Because of their ability to protect workers, as well as other individuals, from fall-related injury, many people assume that cages are required for fixed ladders. As shown above, a cage creates an enclosed design around a fixed ladder. When climbing up or down a fixed ladder, workers are less likely to fall because of the cage. So, does the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require the use of a cage on fixed ladders?
OSHA's Stance on Ladder Cages
In the past, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classified fixed ladder cages as fall protection. As a result, workers could climb up and down tall ladders without wearing a harness or other fall protection system, assuming the fixed ladder had a cage. In 2018, however, OSHA updated its guidelines to eliminate the use of a cage as fall protection for fixed ladders.
Under the new guidelines, workers can no longer rely strictly on a cage when climbing a fixed ladder. To remain compliant, workers must use some other type of fall protection system, such as a fall arrest system or harness.
It's important to note that OSHA isn't enforcing this requirement -- not yet, at least. Rather, the new standard will take effect beginning Nov. 16, 2036, at which point OSHA will begin to cite employers for noncompliance.
Safety Tips to Follow When Climbing a Fixed Ladder
Whether a fixed ladder has a cage or not, there are several ways to lower your risk of fall-related injury when climbing it. For starters, always maintain at three points of contact. In words, you should have two feet and one hand or one foot and two hands on the ladder at all times.
It's also a good idea to inspect the fixed ladder before climbing it. Over time, fixed ladders can degrade, making them susceptible to failure. If a fixed ladder fails while you are climbing it, you may fall and injure yourself.
For tall ladders measuring over 24 feet, fall protection must be used. Fall protection isn't optional. To comply with OSHA's guidelines, all workers must use a fall protection system when climbing ladders taller than 24 feet.
Workers should use caution when climbing any ladder. Because fixed ladders are typically taller than portable ladders, though, they generally carry a greater risk of injury. OSHA is hoping to lower rates of fall-related injury among workers, however, by eliminating the use of cages as fall protection. Employers have until Nov. 16, 2036 to update their policies and train their workers on the new standard.