This article originally appeared in IMPO's June 2015: Net Gain issue.
For anyone working in an industrial or warehouse environment, where cost, space, efficient material handling and worker safety are vital, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-based stairs are often preferred over IBC stairs due to their smaller footprint, better fit, and lower cost. RMI-compliant OSHA-based stairs permit open risers, integration of the handrail as the top of the guard, and a greater stair pitch.
The controversy starts, however, when more costly International Building Code (IBC) stairs with their larger footprint, closed risers, and independent handrails with extensions are required for these warehouse environments by the authority having jurisdiction (e.g. the local municipal building departments).
While municipal building code planning departments may not realize it, the Rack Manufacturers Institute (RMI)- compliant, OSHA-based stairs have been included in IBC code since 2009 (Section 2208), offering safe, cost-effective, space-efficient access to the elevated work surfaces in pick modules and rack-supported platforms.
IBC stairs are totally appropriate for facilities allowing public access in order to protect a wide range of people from the physically-capable to the physically challenged. However, they’re more burdensome than RMI-compliant stairs in a warehouse or industrial setting restricted to trained employees needing to cost-effectively maximize storage space, aisle access, and material handling efficiency.
Clearing Up the Controversy
Pick modules combine dynamic rack systems with conveyors or other flow components to cost-effectively enhance productivity for broken pallet or carton order-filling operations. When designed as a multi-level rack-supported system, they allow dense product storage, reduced material handling, and the ability to fulfill multiple SKU customer shipments in a timely, accurate manner.
Similarly, elevated rack-supported platforms can create additional space for in-plant offices, archive/ record storage, small parts storage, or pick and sort operations above a work or storage area.
Even though we hear the argument of OSHA vs. IBC stairs, what we’re really talking about when it comes time to pick modules or rack-supported platforms is RMI-compliant vs. IBC-compliant stairs. RMI-compliant stairs are IBC-compliant stairs provided that access to the elevated work surface of a module or platform is limited to trained employees who are appropriately dressed and physically able to work in an industrial plant or warehouse.
The first printing of the IBC was the 2000 edition, with new editions following a 3-year cycle including the current 2015 edition. The IBC’s Chapter 22 on the design of industrial steel storage racks references the RMI’s Specification for the Design, Testing and Utilization of Industrial Steel Storage Racks.
The 2008 edition of the ANSI-approved RMI Specification was expanded to include a section on pick modules and rack-supported platforms (Section 8.4). Sub-Section 8.4.4 describes the minimum requirements for an RMI-compliant straight stair, which, for the most part, follow the guidelines set forth by OSHA for a straight stair.
The RMI Specification is specifically written around industrial steel storage racks installed and used in a warehouse or industrial environment where access to the elevated floors within a pick module or rack supported platform is restricted to employees properly trained, physically capable, and have the appropriate attire for the intended working environment.
In addition, as the Storage Manufacturers Association (SMA) works to re-write the boltless shelving, bin shelving, and work platform product specifications to bring them to the same level as the RMI Specification, RMI-compliant stairs will be incorporated into these documents as well.
Cost and Space Efficient Stairs
So how much cost and space savings can using an RMI (OSHA-based) stairs vs. IBC stairs provide? It depends on the design of the stairs and facility, but one can generally save about 30 percent in cost and several feet of stair length.
IBC stairs require a bigger footprint than OSHA stairs. Not only are the treads generally deeper, but also there are usually more treads required. Because IBC stairs require a minimum 11 inches horizontal ‘run’ between treads and a maximum 7 inches vertical ‘rise’ between treads, they tend to stretch out, take up more room, and stick into aisles and walkways. IBC stairs also require independent handrail(s) that protrude into the aisles, reducing clear space and often constricting personnel and vehicle flow.
In contrast, RMI (OSHA-based) stairs help to minimize cost and lost storage space, allowing for a shorter, steeper stair with open risers and the handrail being the top of the guarding. RMI stairs are essentially OSHA compliant stairs except that the rise + run need not equal 17.5”.
The bottom line is that RMI-compliant, OSHA-based stairs are IBC compliant, as well as safe, cost effective, and space efficient in an industrial warehouse setting provided their use is restricted to trained, physically capable, properly dressed employees.