The Dangers of Fixed Ladders with Cages

Fixed ladders with cages are found attached to many businesses today. Most of the time, they have been there for many years. However, workers do fall from fixed ladders with cages, resulting in serious injuries and fatalities. Are fixed ladders with cages the best option to keep workers safer at height? Simply put, fixed ladders with cages shouldn’t be an option at all. According to a study prepared by Safety Squared in 2004, Preliminary Investigation into the Fall-Arresting Effectiveness of Ladder Safety Hoops, fixed ladders with cages don’t provide fall-arrest capability.

Although OSHA has requirements for fixed ladders in 29 CFR 1910.27(d), these requirements assume that a fixed ladder is an effective option for keeping workers safe as they climb. Studies like the one prepared by Safety Squared beg the question, why aren’t more regulations and updated standards implemented for fixed ladder cages? Some people believe that if a worker slips while climbing a fixed ladder, the cage will keep the worker close enough to the ladder to catch himself. The experts who conducted the Safety Squared study concluded that the probability of the worker catching himself is very small. Even if the cage catches the worker, rescue would be difficult, and the event could lead to a significant or fatal injury. Simply stated, fixed ladders with cages do not provide the same level of protection as a fall arrest system.

Fixed ladders with cages were originally designed to arrest falling backward, but not to arrest falling downward. According to this 2004 study and others like it, much of the public is unaware of what fixed ladder cages actually do in the event of a fall. The same seems to be true for many safety organizations. In fact, most safety standards for fixed ladders with cages have not changed since they were implemented nearly 30 years ago.  Results from multiple experiments have shown that fall arrest systems arrest falls backward and downward, while fixed ladder cages only occasionally prevent workers from falling downward.

According to the Safety Squared study, some experts assume that fixed ladders with cages have an advantage over fall arrest systems: they can protect workings using the ladder with no supervision, training, or special equipment. Even if this assumption were true, using a fixed ladder cage is taking a gamble. There are more efficient fall protection solutions that are both easy to use and provide 100 percent linear protection.

A better solution would be a ladder mounted fall arrest system, such as a cable or vertical track. Cable systems are a more popular choice than vertical track systems because the cable is often cheaper. However, Rigid Lifelines® prefers vertical track systems to cable systems because vertical track systems require less maintenance, last longer, and enable multiple workers to access the system at once. Whether you choose cable or track, the biggest advantage of vertical systems is that they virtually eliminate swing fall because the potential fall distance is only a few inches.

A great example of a vertical track system is the one installed at the top of the One World Trade Center spire. This system was designed to protect multiple workers as they climb to the top of the 1,975 linear feet of track—both vertically and horizontally. This ensures that workers are protected at any point on the ladder as they move up the spire. Although this vertical track system is massive, the same principles apply as an alternative to cable systems at any height. Regardless of which system you choose, both a cable and vertical track system allow workers to climb freely without the fear of falling in any direction.

Although fixed ladders with cages are still an acceptable form of fall protection for OSHA, our goal shouldn’t be to meet  OSHA requirements. Our goal should be to exceed them and provide workers with the safest fall protection solution available.

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Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer |
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.