OSHA catwalk standards exist to protect workers from falling from dangerous heights and from being struck by items falling from these heights. Employers who fail to comply with these standards fail to protect their workers from injury and can face monetary penalties for their safety violations.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, commonly known as OSHA, maintains and enforces worker safety standards for nearly all employers in the United States. Employers in certain industries, like construction and maritime trades, are subject to more OSHA safety requirements than employers in other industries because of the unique dangers these trades pose to workers. OSHA’s guidelines for catwalks and raised work platforms apply to nearly every catwalk and work platform over 4 feet high.
Skid, Drop and Slip Prevention
OSHA catwalk standards require that all catwalks and raised work platforms be covered with a nonskid surface or constructed from nonskid grating. Preventing slips is an effective way to prevent falls. To be in compliance with OSHA catwalk requirements, all catwalks and raised work platforms must have toeboards at least 3 1/4 inches tall along all open sides. This is to prevent falling tools and materials from injuring workers below.
Protection From Fall Injuries
The primary purpose of OSHA catwalk requirements is to protect workers from falling and suffering severe injuries or death. Falls are one of the most common causes of worker fatalities in the United States, and in some industries, like construction, they are the leading cause of on-the-job deaths. In 2017, 366 construction workers in the United States died from injuries sustained in falls.
To keep workers from falling and suffering injuries, OSHA catwalk standards require that all working surfaces 4 feet or higher must have guardrails about 42 inches tall along their perimeters. Guardrails may be as short as 39 inches or up to 45 inches. Exceeding 45 inches in height is permitted when a guardrail meets all other OSHA catwalk guardrail criteria. Additionally, guardrails must meet certain guidelines:
- When the platform is not between walls or parapets at least 21 inches tall, guardrails must be outfitted with midrails, screens, vertical panels or another type of barrier between the platform and top rail.
- Guardrails must be able to withstand a force of up to 200 pounds dropped downward or outward within 2 inches of the top rail.
- When a force of up to 200 pounds is applied to the top rail, it must not deflect to a height lower than 39 inches above the platform.
- Guardrails must have smooth surfaces.
- Vertical panels, meshes and other intermediate barriers must be able to withstand a force of up to 150 pounds applied downward or outward.
- Top and midrails must be at least one-quarter inch in diameter.
Workers can find additional OSHA catwalk requirements for guardrails on OSHA’s website. Beyond guardrails, construction workers on catwalks and raised platforms must be protected by OSHA-compliant fall-restraint and fall-arrest systems when they are working at fall heights over 6 feet. Fall-restraint systems are designed to prevent workers from falling over the edges of work platforms, and when these fail, fall-arrest systems break workers' falls and prevent them from crashing onto the ground and suffering injuries.
Structural Requirements for Catwalks
OSHA catwalk standards state that a work platform’s height cannot be more than four times its base width. For example, a platform that is 6 feet wide cannot be elevated more than 24 feet. Stairs leading up to catwalks and elevated platforms must be at least 16 inches wide, 7 inches deep and have no more than 10 inches of rise between each step.
At ladder holes and staircase openings, catwalks and other platforms must have self-closing gates to prevent workers from falling through the openings. The only circumstance under which self-closing gates are not necessary is when the opening is set in such a way that it would be impossible for a worker to fall through.
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