OSHA Proposed Changes to Ladder Requirements

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: February 2nd, 2012
Topics: Ladders |

OSHA fall protection requirements for general industry are set out primarily in the Walking-Working Surfaces standards—Subpart D. On May 24, 2010, OSHA proposed changes to Subpart D. Some of the most significant changes affect the requirements for ladders. Here’s an overview of what OSHA is proposing.

Consolidation of Ladder Requirements


Currently, the rules governing ladder safety are scattered in 3 standards: Sec.  1910.25 (portable wood ladders), 1910.26 (portable metal ladders) and 1910.27 (fixed ladders). OSHA wants to consolidate all of the ladder rules into a single standard—which would be 1910.23.

Key Changes

Substantively, most of the current requirements will remain in place. But a few changes have been proposed, including:

  • Exempt ladders built into machines and used for rescue operations and firefighting from the standard;
  • Current rule which requires rungs to be spaced 12 inches (30 cm) apart would be replaced with a rule that allows for spacing between 10 and 14 inches between rungs—the same as under the Construction standard—subject to some exceptions;
  • New requirement that rungs, cleats and steps of stepstools be spaced between 8 and 12 inches, as measured between the center lines;
  • Requirement that ladder rungs and steps have a minimum clear width of 11.5 inches (29 cm) for portable ladders and 16 inches (41 cm) for individual rung and fixed ladders—except: i. manhole entry ladders supported by manhole openings which would have to have rungs or steps that have a clear width of at least 9 inches (23 cm); and ii. rolling ladders used in telecommunications which would have to have a clear width of at least 8 inches (20 cm);
  • New requirement that wooden ladders not be coated or covered with any material that obscures structural defects—same requirement as in Construction;
  • New requirement that ladders be free of puncture or laceration hazards;
  • New requirement that all ladders be used only for their designed purpose;
  • All ladders—not just portable wooden ladders—would have to be inspected for defects before use;
  • New specific climbing restriction requirements based on rules already contained in the Construction standard;
  • Ban on use of portable single rail ladders;
  • Ban on placing ladders in traffic locations unless protections are employed, as under the Construction standard;
  • More stringent load bearing requirements would apply to fixed ladders—such ladders would have to be able to support 2 live loads of at least 250 pounds (113 kg) each, concentrated between any 2 consecutive attachments, plus loads caused by ice, winds, rigging and impact loads from use of ladder safety systems;
  • Minimum perpendicular distance from the centerline of the steps and rungs, or grab bars, or both, to the nearest permanent object in back of the ladder would be 7 inches (18 cm), except that for an elevator pit ladder, minimum perpendicular clearance would be 4.5 inches (11 cm);
  • Employer must ensure that grab bars don’t protrude on the climbing side beyond the rungs of the ladder which they serve.