ILTA OSHA Stair Rail Comments
International Liquid Terminals Association
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Letters, Comments & Testimony

Leakhena Swett

ILTA OSHA Stair Rail Comments

July 16, 2021

U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration
200 Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20210

To whom it may concern,

The International Liquid Terminals Association (ILTA) is writing to comment on OSHA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ID OSHA-2020-0009-0003).  The NPRM proposes changes to the Walking-Working Surfaces standards (29 CFR Part 1910) to clarify which handrail and stair rail systems requirements apply to new stair rail systems. 

Founded in 1974, ILTA advocates on behalf of the liquid terminal industry in Congress and at the federal agencies. ILTA's terminal members operate the liquid terminals and above-ground storage tank facilities (tank farms) that interconnect with and provide services to the various modes of liquid transportation, including ships, barges, tank trucks, rail cars and pipelines. The commodities handled include a large variety of chemicals, along with crude oil, petroleum products, renewable fuels, asphalt, animal fats and oils, vegetable oils, molasses, and fertilizers. The customers who store products at these facilities include oil producers and chemical manufacturers, product manufacturers, food growers and producers, utilities, transportation companies, commodity brokers, government agencies and the military.  ILTA supplier members provide a wide variety of equipment and services to the bulk liquid storage industry.


ILTA members have built a strong safety record and continuously work to promote and improve safe working conditions in their terminals. Many of ILTA’s member companies have been recognized for their outstanding safety and health performance. These companies have achieved success in promoting and practicing safety awareness and minimizing workplace incidents and injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the key federal agency for regulating to ensure the health and safety of terminal workers.   OSHA requires that tank and terminal operators follow more than two dozen general and industry-specific regulations on everything from walking and working surfaces, stairways, construction, personal protective equipment, egress, and fire alarms.

The requirements for safe design and construction of industrial stairs, platforms, and railings have remained basically unchanged for several decades.  However, on November 18, 2016, OSHA published a final rule on Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment in the Federal Register (81 FR 8249).  That new rule made changes to requirements for guardrails, stairs, stair rails and handrails. Notably, 1910.28(b)(11)(ii) Table D2 required open-side stairs less than 44” wide to have only a stair rail on each side.

On May 19, 2021, OSHA published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in which OSHA states that the proposed rule is an attempt to clarify what it describes as a typo in 1910.28(b)(11)(ii) Table D2.  This typo appeared when the Final Rule was printed in the Federal Register and OSHA claims that it has caused uncertainty regarding when a top rail can be considered a handrail. The proposed rule states that Table D2 should have required both stair rails and handrails on open-sided stairs less than 44” wide, typical dimensions for industrial stairs, and to clarify that top rail cannot be used as handrails after the effective date.

As part of daily operations, our Terminal Members’ employees must use stairs to access elevated equipment and to get on, over and around obstacles. Fall prevention is of utmost importance to the industry’s safety culture.  ILTA’s member companies have invested millions of dollars in safe access solutions to minimize slips, trips and falls.

Our member’s experience is that current regulations requiring a 42” tall stair rail system for open-sided stairs under 44” in width is sufficient to reduce fall risks on stairs between different levels. An additional inner handrail on narrow stairs would not provide additional safety benefit. To the contrary, the protrusion of handrails into the walking area would pose an increased risk as employees wearing tool belts and/or carrying equipment would face snagging on the narrow stairs.

Although the current NPRM provides a grandfather clause for installed stairs, if our member companies repurpose or add on to existing equipment, the new specifications would apply. Modifying existing equipment to ensure compliance with the new proposed rule will result in significant financial outlay for thousands of our members’ facilities throughout the country. Downtime necessary to modify, much less remove and replace equipment could result in substantial lost revenue for affected companies while unable to load and unload products. The total economic impact would be substantial without adding to safety.

For the foregoing reasons, we believe that the proposed rule should not be adopted and that the current rule be left as is. Alternatively, ILTA asks that OSHA create an exception for stairs less than 36” wide.  

We appreciate your consideration of our comments. If you have any questions about this submittal, we will be pleased to provide additional information you may need.


Andrew Wright

Vice-President, Legislative Affairs

International Liquid Terminals Association



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