Fall Protection Know-how

Portable Metal Ladders: A 10-Step Compliance Gameplan

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: May 22nd, 2013
Topics: Fall Protection | Ladders | Slips, Trips and Falls |

Falls are the leading cause of workplace injuries—and OSHA fines. The OSHA rules for fall prevention in general industry are set out in the Walking-Working Surfaces (29 CFR 1910, Subpart D) standard.  Two of the standards in Subpart D specifically address portable ladders. Here’s a compliance game plan for the standard on portable metal ladders, Section 1910.26.


The Portable Metal Ladders standard affects you if:

i. you’re subject to the General Industry, as opposed to the Construction, Maritime or Agriculture requirements; and

ii. you use any of the 8 kinds of ladders the standard covers:

  1. Step ladders, i.e., self-supporting portable ladders that are nonadjustable in length and have flat steps and hinged back;
  2. Single ladders, i.e., non-self-supporting portable ladders that are nonadjustable in length and consist of only one section;
  3. Extension ladders, i.e., non-self-supporting portable ladders that are adjustable in length and consist of 2 or more sections traveling in guides or brackets arranged so as to permit length adjustment;
  4. Platform ladders, i.e., self-supporting ladders of fixed size with a platform at the working level;
  5. Sectional ladders, i.e., a non-self-supporting portable ladders that are non-adjustable in length and consist of 2 or more sections constructed so that the sections may be combined to function as a single ladder;
  6. Trestle ladders, i.e., self-supporting portable ladders that are non-adjustable in length and consist of 2 sections, hinged at the top to form equal angles with the base;
  7. Extension trestle ladders, i.e., self-supporting portable ladders that are adjustable in length and consist of a trestle ladder base and vertically adjustable single ladder, with suitable means for locking the ladders together; and
  8. Special-purpose ladders, i.e., portable ladders that are either a modification or combination of design or construction features in one of the other general-purpose ladders noted above, so as to adapt the ladder to special or specific uses.


Here are the steps to you must take to comply if you are covered by the Portable Metal Ladders Standards.

Step 1: Make Sure Portable Metal Ladders Are Properly Designed

Ensure that no matter which of the 8 types of portable metal ladders described above that you use, the design is free of structural defects and accident hazards like sharp edges and burrs.

Step 2: Make Sure Ladders Are Properly Constructed

You must ensure that the metal the portable ladder is made of is strong enough to meet test requirements and take steps to protect the metal from corrosion (unless the metal is inherently corrosion-resistant).

Step 3: Make Sure Rungs and Steps Meet Safety Standards

Spacing of rungs or steps must be on 12-inch centers. You also have to ensure that rungs and steps are corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material or treated to minimize slipping risks.

Step 4: Make Sure Workers Use Ladders Properly

You must take steps to ensure workers use ladders properly and safely. Specifically, you must ensure that:

  • The base is placed a distance from the vertical wall equal to 1/4 the working length of the ladder to ensure a safe angle;
  • Portable ladders are designed as a one-man working ladder based on a 200-pound load;
  • The ladder base section is placed with a secure footing;
  • The top of the ladder is placed with the 2 rails supported, unless equipped with a single support attachment;
  • The climber faces the ladder when climbing up or down;
  • Ladders aren’t tied or fastened together to provide longer sections;
  • Ladders are equipped with the hardware fittings necessary if the manufacturer endorses extended uses;
  • Ladders aren’t used as a brace, skid, guy or gin pole, gangway or for other uses than that for which they were intended, unless specifically recommended for use by the manufacturer; and
  • Electrical safety safe work practices (required by Sec. 1910.333(c) of the General Industry Standard) are used when work is performed on or near electric circuits.

Step 5: Make Sure Workers Take Proper Care of Ladders

Ensure that users follow good safe practices in the use and care of ladder equipment, ladders are maintained in good usable condition at all times and ladders are cleaned of oil, grease, or slippery materials, e.g., via a solvent or steam cleaning, each time they’re exposed to oil, grease, or slippery materials.

Step 6: Make Sure Ladders Are Properly Inspected

Ladders must be regularly inspected. In addition, immediate inspection is required if ladders tip over including:

  • Inspection of side rails dents or bends or excessively dented rungs;
  •  Checking of all rung-to-side-rail connections;
  • Checking of hardware connections; and
  • Checking of rivets for shear.

Also make sure that ladders found to have defects are marked and taken out of service until repaired by either the maintenance department or manufacturer.

Step 7: Make Sure Specific Requirements for Straight & Extension Ladders Are Met

The requirements set out in Steps 1 to 6above apply to all 8 types of portable metal ladders covered by the standard. The standard also includes specific requirements for particular types of those ladders. So you need to be aware of the ladder type and the requirements that apply. Accordingly, straight and extension ladders must meet the following requirements:

  • The width between side rails must be at least12 inches;
  • Single ladder and extension ladders can’t be longer than 30 feet;
  • Two-section ladders can’t be longer than 48 feet;
  • Over two-section ladders can’t be longer than 60 feet;
  • Each section of a multisection ladder must overlap the adjacent section by at least the following number of feet: