Don’t Build an OSHA Railing Until You Read This

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is overseen by the Department of Labor and applies to areas not open to the public.

Railing requirements for OSHA are covered in Section 1910.29: Fall Protection Systems and Falling Object Protection — Criteria and Practices. Be aware that this section was updated in January 2017.

You can view the entire section by clicking here.

OSHA’s Section 1910.29 refers to both handrails, guard rails, and handrail systems.

Handrails – Fall Protection

A stair with four or more risers requires a handrail.

OSHA HandrailHandrails must be between 30 inches and 38 inches as measured from the leading edge of the stair tread (the nosing) to the top surface of the handrail.

A finger clearance of 2-1/4” is required between the handrail and any other objects. While there is no dimensional limitation for handrail size, OSHA notes that handrail has the shape and dimension necessary so that employees can grasp the handrail firmly.

The handrail must be smooth surfaced to protect employees from injury and prevent catching or snagging of clothing. Additionally, the ends of handrail should not present any projection hazards.

The opening in a stair rail should be no larger than 19 inches.


OSHA guard railOSHA is the only organization that uses the term guardrail. Generally, a guardrail is what’ is found on the side of a road to keep cars from going off the shoulder. In the built environment we tend to refer to a guard since it does not necessarily need to be assembled from rails – it could be a solid wall. However, in OSHA applications, the elements are most likely horizontal rails. So, the term is appropriate.

A guardrail is required once there is a 48-inch drop. A guard rail must be 42 inches in height – plus or minus 3 inches above the walking surface.

Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, solid panels, or equivalent intermediate members are installed between the walking-working surface and the top edge of the guardrail system as follows when there is not a wall or parapet that is at least 21 inches high. The opening limitation for guards is 19 inches.

Midrails should be placed midway between the top edge of the guardrail and the walking surface.

A toeboard should be placed at the walking surface. That toeboard should be a minimum 3-1/2 inches in height measured from the top edge of the toeboard to the level of the walking surface.

Handrail System

OSHA Handrail SystemOnce stairs reach a point where there is a 48-inch drop, guard rail, and handrail requirements need to be addressed. Prior to January 2017, this would have required both a handrail and a guard rail. In the new OSHA, they allow for a “handrail system”.

A handrail system is a combination handrail and guard rail. If the handrail is placed between 36 and 38-inches, OSHA allows for the assembly to be considered both a handrail and the top of the guard rail.

All the requirements for opening limitations, handrail graspability, and extensions apply.

Need more information, contact Wagner or add your question below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

ten + 7 =


View All »


Straightforward installation and the ability to customize your look.


Lighted Railing Installation

Installation instructions for Lumenrail®


Cable Railing Installation

Learn about Ultra-tec® cable cutting, swaging measurements and how to install cable railing.