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Working At Elevated Heights

Are Your Ladders Up to Code? OSHA Ladder Requirements

A critical component of fall prevention is making sure all your ladders meet ANSI ASC / OSHA standards. Read on to see if yours pass the test.

Ladders come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. They are useful in many industries for a variety of applications. This document offers an overview of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) standards for ladders, along with tips for proper ladder usage.

OSHA Regulatory Requirements

In late 2016, OSHA published an update to its walking-working surface rules for general industry. As part of the update, OSHA combined its previously separate regulations for portable wood ladders, portable metal ladders and fixed ladders under one comprehensive ladder standard, Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.23. 29 CFR 1910.23 applies to all ladders used in general industry with a few exceptions. Those exceptions are ladders used in emergency operations such as firefighting, rescue, and tactical law enforcement operations, or training for those operations, and ladders that are an integral part of a machine or piece of equipment.

The four main components of OSHA’s ladder standard cover:

  • General Requirements
  • Portable Ladders
  • Fixed Ladders
  • Mobile Ladder Stands and Mobile Ladder Stand Platforms

Under the General Requirements OSHA addresses proper ladder climbing technique. It requires that when ascending or descending a ladder, employees must maintain three points of contact at all times by:

  • Facing the ladder
  • Using at least one hand to firmly grasp the ladder
  • Not carrying any object or load that could cause them to lose balance and fall

Employers are required to ensure that every employee follows this climbing technique.

The General Requirements also cover the design specifications for rungs and steps used on ladders and stepstools. With the exception of ladders used in elevator shafts and communication towers, the design for rungs and steps must meet the following:

  • Ladder rungs, steps, and cleats are parallel, level, and uniformly spaced when the ladder is in position for use
  • Ladder rungs, steps, and cleats are spaced not less than 10 inches [25 centimeters (cm)] and not more than 14 inches (36 cm) apart, as measured between the centerlines of the rungs, cleats, and steps
  • Ladder rungs, steps, and cleats have a minimum clear width of 11.5 inches (29 cm) on portable ladders and 16 inches (41 cm) (measured before installation of ladder safety systems) for fixed ladders (the minimum clear width does not apply to ladders with narrow rungs that are not designed to be stepped on, such as those located on the tapered end of orchard ladders and similar ladders)
  • Rungs and steps of manhole entry ladders that are supported by the manhole opening must have a minimum clear width of nine inches (23 cm)
  • Rungs and steps on rolling ladders used in telecommunication centers must have a minimum clear width of eight inches (20 cm)
  • Stepstools have a minimum clear width of 10.5 inches (26.7 cm)

In addition, the General Requirements mandate the following:

  • Wooden ladders are not coated with any material that may obscure structural defects,
  • Metal ladders are made with corrosion-resistant material or protected against corrosion,
  • Ladder surfaces are free of puncture and laceration hazards,
  • Ladders are used only for the purpose for which they were designed,
  • Ladders are inspected before initial use in each work shift, and more frequently as necessary, to identify any visible defects that could cause employee injury, and
  • Any ladder with structural or other defects is immediately tagged "Dangerous: Do Not Use" or with similar language in accordance with 29 CFR1910.145 and removed from service until repaired in accordance with 29 CFR1910.22(d), or replaced.

Portable Ladders

OSHA defines a portable ladder as one that can readily be moved or carried, and usually consists of side rails joined at intervals by steps, rungs, or cleats (29 CFR 1910.21).

In accordance with 29 CFR 1910.23(c), employers must ensure that:

  • Rungs and steps are slip resistant
  • Portable ladders are equipped with a metal spreader or locking device that securely locks ladder in open position
  • Portable ladders are not loaded beyond maximum intended load
  • No single rail ladders are used
  • If used in passageways, doorways, or driveways they are secured to prevent accidental displacement or guarded by a temporary barricade
  • If used on slippery surfaces, they are secured and stabilized
  • The portable ladders are not moved, shifted, or extended while a worker is on them
  • Top step and caps of stepladders are not used as steps
  • If used to gain access to upper landing surface, the side rails extend at least three feet above the upper landing surface
  • Portable ladders are not fastened together to provide added length unless designed for such use
  • Portable ladders are not placed on boxes, barrels, or other unstable bases to obtain added height

Fixed Ladders

OSHA defines a fixed ladder as a ladder with rails or individual rungs that is permanently attached to a structure, building, or equipment (29 CFR 1910.21). These do not include ship stairs, step bolts, or manhole steps.

Under 29 CFR 1910.23(d) OSHA gets more granular with design requirements for specific types of fixed ladders above and beyond what’s specified under the General Requirements. To review the specific requirements, see 29 CFR 1910.23(d) — 29 CFR 1910.23(d)(13)(ii).

In addition to 29 CFR 1910.23, OSHA’s updated walking-working surfaces rules also addresses fixed ladders under 29 CFR 1910.28(b)(9), Duty to Have Fall Protection and Falling Object Protection. This phases in, over 20 years, a requirement to equip fixed ladders (that extend over 24 feet) with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems and prohibits the use of cages and wells as a means of fall protection after the phase-in deadline. OSHA defines a ladder safety system as, “ a system designed to eliminate or reduce the possibility of falling from a ladder. A ladder safety system usually consists of a carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, connectors and body harness. Cages and wells are not ladder safety systems.”

The rule grandfathers in cages and wells on existing ladders, but requires during the phase-in period that employers equip new ladders and replacement ladders/ladder sections with ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems. The table below covers the key compliance dates:

January 17,



_1910.28(b)(9)(i)(C) When an employer repairs/replaces any section/portion of an existing fixed ladder that extends over 24 feet above a lower level, deadline by which the replacement section/portion must be equipped with a ladder safety system, or personal fall arrest system. This is not required when making minor repairs, such as replacing a bolt or repairing a weld on a cage, but is required when any section/portion must be replaced. This does not prohibit employers from keeping those portions of a cage or well that are functioning properly, or installing new cages or wells, provided that a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system is also installed and that the cages or wells do not interfere with the installed system. 

November 19,



_1910.28(b)(9)(i)(A) — For existing fixed ladders that extend more than 24 feet above a lower level erected before this date, employers have up to 20 years to install a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system. This means employers may continue to use existing fixed ladders during this 20-year phase-out period, even if only equipped with cages and wells until the final compliance date of November 18, 2036, unless sections/portions or entire ladders are replaced. 

November 19,



_1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B) — For new fixed ladders that extend more than 24 feet above a lower level erected on or after this date, employers must equip the new ladder with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system. 

November 18,



_1910.28(b)(9)(i)(D) — On this date, all fixed ladders extending more than 24 feet above a lower level must be equipped with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system throughout the entire vertical distance of the ladder. 

Mobile Ladder Stands and Mobile Ladder Stand Platforms

OSHA defines a mobile ladder stand as a mobile, fixed-height, self-supporting ladder that usually consists of wheels or casters on a rigid base and steps leading to a top step (29 CFR 1910.21). A mobile ladder stand may also have handrails and is designed for use by one employee at a time. OSHA defines a mobile ladder stand platform as a mobile, fixed-height, self-supporting unit having one or more standing platforms that are provided with means of access or egress.

Per 29 CFR 1910.23(e) employers must ensure that the following general requirements for both mobile ladder stands and platforms are met:

  • Have a step width of at least 16 inches (41 cm)
  • Steps and platforms are slip resistant
  • Capable of supporting at least four times their maximum intended load
  • Wheels or casters under load are capable of supporting their proportional share of four times the maximum intended load, plus their proportional share of the unit's weight
  • Top step height of four feet or more must have handrails with a vertical height of 29.5 inches to 37 inches
  • The maximum work-surface height does not exceed four times the shortest base dimension, without additional support
  • If wheels or casters are equipped on the ladder a system to impede horizontal movement when an employee is on the ladder must be in place
  • Cannot move when an employee is on it

OSHA’s design requirements for mobile ladder stands and platforms are detailed in 29 CFR 1910.23(e). 29 CFR 1910.23(e)(2) covers mobile ladder stands and 1910.23(e)(3) covers mobile ladder stand platforms.

ANSI Standards

ANSI consensus standards on portable ladders include ANSI ASC A14.1-2007 for wood ladders, ANSI ASC A14.2- 2007 for metal ladders ANSI ASC A14.5-2007 for reinforced plastic ladders and ANSI ASC A14.7-2011 for mobile ladder stands and mobile ladder stand platforms. These standards detail the various materials, construction requirements, test requirements, usage guidelines and labeling/marking requirements.

Material Guidelines

ANSI recommends various species of wood that are suitable for ladders. Physical characteristics such as grain, knot, pitch and compression must be controlled when constructing wood ladders. Metal ladders do not have material guidelines.

Reinforced plastic ladders must use fully cured, commercial-grade, thermosetting polyester resin with glass-fiber reinforcement. The environment the finished ladder will encounter (electrical hazards, temperature extremes, corrosion, outdoor weathering, etc.) should determine the material.

Construction Requirements

Construction requirements include weight and size categories for portable ladders. Size categories vary for wood, metal and reinforced plastic materials. The five ladder types and their duty ratings are shown in Table #3.

Table #3


Ladder Type

Duty Rating


Type IAA Ladder


Extra-heavy-duty industrial ladder

Type IA Ladder


Extra-heavy-duty industrial ladder

Type I Ladder


Heavy-duty industrial ladder

Type II Ladder


Medium-duty commercial ladder

Type III Ladder


Light-duty household ladder

Test Requirements

Test requirements for the three ladder materials vary. However, ladders generally are evaluated on their resistance to bending, strength in various positions, and the quality of the individual components that make up the ladder.

Usage Guidelines

Usage guidelines for portable ladders encompass selecting the proper ladder for the job being performed; inspecting before use to verify proper operation and cleanliness; evaluating ladder placement so that footing and top supports are secure and not creating a traffic hazard for pedestrians; utilizing proper climbing technique; and caring for and storing ladders properly.

Marking Requirements

Ladders must be marked with ladder size, type, maximum length, number of sections (if appropriate), highest standing level, total length of sections (if applicable), model number, manufacturer's name, manufacturer's location, and date of manufacture. Usage guidelines and other warning statements must also be placed on the ladders in specific locations depending on ladder type.

Ladder Use

Remember the acronym C.L.I.M.B. supplied courtesy of Louisville Ladder:
C: Choose the right ladder for the job.
L: Look for damaged or missing parts.
I: Insure a safe, stable set-up.
M: Move carefully, using three points of contact.
B: Be a safety expert, not a statistic.

Proper Procedure

Before working with a ladder, read the manufacturer's instructions. Do not use a ladder if sleepy or ill, if you are taking medication, or if there's bad weather. Do not use ladders in doorways or other high-traffic areas. If a ladder must be used near a door, make sure the door is locked and it is marked with warning signs and/or cones. If the door has to be open or the ladder is in a raised position, ask a coworker to stay with the ladder to make sure an accident does not occur. Use fiberglass or wood ladders, rather than metal, near power lines or other sources of electricity to avoid electrical shock hazards. Inspect your ladder for damage before using. During your inspection, if you find it is damaged remove the defective ladder from service and identify it with a “Do Not Use” tag.

Proper Setup

Choose the right ladder for the job. Check the label to make sure it has the proper duty rating and it is long enough for the work to be completed safely. The feet of a ladder should be level and positioned solidly on the ground. If the ground is soft or uneven, use boards under the legs for support. Test the ladder to verify that it is secure. For stability, both sides of the ladder need to be against the wall or other support. The legs on a stepladder should be spread fully and locked into position. Portable ladders must be placed at an angle so they are one foot from the wall for every four feet of working ladder height.

How to Climb

Make sure hands, shoes and ladder rungs are dry. Use a second person to hold the bottom of the ladder and prevent others from disturbing it. Keep a three-point grip on the ladder at all times (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet). Avoid distractions that make you turn away from the front of the ladder. Climb slowly with weight centered between side rails. Do not lean back, and never stand on the top two rungs of a stepladder or top four rungs of an extension ladder.

Ladder Safety Meets the 21st Century

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed a ladder safety app for mobile devices that features a multimodal indicator and a graphic-oriented guide for ladder selection, inspection, positioning, accessorizing and safe use. The app is available in Spanish and can be downloaded for both iOS and Android users.

Commonly Asked Questions

Question: How should I handle objects safely while on a ladder?

Answer: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50% of all ladder related accidents were due to individuals carrying items as they climbed. Keeping tools in a tool belt will keep them handy and free up your hands for climbing. The use of accessories such as tool lanyards to keep tools tethered to the worker can prevent them from falling while working on a ladder. Any heavy or bulky items should be brought up only after you have reached the top. Signs or barricades can be used to warn others that work is proceeding above them, and that they should be aware of possible falling objects.


29 CFR 1910.23, Ladders

29 CFR 1910.28, Duty to have fall protection and falling object protection

29 CFR 1910.29 Fall protection systems and falling object protection-criteria and practices.

ANSI ASC A14.1-2007, Portable Wood Ladder Safety Requirements

ANSI ASC A14.2-2007, Portable Metal Ladder Safety Requirements

ANSI ASC A14.5-2007, Portable Reinforced Plastic Ladder Safety Requirements

ANSI ASC A14.7- 2011, Safety Requirements for Mobile Ladder Stands and Mobile Ladder Stand Platforms Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / NIOSH Ladder Safety App

Louisville Ladder Climb Academy
(Rev. 7/2017)

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.


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