Switchback Stairs

Switchback Stairs

Similar to residential U-shaped stairs, these stairs turn 180 degrees, usually at a landing. They are often used where space is limited.

Switchback industrial stairs are stairs that double back on themselves, forming a zig-zag pattern as they ascend or descend. They are a common choice in many industrial settings due to their efficient use of space and ease of navigation.

What are the primary uses?

  1. Space Efficiency: Switchback stairs effectively use vertical space, making them ideal for settings where horizontal space is limited. They can fit into narrow, tall spaces that wouldn’t accommodate a straight stairway.
  2. Access Between Different Levels: The primary use of switchback stairs is to provide access between different floors or levels in factories, warehouses, or other industrial buildings.
  3. Emergency Exits: They are often used as part of emergency exit routes. The design of switchback stairs allows for a more gradual descent, which can be safer during an emergency evacuation.
  4. Maintenance Access: Switchback stairs can provide access to different levels for maintenance purposes, such as servicing machinery or inspecting equipment.
  5. Elevated Workstations: If workstations are situated at different levels in a facility, switchback stairs can offer a safe and efficient route between them.
  6. Storage Access: In warehouses or factories with multi-level storage areas, switchback stairs can facilitate the movement of personnel as they store or retrieve items.
  7. Control Rooms or Observation Decks: Switchback stairs can provide access to control rooms or observation decks that oversee the operation of a factory or warehouse.

Remember that, as with all types of stairs, switchback stairs must comply with safety regulations and standards to ensure the safety of the people using them. This includes specifications for tread width, riser height, handrails, and more.

Switchback stairs, also known as U-shaped or half-turn stairs, are commonly used in industrial settings where space is a consideration. They turn 180 degrees, usually at a landing, to allow for efficient use of space.

While OSHA doesn’t explicitly provide guidelines for “switchback stairs,” the standards for industrial stairs apply. Here are some requirements that need to be considered for OSHA-compliant switchback stairs:


  1. Stair Width: The minimum clear width at and below the handrail height, including treads and landings, should be at least 22 inches.
  2. Angle: Fixed industrial stairs should be inclined between 30 to 50 degrees to the horizontal.
  3. Treads and Risers: All stairs should have uniform riser heights and tread widths. Risers should be between 6 to 7.5 inches, and treads should be at least 10 inches.
  4. Surface: Stair treads should be slip-resistant and free from any hazardous protrusions.
  5. Landings: Landings should be provided at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs. A landing must also be provided wherever doors or gates open directly onto a stairway. The landing length should be a minimum of 30 inches in the direction of travel.
  6. Handrails and Guardrails: Stairs with four or more risers, or that rise more than 30 inches, whichever is less, must have at least one handrail. If the width of the stairway exceeds 44 inches, a handrail on both sides is required. If the stairs are more than 88 inches wide, it should have an intermediate handrail every 44 inches. Handrails must be between 30 and 37 inches high.
  7. Vertical Clearance: There should be at least 6 feet, 8 inches of vertical clearance above any stair tread to any overhead obstruction.
  8. Loading: Fixed industrial stairs should be able to carry a load of 50 pounds per square foot.
  9. Visibility and Maintenance: Steps should be distinctly marked and well lit. The stairs should also be kept in a safe and clean condition, free from debris or other slipping/tripping hazards.

As always, these are general guidelines and may be different in specific situations or jurisdictions. It’s recommended to check the precise OSHA regulations or consult with a safety professional when designing or inspecting workplace stairs.

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