is also a handrail, it must be between 36 and 37 inches from the top surface on the rail to the tread's surface; those installed after March 15, 1991, must be a minimum of 36 inches tall and between 30 and 37 inches from the top surface on the rail to the tread's surface.
Employers must build stairways with no protrusion and surface them to prevent injuries and to keep clothes from snagging. Those with unprotected sides and edges must have 42-inch guardrails and intermediate vertical parts, for example, balusters used as guardrails, must not be more than 19 inches apart. There must not be any openings wider than 19 inches around any other structural elements.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.