OSHA ladder cage requirements update: any need to change your fixed ladders?

Fixed ladders with safety cages have been a common part of America’s industrial workspaces for decades. Often used for roof and equipment access, caged ladders are fixed ladders featuring a semi-circle of metal which encloses the climber. OSHA defines this cage as an enclosure mounted on the side rails of a fixed ladder or fastened to a structure behind the fixed ladder that is designed to surround the climbing space of the ladder. In 2017 updates were made to the OSHA ladder cage requirements to help improve safety in the workplace. 

caged-ladderToday, caged ladders are commonly used in warehouses and manufacturing facilities, for roof ladder cages, on the side of buildings, on ships and for tank and railcar access. However, by 2036, caged ladders will be a thing of the past.

OSHA fixed ladder cage requirements

The OSHA fixed ladder cage requirements for Existing fixed ladders that extend more than 24' above a lower level, are that each fixed ladder installed before November 19, 2018 is equipped with a personal fall arrest system, ladder safety system, cage, or well.

For New fixed ladders, Each fixed ladder installed on and after November 19, 2018, is equipped with a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system;
 
 
For Replacement fixed ladders, When a fixed ladder, cage, or well, or any portion of a section thereof, is replaced, a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system is installed in at least that section of the fixed ladder, cage, or well where the replacement is located; and
 
 
OSHA set a Final deadline of November 18, 2036, after which point all fixed ladders are equipped with a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system.
 

OSHA ladder cage requirements 2021

OSHA ladder cage requirements at this time are that any existing fixed ladders that extend more than 24' above a lower level and installed before November 19, 2018 is equipped with a personal fall arrest system, ladder safety system, cage, or well.

For any new or replacement fixed ladders installed after November 19, 2018  that extend more than 24' above a lower level, each fixed ladder must be installed with a personal fall arrest system or ladder safety system. 

OSHA updated the fixed ladder fall protection requirements in 2017. Fall protection is now required on all fixed ladders that extend higher than 24 feet. (Previously, OSHA required cages for fixed ladders taller than 20 feet.)

 

Cages are no longer considered compliant fall protection in newly installed or replacement fixed ladders extending higher than 24 feet. To meet OSHA standards, a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system is required.

As of November 19th, 2036, cages will no longer be accepted as a form of fall protection on any fixed ladder and all fixed ladders taller than feet high must use a ladder safety system or a personal fall arrest system.

OSHA 1910 caged ladder updates

In 2017, OSHA published its Final Rule to Update, Align, and Provide Greater Flexibility in its General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection Standards. The new rule includes requirements to protect workers from falling off fixed and portable ladders, including caged ladders which will eventually be phased out as a means of fall protection.

The current OSHA Standard 1910 states:

  • Fall protection is required on all fixed ladders that extend higher than 24 feet. (Previously, OSHA required cages for fixed ladders taller than 20 feet.)
  • Cages are no longer considered compliant fall protection in newly installed or replacement fixed ladders extending higher than 24 feet. To meet OSHA standards, a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system is required.
  • As of November 19th, 2036, cages will no longer be accepted as a form of fall protection on any fixed ladder and all fixed ladders taller than feet high must use a ladder safety system or a personal fall arrest system.

Cage ladder alternatives (least to most effective)

Even though current caged ladders can remain in place until 2035, continuing to use them as they exist is taking a chance with climber safety. Several enhancements to or alternatives to caged ladders provide more efficient fall protection solutions that are both easy to use and provide increased protection.

  • Personal fall arrest system (PFAS) – A personal fall arrest system includes a harness, lanyard, and suitable anchor point. The type of connection may include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline, or a suitable combination of these. Examples of personal fall protection systems include a personal fall arrest system for fixed ladders, positioning systems, and travel restraint systems.

  • Ladder Safety System - While still requiring a harness, an ladder safety system features rails or cables that run the length of the ladder vertically. The climber attaches their harness to the trolley or rope grab and proceeds to climb. 

  • Replacing ladders with stairways -  Lapeyre Stair and other experts recommend replacing caged ladders and fixed ladders with stairways whenever possible. Stairways are safer, more comfortable, and have ergonomic advantages over ladders. If space allows, provide employees with standard stair systems with adequate tread depth. For space restricted applications, an alternating tread device is a safer option. 

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Conclusion

Caged ladders have been a standard device for decades but are now being phased out. Studies have shown that cages do not protect workers. Employers should consider replacing caged ladders with alternative means of fall protection. Optimally, employers should  consider replacing ladders with stairways whenever possible. 

FAQ

Are Cage Ladders Safe?

Caged ladders have historically been used as a means of fall protection. Fixed ladders with cages were originally designed to prevent falling backward, but not falling downward. However, according to a 2004 study by Safety Squared, Preliminary Investigation into the Fall-Arresting Effectiveness of Ladder Safety Hoops, fixed ladders with cages don’t provide fall-arrest capability.

The idea behind the cage ladder is if the climber slips, the cage will keep the climber close enough to the ladder to catch himself. But the Safety Squared study determined the chances of this are very small. Even in cases where the cage does “catch” the climber, rescue can be difficult and significant and even fatal injuries can occur.

Until recently, most safety standards for fixed ladders with cages have not changed since they were implemented nearly 30 years ago. According to OSHA, falls from ladders account for 20 percent of all fatal and lost work-day injuries in general industry.