Industrial Stairways: Essential to Worksite Infrastructure

An industrial stairway is an extremely important part of the infrastructure of a plant, factory and any other type of sprawling worksite. It helps facilitate the movement of workers in areas such as lofts, elevated platforms and mezzanines. Then there are the hard to access areas like controls and gauges which are well served by an industrial stairway. Moreover, an industrial stairway helps makes operations very efficient thereby enhancing productivity.

An industrial stairway comes in a large number of designs, depending upon the purpose they serve. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Spiral Stairway

As you can imagine these are spiral in shape and wind around a central post. Ideal for sites and locations with a space constraint.

Catwalk Stairs

These comprise of a platform or a walkway connecting two points with a set of stairs leading down either side.

Crossover Stairs

You could call these a combination of platform and stairs allowing one to negotiate an obstacle on a walking path.

Mono Stringer Stairs

These are built around a strong and durable steel spine. These stairs might not seem to have much support and give the impression of floating, but are as sturdy as you can expect a stairway to be.

Considering the vital role that stairways play in facilitating smooth operations at worksites, OSHA has prescribed the strictest safety standards for these. Let’s take a look:

  • Stairways not meant to be a permanent part of an under-construction building need to have landings that are at least thirty inches deep and twenty two inches wide at every twelve feet of distance.
  • Stairways need to be installed at an angle of at least thirty degrees and not greater than fifty degrees from the horizontal.
  • As regards the variations in stair tread depth, these cannot be in excess of one fourth of an inch of a stairway. This shall include any foundation structure that is used as one or more treads in the stairway system.
  • Any doors or gateways opening in the path of a stairway has to have a platform that can extend to a distance of at least 20 inches beyond the distance that the door or gate can swing.
  • If metal pan landings and metal pan treads have been used-these need to be secured in place prior to filing
  • It is important that stairways not have any dangerous projections like protruding nails.
  • Slippery conditions on a stairway are not to be allowed.
  • Any spiral stairway not meant to be a permanent part of a structure cannot be used by workers.

OSHA further mandates that employers are required to train its employees to be able to identify hazards pertaining to stairways. These could pertain to-

  • The type of fall hazards present in a work area.
  • Knowing the right procedures for installing, maintaining and disassembling the fall protection system in use.
  • Understanding the nitty-gritty of construction, use, placement and care with regard to handling of staircases.

Employers need to ensure that stairways are maintained well, not just because OSHA wants it that way, but because it is the right thing to do. The safety and welfare of workers in paramount because it is the morally right thing to do. That apart, safe work conditions lead to higher employee motivation and thereby higher productivity. Let us look at how stairway maintenance is carried out best:

  • Ensure that there are no loose railings, balusters and posts. If the staircase seems to be too weather-beaten for any tightening to be possible, it would make better sense to replace the old stairway with a newly designed one.
  • Visibility is an important factor in the safety of a stairway. Not being able to properly see the risers and treads can lead to an error in judgment and lead to a faulty foot placement. Adequate lighting and providing visual contrasts on tread nosings can prevent this.
  • It is critical that stair rails and hand rails are installed as the former prevent people from falling off the edge of the stairs and the latter help provide them with balance and leverage while ascending or descending a staircase.
  • Often the most serious tripping and fall accidents happen on low stairways not comprising of two or three steps that people sometimes fail to perceive. This can be prevented by modifying the approach to such stairways by changing the approach in a manner that makes people notice the stairway. The stairway could also be replaced with a ramp to make things easy for people.

The humble industrial stairway may not usually attract a second glance from most people, but its role in enhancing worker safety and productivity cannot be underestimated. Despite all the new age inventions and faster and more efficient means of getting about a plant or worksite, industrial stairways remain an essential component.