OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.


May 29, 1996

Mr. Steve Hess
Safety and Loss Control Administrator
Stone Container Corporation
150 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60601-7568

Dear Mr. Hess:

This letter is response to your March 1 request for a permanent variance addressed to Mr. Joseph Dear, the Department of Labor's Assistant Secretary for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Your request was forwarded to the [Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine] for a response. You are requesting a variance from the digester building exits requirements in 29 CFR 1910.261(g)(9) concerning exits in digester buildings.

Our evaluation of your variance request and the video tape you sent in support of this request, indicates that a variance from 29 CFR 1910.261(g)(9) is inappropriate for the workplace conditions you describe. Use of caged ladders instead of stairways as a means of emergency egress would hinder rescue of seriously injured or unconscious employees who may be located on the fifth and sixth floors of your facility during an emergency. OSHA believes that the latest Life Safety Code [NFPA 101-2000, Section] is not applicable to your workplace conditions because this code provides that the space to be evacuated can contain no more than three "able-bodied" adults. Even if you could guaranty that the fifth and sixth floors of your facility would be occupied by no more than three employees simultaneously, the term "able-bodied" makes the use of ladders inappropriate if these employees have been injured or rendered unconscious during an emergency. In reviewing variance requests, OSHA must consider the worst-case situation in determining if, as required by 29 CFR 1905.11(b)(4), the proposed alternative provides employees with a level of health and safety at least equivalent to the standards from which the variance is sought.

To assist you in complying with this standard, or in developing an appropriate alternative that you may wish to propose in a later variance request, we recommend that you contact the following occupational safety and health consultant:\

[University of South Florida
Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
College of Public Health
4003 East Fowler Avenue
Tampa, Florida 33671
(813) 974-9962
(813) 974-9972 FAX
E-mail: cvespi@hsc.usf.edu
Website: http://www.safetyflorida.usf.edu]

No further action will be taken on your variance request. If you have any questions concerning your request, please contact the [Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine at (202) 693-2300].


Stephen J. Mallinger
Acting Director
[Directorate of Science, Technology, and Medicine]

[Corrected 2/6/2004]



March 1, 1996

Mr. Joe Dear
Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health
U.S. Department of Labor
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Sir:

Pursuant to Section 6(d) of the Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, Stone Container Corporation, Panama City Mill, respectfully requests a permanent variance from the requirements of 29 CFR 1910. 261(g)(9), Exits (digester building); At least one unobstructed exit at each end of the room shall be provided on each floor of a digester building.




Applicant: Stone Container Corporation
150 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60601
Facility involved: Panama City Mill
P.O. Box 2560
Panama City, Florida 32402


Issue at Hand: OSHA cited the mill on April 13, 1994 for a violation of 1910.261(g)(9) (An outdated and redundant standard), for failing to provide unobstructed exits on each floor of the digester building. To abate this condition fixed caged ladders were installed from the chip bin level (6th floor) on the north and south ends of the digester building to the 5th floor. One fixed caged ladder was installed on the north end of the 5th floor that goes to the 4th floor.

Personnel Exposed in the Digester Building: There are 8 employees per shift located in the digester building. As employees move about to inspect the process, all floors could be occupied at one time. Generally speaking there would be employees on the 4th floor the majority of the time. The 5th floor would be occupied occasionally. The 6th floor is occupied by only one able bodied employee. The employee on the 6th floor is responsible for positioning the conveyor belt over the chip bin that is to be filled with chips.

Number of Existing Exits: The digester building is six stories tall. It measures approximately 260' north to south and 160' east to west. The digesters occupy the lst to the 4th floor. The 4th floor houses the digester control room. There are stairs on the north and south end of these floors which place these floors in compliance with the standard.

The 5th floor is rarely occupied. It serves as access for inspection, maintenance, and the 6th floor (roof). It is made up of catwalks and platforms. It has stairs located on the south end that go to the fourth floor.

The 6th floor is actually a partially covered roof area (See photo). It contains a chip conveyor belt that runs practically the full length of the building, north to south. The remaining portions of the roof consist of catwalks and platforms. A ladder is located on the south end of the floor which descends to the 5th floor and accesses the stairs located there. The north end has a ladder that descends to the 4th floor platform which accesses the stairs located there. On the east side of the 6th floor there is a ramp that descends to ground level. On the west side there are stairs that go to the 5th floor. Also on the west side, towards the north end, there is a ladder which accesses a roof of an adjoining building. There is an elevator on the south end that travels and stops at each floor.

Potential Hazards in a Digester Building: By no means do we wish to minimize the hazards of the pulping process. However, in this instance, the risks have been reduced. The maintenance and inspection requirements for digesters, as well as the redundancy of the relief systems, virtually eliminate over-pressurization. Process Safety Management assists in preventing the inadvertent release of chlorine into the operating areas. If there were a surprise release, the safest location would be on the 4th, 5th or 6th floor, as chlorine is heavier than air. The lst through the 4th floor meet the requirements of the standard as understood by OSHA Compliance. The 5th floor is occupied only during routine inspection, maintenance and accessing the 6th floor. The 6th floor has 5 means of exit.

Summation: The fixed ladders on the north and south ends of the 6th floor provide unobstructed exits, which satisfy 1910.261(g)(9). The requirement for an exit to be substantially level or provide stairs or ramps [(1910.37(a)(3))] is met by the stairs on the west end and the ramp on the east end. Only one able bodied employee occupies the 6th floor. The cost of removing the existing ladders to install stairs that would, in all reality never need to be used, even in an emergency, strongly out weigh any benefit that may be gained. We urge you to reconsider requiring us to abide by a standard that does not apply in this circumstance.\

There is a June 1, 1996 date for abatement. Your speedy response would be greatly appreciated. If you should need further information please contact:

PHONE: 312-649-4242