Stairs are such a ubiquitous feature of modern buildings that we often take them for granted. Few are even aware of how much design goes into making a stairway functional. And even fewer know how to build them to code. 

Both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) address safety and accessibility, albeit in distinct ways. The ADA, enacted in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public life and emphasizes accessibility for the general public. OSHA, on the other hand, has overseen the facilitation of safe and healthy working environments for over 50 years. 

While both ADA and OSHA regulations address stairs and stair treads, their concerns seldom overlap. That means the primary users of a staircase (the public, employees or both) will determine exactly how stringent its requirements are. Understanding these distinctions can help businesses and property owners create safer, inclusive environments—and remain compliant with the law.


How ADA and OSHA Differ

The ADA is primarily concerned with public life but does have specific guidelines for workplaces. Its guidelines ensure people with disabilities can safely ascend and descend floors alongside their able-bodied peers. These include: 

  • Riser heights and tread widths should be uniform across all steps
  • Stair treads should be at least 11" deep
  • Risers should be at most 7" high; open risers are not permitted 
  • Handrails should be on both sides of the staircase and the ends rounded or returned smoothly to the floor 

Conversely, OSHA does not address accessibility for the general public. Its regulations play a significant role in safeguarding workers who use stairs during daily tasks. These include: 

  • Landings must be no smaller than 22" wide by 30" deep
  • Stairs with four or more risers require hand- and guardrails
  • Riser height or stair tread depth should not vary by more than 1/4" in any stairway
  • Stairways must be installed between 30 and 50 degrees from horizontal 

Where ADA and OSHA do overlap, ADA is often stricter. For example, ADA handrails are mounted between 34" and 38" above stair nosings and run continuously along both sides. OSHA mandates a height range of 30" to 36" and need only be on one side. As always, it is best to have a compliance expert determine your unique requirements.


Flexco Marries Form and Function

Many buildings have stairs that are used by both the public and employees. Schools and hospitals go through years of planning to comply with both ADA and OSHA regulations. Because of their varying scopes, that usually means sacrificing aesthetics in order to stay under budget. With Flexco stair treads, that doesn't have to be the case. 

Flexco Floors offers a wide range of stair treads that fit any application. Distinct Designs Rubber Stair Treads meet or exceed local, state and federal building safety codes—including both ADA and OSHA—and are available in dozens of colors and patterns. Flexco Vinyl Stair Treads and Flexterior Metal Treads are also ADA compliant. And with safety accessories like grit strips and nosing options, Flexco can match your building's exact specifications. 

Ensuring stairway safety is crucial for both public accessibility and employee well-being. While federal codes often seem a nuisance, they serve an important purpose that defines the American standard of living.