OSHA ladder requirements:
Safety checklists

Blog » OSHA ladder requirements: Safety checklists According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities program, from 2011 to 2016, there were 836 fatal injuries from falling from a ladder. Ladders used in the workplace have specific requirements set forth by OSHA. This blog post provides a checklist for general ladder requirements for all ladders and specific types of ladders and their unique requirements.

General requirements of all ladders

All ladders have general requirements that must be followed for safe use.

Employers must ensure:

  • 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 cm) and not more than 14 inches (36 cm) apart when measured between the centerlines of the rungs, cleats, and steps
  • Steps on stepstools are spaced not less than 8 inches (20 cm) apart and not more than 12 inches (30 cm) apart, as measured between the centerlines of the steps
  • Ladder rungs, steps, and cleats have a minimum width of 11.5 inches (29 cm) on portable ladders and 16 inches (41 cm) for fixed ladders
  • 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 purposes 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
  • Any ladder with structural or other defects should be immediately tagged “Dangerous: Do Not Use” or with similar language and removed from service until repaired or replaced
  • Each employee faces the ladder when climbing up or down
  • Each employee uses at least one hand to grasp the ladder when climbing up and down
  • Employees should not carry any object or load that could cause them to lose balance and fall while climbing up or down the ladder

General requirements of portable ladders

Portable ladders (step, straight, combination, and extension) usually consist of side rails joined at intervals by steps, rungs, or cleats. They can be self-supporting or can lean against a supporting structure. Portable ladders have their requirements for safe use.

The employer must ensure:

  • Rungs and steps of portable metal ladders are corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material, or treated to minimize the possibility of slipping
  • Each stepladder or combination ladder used in a stepladder mode is equipped with a metal spreader or locking device that securely holds the front and back sections in an open position while the ladder is in use
  • Ladders are not loaded beyond the maximum capacity
  • Ladders are used only on stable and level surfaces unless they are secured or stabilized to prevent accidental displacement
  • No portable single rail ladders are used
  • No ladder is moved, shifted, or extended while an employee is on it
  • Ladders placed in locations such as passageways or doorways where other activities can accidentally displace them are secured or guarded by a temporary barricade (such as cones or caution tape)
  • The cap (if equipped) and the top step of a stepladder are not used as steps
  • Ladders used on slippery surfaces are secured and stabilized
  • The top of a non-self-supporting ladder is placed so both side rails are supported unless the ladder is equipped with a single support attachment
  • Portable ladders used to gain access to an upper landing surface have side rails that extend at least 3 feet (0.9 m) above the upper landing surface
  • Ladders and ladder sections are not tied or fastened together to provide added length unless they are specifically designed for that use
  • Ladders are not placed on boxes or other unstable surfaces to obtain additional height

General requirements of fixed ladders

Fixed ladders are permanently attached to a structure, building, or equipment. These include individual-rung ladders but not ship stairs, step bolts, or utility hole steps. Fixed ladders have their own set of general requirements for safe use.

The employer must ensure:

  • Fixed ladders can support their maximum intended load
  • The minimum perpendicular distance from the centerline of the steps, rungs, or grab bars to the nearest permanent object to the back of the ladder is 7 inches (18 cm)
  • Grab bars do not protrude on the climbing side beyond the rungs of the ladder
  • The side rails of through or sidestep ladders extend 42 inches (1.1 m) above the top of the access level or landing platform served by the ladder
  • For through ladders, the steps or rungs are omitted from the extensions, and the side rails are flared to provide not less than 24 inches (61cm) and not more than 30 inches (76 cm) of clearance. When a ladder safety system is provided, the maximum clearance between side rails of the extension must not exceed 36 inches (91 cm)
  • For sidestep ladders, the side rails, rungs, and steps must be continuous in the extension
  • Grab bars must extend 42 inches (1.1 m) above the access level or landing platforms served by the ladder
  • The minimum size (cross-section) of grab bars is the same as the rungs of the ladder
  • When a fixed ladder terminates at a hatch, the hatch cover must open with sufficient clearance to provide easy access to or from the ladder and must open at least 70 degrees from horizontal if the hatch is counterbalanced
  • Individual-rung ladders are constructed to prevent the employee’s feet from sliding off the ends of the rungs
  • Fixed ladders having a pitch greater than 90 degrees from the horizontal must not be used
  • Fixed ladders that do not have cages or wells must have a clear width of at least 15 inches (38 cm) on each side of the ladder centerline to the nearest permanent object and a minimum perpendicular distance of 30 inches (76 cm) from the centerline of the steps or rungs to the nearest object on the climbing side