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Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents
• Standard Number: 1926.1052; 1926.1053; 1926.1050; 1926.502(h); 1926.502(j); 1926.1051(a)

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 http://www.osha.gov.

Date Missing

Mr. David Lawrence, President
Crocus Hills Manufacturing LTD. Terra Flex Stair Systems
Post Office Box 100
Crandall, Manitoba, Canada R0M 0H0

Re: Subpart X: §§1926.1050-1926.1052; Terra Flex temporary stair system

Dear Mr. Lawrence,

This responds to your February 14, 2001, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regarding your product, the Terra Flex stair system (models L-400 and A-500). You enclosed a CD-Rom and product information, and asked whether your stair system complies with OSHA standards.

OSHA's construction stairways and ladder standard, Subpart X of 29 CFR part 1926, applies to all stairways and ladders used in construction, alteration, repair (including painting and decorating), and demolition workplaces covered under 29 CFR part 1926 and also sets forth, in specified circumstances, when ladders and stairways are required. Under Subpart X, §1926.1052 sets forth the requirements for all stairways and §1926.1053 sets forth the requirements for all ladders. The definition section for Subpart X (§1926.1050) does not define the terms "stairs" or "stairways." While it does not contain a definition for "ladder," it does define several specific types of ladders.

Subpart X was promulgated on November 14, 1990. OSHA amended the construction standards by revising and relocating the provisions for stairways and ladders from what was then Subpart L-Ladders and Scaffolds, and Subpart M-Floors and Wall Opening, and Stairways, into Subpart X-Stairways and Ladders. In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Subpart X (Federal Register Volume 51, November 25, 1986), we stated that, "The following existing (Subpart M) definitions would be deleted because they are not used in the proposed subpart or their meanings are obvious: §1926.502(h) "stair platform," and §1926.502(j) "stair, stairways." We note the intent was to delete the terms because their meanings were either not used in Subpart X or were obvious. Therefore, OSHA intended for the definitions of "stairs, stairways" under Subpart X be the same as defined under the [old] Subpart M-Floors and Wall Opening, and Stairways. In [now superseded] 29 CFR 1926.502(j), [old] Subpart M-Floors and Wall Opening, and Stairways defined "stair, stairways" as follows:
A series of steps leading from one level or floor to another, or leading to platforms, pits, boiler rooms, crossovers, or around machinery, tanks, and other equipment that are used more or less continuously or routinely by employees or only occasionally by specific individuals. For the purpose of this subpart, a series of steps and landings having three or more rises constitutes stairs or stairway.
Answer Terra-Flex L-400
OSHA does not regulate products. Furthermore, OSHA is generally precluded from approving or endorsing specific products. The variable working conditions at job sites and possible alteration or misapplication of an otherwise safe piece of equipment could easily create a hazardous condition beyond the control of the equipment manufacturer. However, where appropriate, we try to give some guidance to help employers assess whether products are appropriate to use in light of OSHA requirements.

The scope of Subpart X is broad ("this subpart applies to all stairways and ladders used in construction..."). However, in light of the previous definition for "stair, stairways" and evaluating the product information submitted, your Terra Flex L-400 Stair system is a "stair [or] stairway" because it is "a series of steps leading from one level or floor to another."

The literature you provided indicates that the L-400 is designed to be placed directly on the ground. A classic feature of all ladders is that they are supported by the ground or building/ structure/equipment near the top and at the base of the ladder, but not in the area between those points. In contrast, as we understand it, it is the ground that supports the area between those points on the L-400 device; the device is not designed to be self-supporting. Therefore, when it is used in that manner, it is not a "ladder."

Section 1926.1051(a) requires that "a stairway or ladder be provided at all personnel points of access where there is a break in elevation of 19 inches (48cm) or more, and no ramp, runway, sloped embankment, or personnel hoist is provided." Whenever a stair system, including the Terra Flex, is used in order to meet this requirement -- such as where the break in elevation is 19 inches or more and there is no ramp, runway, sloped embankment or personnel hoist -- the requirements for stairways in §1926.1052 must be met.

However, it appears that you expect the L-400 to be used in situations where there is no requirement to provide a stair or ladder under §1926.1051(a). For example, the literature shows it being used where there is a sloped embankment. A fall on or from the stairs in that case would be no different than a fall while walking on (and falling onto) a sloped embankment. Consequently, in that situation, a failure to meet the requirements of §1926.1052 for stairways would normally be considered a de minimis violation, for which no citation or penalty would be issued.

Terra-Flex A-500
This product is designed to rest at one end on the ground and at the other end on a truck, trailer, or piece of equipment. It differs from the L-400 in that there is not expected to be any intermediate support between those points from the ground. As pictured in the literature, it is designed to be used at a low angle, which precludes the use of the side rails as handrails. In that respect it is unlike a typical portable ladder, which (apart from some specialty ladders) is designed to be used at an angle that is steep enough to allow the side rails to be used as a handrail. When used at this low angle, it would be considered a stairway, rather than a ladder, and the requirements in §1926.1052 for stairways would have to be met, including the requirements for landings and handrails.

For further assistance, please write to: Directorate of Construction-OSHA, Office of Construction Standards and Compliance Assistance, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N. W., Washington, D.C. 20210.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction

Standard Interpretations - Table of Contents

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