Fixed Stairs and Ladders Case Study

With the information provided in the previous blog posts, I would like to present the case study.

This analysis was caused in response to a facility management professional found lying at the bottom of stairs with a pool of blood emerging from his head. He died from his head injury a few days later.

Let me tell you up front that it could not be determined that the condition of the stairs had any effect on his fall. However, this information can still be used to show how two buildings comply with the standards. The analysis was limited because the organization only owned two buildings.

Dr. Doug Parrish was the safety specialist in charge of this analysis. He compared requirements from:

“NFPA 101 (2012) Appendix A comment on the Section “grandfather” paragraph for existing stairs further expands on topic,” (HQ DOE, 2014):

“A. It is the intent of to permit the use of Table in existing buildings, even where there is a change in occupancy per 4.6.11. Safety improvements should be made that are reasonable and feasible at minimal cost,” (City, 2016).

“Improvements include removal, repair, or replacement of step coverings, as described in A., particularly Figure A., and the addition of functional handrails and guardrails in place of, or in conjunction with, other rails, as described in,” (HQ DOE, 2014)

The team assessed stairs (internal and external building public stairs; mechanical room and other maintenance area stairs) in two large buildings. I will call them Bldg. 1 and Bldg. 2.

Dr. Parrish’s team looked at approximately 2,515 steps in 56 stairs in three buildings and surrounding areas at Bldg. 1 and approximately 1,800 steps in 57 stairs in four buildings and surrounding areas at Bldg. 2. The team tasks were to:

  • Measure step rise and tread run.
  • Measure handrail and stair rail heights.
  • Note stair and railing material, attachment, covering, and any deficiencies.
  • Compared any differences in height between:
  • Adjacent steps.
  • All steps in the same stair run between landings.


Location Public Interior Stairs Public Exterior Stairs Maintenance Access Stairs
Building No. 1 15 15 26
Building No. 2 16 17 24

Table 1 – Stair Count

Table 1 shows the number of stairs in Bldg. 1 and Bldg. 2.

The exterior stairs for Bldg. 1 were made of poured-in-place concrete, 2” metal, smooth, round continuous handrails, and non-slip metal toecaps. Some handrails were found to be noncompliant for rising/run variability on the NFPA and IBC requirements.

The internal public stairs for Bldg. 1 had hand railings that were of correct height to meet NFPA and OSHA requirements.

The exterior public stairs of Bldg. 1 were found be non-compliant with NFPA 101 requirements.

Some rails on stairs were found to be loose. The balusters did not meet the NFPA 101 minimum gap requirement.

It is noted that many stairs had 3/4” difference between the highest and lowest steps’ rise and run. Per IBC and NFPA 101 (2010), the maximum allowed difference for both rising and run should be no more than 3/8” for existing steps in a flight of stairs and 3/16” for adjacent steps.

OSHA General Industry Standard requires both rises and run in a stair to be uniform.

When they looked at fixed industrial stairs, they found that some were made from metal grate while others were made from concrete with non-slip metal toecaps. Both types met the non-skid requirement.

The team found that fixed ladders in elevator pits did not comply with OSHA fixed industrial stair requirements. IBC Section 3404.1 allows existing stairs to remain due to space constraints of space or pitch.

One flight of stairs was found to be a spiral metal staircase. These stairs did not meet the IBC Section 1009.9.

Bldg. 1 exterior stairs were also analyzed. Some met requirements while others were found to be noncompliant for step rise/run variability.

The interior stairs were made from poured concrete with non-slip coating. These stairs were provided with a 2” standard stair railings and handrails. Some were made of metal while others were made of wood. All stair railings and hand railings were compliant to NFPA and OSHA requirements.

However, as in Bldg. 1 many did not meet the NFPA 101- standard for spacing of balusters on stair rails and handrails.

The Bldg. 2 interior stairs were made from poured, non-slip plastic coverings, with removable stair railings and handrail. The stair rails and handrails were compliant per OSHA requirements. However, it was noted that the stairs were noncompliant for variability in step rise and run per NFPA 101 and IBC requirements. The balusters were also noncompliant for limited spacing per NFPA 101-

Several flights of stairs in areas used by maintenance personnel were found to be non-standard stairs that did not meet OSHA or NFPA requirements. These stairs appeared to be hand made from wood.

One flight of nonstandard stairs was made from wooden and was found noncompliant with IBC Section 1009.9 because they were too narrow, too steep, and had incorrect handrails.


City of Rockland Zoning Board of Appeals, Minutes of Meeting, (accessed December 08, 2016).

HQ DOE Stair Safety Meeting Decision Brief, May 13, 2104.


About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning spent over 20 years in the safety profession. His final safety position was as the Director of Occupational Safety and Health for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He began writing in 1994, published his first book in 1998, and began writing professionally in 2015. He has authored and coauthored articles, written books, and chapters for technical books and stories for anthologies.
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