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.

February 13, 2004

Charles Culver
[Address withheld]

Re: What OSHA will enforce as the minimum toe clearance when workers are using manhole rungs during construction work?

Dear Mr. Culver:

We have paraphrased your questions as follows:

Question: When using manhole rungs in general industry, §1910.27(c)(4) permits 4½ inches as the minimum toe clearance where unavoidable obstructions are encountered. When using manhole rungs in construction work, §1926.1053(a)(13) allows 4½ inches as the minimum toe clearance only when using an elevator pit ladder. What is the minimum toe clearance that OSHA will enforce when workers are using manhole rungs during construction work?

Section 1926.1053(a)(13) states:

The minimum perpendicular clearance between fixed ladder rungs, cleats, and steps, and any obstruction behind the ladder shall be 7 inches, except in the case of an elevator pit ladder for which a minimum perpendicular clearance of 4½ inches is required. [Emphasis added.]

Section 1910.27(c)(4) states:

Clearance in back of ladder. The distance from the centerline of rungs, cleats, or steps to the nearest permanent object in back of the ladder shall not be less than 7 inches, except that when unavoidable obstructions are encountered, minimum clearances as shown in figure D-3 shall be provided. [Emphasis added.]

On April 10, 1990, as part of a revision of 29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart D, OSHA set forth a proposed rule for general industry, §1910.24 Step Bolts and Manhole Steps, which stated:

§1910.24 Step bolts and manhole steps.
(a) Scope and application. This section covers step bolts and manhole steps used on structures such as, but not limited to, towers, stacks, conical manhole sections, and vaults. This section does not apply to individual rung ladders.
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(3) The minimum toe clearance for manhole steps shall be four inches from the point of embedment on the wall to the outside of the face of the step. The toe clearance in the center of the manhole step shall be a minimum of four and one-half inches measured to the outside face of the step. [Emphasis added.]

On May 2, 2003, OSHA reopened the rulemaking record. In a letter dated June 24, 2003 (copy enclosed), OSHA addressed the question of OSHA's enforcement policy while the proposed revision remains under consideration:

You note in your letter that OSHA had proposed to establish, through rulemaking, specifications for manhole steps that would require a minimum rung width of 10 inches and a minimum toe clearance of 4.5 inches at the center of the rung and 4.0 inches at the point of embedment….For several years the rulemaking proceeding was inactive, but more recently on May 2, 2003, OSHA published a notice reopening the record... The notice did not raise any issues pertaining specifically to the original proposal for manhole steps. While the rulemaking continues, therefore, OSHA's enforcement policy is that manhole steps meeting the above specifications will not be cited.

Thus, OSHA's current policy with respect to work covered by the Part 1910 general industry standard is that it will not cite manhole rungs with a minimum toe clearance of 4½ inches at the center of the rung.

In light of the general industry enforcement policy for these built-in rungs, our policy in regard to the enforcement of §1926.1053(a)(13) for manhole rungs used during construction work is that a minimum toe clearance of 4½ inches ispermitted.

If you need any additional information, please contact us by fax (202-693-1689) at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA, Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction