Notice announces the grant of variance to Gannett Outdoor Companies (now operating as Outdoor Systems, Inc.) from the standards prescribed in 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii) and 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(2) concerning fixed ladders used in general industry. The effective date of the variance is March 1, 1991, and it shall remain in effect unless modifed or revoked. The addresses of the places of employment effected are listed, as are the conditions with which the company must comply in lieu of complying with the provisions.



Occupational Safety and Health Administration


Gannett Outdoor Companies: Variance Applications

Friday, March 1, 1991

AGENCY: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Labor.

ACTION: Grant of variance.

SUMMARY: This notice announces the grant of variance to Gannett Outdoor Companies from the standards prescribed in 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii) and 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(2) concerning fixed ladders used in general industry.

DATES: The effective date of the variance is March 1, 1991.


James J. Concannon, Director, Office of Variance Determination, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Third Street and Constitution Avenue, NW., room N3653, Washington, DC 20210, Telephone: (202) 523-7193.

Or the following Regional and Area Offices:

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 133 Portland Street, 1st Floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02114.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, Federal Office Building, 450 Main Street--room 508, Hartford, Connecticut 06103.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 201 Varick Street--room 670, New York, New York 10014.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 500 Route 17 South, Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey 07604.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 32nd Floor--room 3244, 230 South Dearborn Street, Chicago, Illinois 60604.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 2360 East Devon Avenue, suite 1010, Des Plaines, Illinois 60018.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 525 Griffin Square--room 602, Dallas, Texas 75202.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 2320 LaBranch Street--room 1103, Houston, Texas 7704.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 911 Walnut Street--room 406, Kansas City, Missouri 64106.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 4300 Goodfellow Boulevard, Building 105E, St. Louis, Missouri 63120.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, Federal Building--room 1576, 1961 Stout Street, Denver, Colorado 80294.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 1244 Speer Boulevard--suite 360, Denver, Colorado 80204.

U.S. Department of Labor--OSHA, 3221 North 16th Street--suite 100, Phoenix, Arizona 85016.

I. Background

Gannett Outdoor Companies, 535 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022 has made application pursuant to section 6(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (84 Stat. 1596); 29 U.S.C. 655 and 29 CFR 1905.11 for a variance from the Safety standards prescribed in 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii), 1910.27(d)(2) and 1910.27(d)(5). The standards set requirements governing the use of fixed ladders.

The addresses of the places of employment that will be affected by the application are as follows:

Gannett Outdoor Co., Inc., of New Jersey, 185 U.S. Highway 46, Fairfield, NJ 07006.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Colorado, 4647 Ledyen, Denver, CO 80216.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Texas, Katy Freeway/1600 Studemont, Houston, TX 77007.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Kansas City, 2459 Summit Street, Kansas City, MO 64108.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Connecticut, 119 Water Street, New Haven, CT 06500.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Kansas City d/b/a, Gannett Outdoor Co. of St. Louis, 6767 N. Hanley Rd., St. Louis, MO 63134.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Kansas City d/b/a, Gannett Outdoor Co. of Chicago, suite 200, 444 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611.

Gannett Outdoor Co. of Arizona, 2502 North Black Canyon Highway, P.O. Box 934, Phoenix, AZ 85009.

The Federal Register notice of June 29, 1990 (55 FR 26796) notified the public that OSHA had received the variance application and invited interested persons, including affected employers and employees, to submit written comments, data, views and arguments regarding the grant or denial of the variance requested. In addition, affected employers and employees were notified of their right to request a hearing on the variance application. There were five responses to the Federal Register notice of Gannett Outdoor Companies application (Docket No. Gannett 1-90--Exhibits 3-1 through 3-5). The issues raised by the commentators are discussed below. No request for a hearing was received.

Where variance requests involve multiple locations, including one or more in a state with an approved occupational safety and health plan, the variance is granted under the Federal/State Reciprocity Agreement established at 29 CFR 1905.14(b)(3) and under the provisions of 29 CFR 1952.9. Under those provisions, a permanent variance granted by Federal OSHA takes effect in state plan states insofar as the pertinent state standards are identical to those promulgated by Federal OSHA.

The Gannett Outdoor Companies variance request involved multiple locations, including the States of Arizona, California and Michigan, which have OSHA-approved occupational safety and health plans. Our review of the state plans revealed that only the State of Arizona has fixed ladder standards identical to the Federal standards. The state of California exempts cages or wells on "Fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures, where employees wear and use approved safety vbelts and lanyards which can be utilized if a rest period is required" (section 3277, title 8-Register 85, No. 9-3-2-85). On the other hand, the State of Michigan requires that a cage, well or ladder safety device be provided on a fixed ladder between 20 and 30 feet in unbroken length (Michigan Administrative Code Rule 408.10351(1)). For the purpose of its Michigan operations, the applicant would request a variance directly from the state of Michigan.

II. Facts

Gannett Outdoor Companies, the applicant, is engaged in the outdoor advertising business where it uses billboard-type signs, usually on their own structural supports, that in most cases are placed well above the ground level. Employees must climb to a work platform at the bottom of the sign face to change the message on the sign or to perform maintenance.

While on the work platform, employees wear a safety belt or harness with a lanyard attached to a cable or other anchorage fastened to the sign structure, as a positive means of fall prevention. The applicant uses two types of signs. The smaller signs, known as "posters," have a sign face of 12' x 25' on which pre-printed messages are posted. The larger signs are known as "bulletins" or "rotary bulletins." A bulletin has a sign face of 14' x 48' ', which consists of prepainted plywood panels that are attached to the sign structure, usually with the assistance of a boom truck. The advertising messages on both types of signs are changed at regular intervals. Posters are usually changed monthly and bulletins are usually "rotated" every two months. Gannett Outdoor Companies currently maintains approximately 17,361 posters and 4,368 bulletins.

Where the work platform is low (usually 15 feet or less above grade), workers use only portable aluminum ladders to gain access to the platform. On platforms more than 15 feet above grade, there is usually a metal ladder permanently attached to the sign structure. To restrict public access to work platforms, the fixed ladder on most signs starts at 12 to 15 feet above grade. Employees climb a portable ladder to reach the bottom of the fixed ladder and then climb the fixed ladder up to the work platform. This means of ascent, with combined use of fixed and portable ladders shall hereinafter be referred to as a combination ladder. The average height above grade of the applicant's sign platforms is approximately 23 feet.

The applicant requests a variance from the following standards:

29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii), which requires that cages and wells be provided on ladders of more than 20 feet to a maximum unbroken length of 30 feet;

29 CFR 1910.27(d)(2), which states in part that when ladders are used to ascend to heights exceeding 20 feet, landing platforms shall be provided for each 30 feet of height or fraction thereof, except that, where no cage, wells or ladder safety device is provided, landing platforms shall be provided for each 20 feet of height or fraction thereof.

29 CFR 1910.27(d)(5), which states that ladder safety devices may be used on towers, water tanks and chimney ladders over 20 feet in unbroken lenth in lieu of cage protection. No landing platform is required when ladder safety devices are used.

The purpose of the cage, well and landing platform standards is to require an appropriate means of rest should a climber become fatigued. The ladder safety device is designed either to prevent accidental falls from ladders or to limit the length of such falls.

In lieu of installing cages or wells and landing platforms as required by 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(l)(ii) and 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(2), respectively, the applicant proposes to equip a qualified climber with an 18-inch lanyard attached to a safety belt or harness for climbs either or fixed ladders up to 50 feet or a height up to 65 feet from grade. A qualified climber (as defined in the proposed § 1910.21(b), April 10, 1990) is "An employee who by virtue of physical capabilities, training, work experience and job assignment, is authorized by the employer to routinely climb fixed ladders, step belts or similar climbing device attached to structures." The applicant states that the 18-inch lanyard provides a ladder rest attachment which is as safe for the climber as the use of a cage, well or landing platform. For ladders on which the length of climb exceeds 50 feet or which ascend to heights exceeding 65 feet from grade, whichever is less, the applicant proposes to have a climber use a ladder safety device in lieu of cages, wells or landing platforms.

Moreover, the applicant will continue to require all of its employees who routinely climb fixed ladders to undergo training in climbing and demostrate the physical capability to perform the necessary climbs safely. The applicant will permit only workers who satisfy the "qualified climber" requirements regarding training and physical ability, found in the proposed revision of 29 CFR part 1910, subpart D (proposed § 1910.32(b)(5); April 10, 1990), to climb fixed ladders. According to the applicant, this will result in additional safety, compared to compliance with the existing standards, because of the assurance that qualified climbers have the training and physical ability to climb ladders safely. The use of fixed ladders on outdoor advertising signs is not mandated by any past or current OSHA standard. Therefore, the applicant could substitute the use of portable ladders for climbs up to 60 feet above grade (29 CFR 1910.26(a)(2)(ii)). The applicant states that the practice of using its combination ladders has been and continues to be regarded by the outdoor advertising industry as inherently safer than using portable ladders to reach all sign platforms.

There has never been a safety problem with the applicant's use of combination ladders on outdoor advertising structures. All available accident records indicate that the risk of falls by workers while climbing the fixed ladder portion of its combination ladder is virtually nonexistent. From 1969 to 1977, for example, the three largest outdoor advertising companies in California, with a combined total of 21,000 structures, recorded no falls by employees from fixed ladders. Employees of those three California companies made over 1.5 million climbs during that period without a single fall. The applicant notes that more recent statistics confirm that conclusion. The Gannett Outdoor companies of California, for example, shows no falls from fixed ladders in 1984 to the present. During that period, employees of the Gannett Outdoor Companies of California made over 205,000 climbs. In addition, the records for a recent five year period at Gannett Outdoor companies of Michigan, which has over 3,500 signs, indicate that no employees feel while climbing fixed ladders on sign structures. Thus, the applicant's use of fixed combination ladders, without cages, wells or landing platforms does not appear to present a safety hazard. In support of the application, the applicant has submitted a detailed training program which outlines safe work procedures for, among other things, the use of combination ladders and 18-inch rest lanyards.

III. Comments

In response to the Federal Register notice published on June 29, 1990 (50 FR 26797), five comments were received (Docket No. V-90-1, Exhibits 3-1 through 3-5).

In one of the comment letters (Ex. 3-1), the commenters asked OSHA to deny Gannett's application, but the substance of their comment provided some support for the application. First, the commenters did not request that OSHA require the installation of cages or wells on fixed ladders. Second, the commenters advocated the use of ladder safety devices on all fixed ladders and expressed concern that, under the permanent variance, the applicant would discontinue the use of those ladder safety devices already installed on billboard ladders in favor of rest lanyards. OSHA notes that the variance application proposes the use of ladder safety devices in lieu of cages or wells on sign structures which satisfy the height criteria set out in the Facts discussion above. In addition, the applicant has informed OSHA that ladder safety devices have already been installed on some of its billboards and that those devices will not be removed. Finally, the commenters, in effect, agreed with the applicant that while shifting to the use of portable ladders to access the taller signs would not violate current regulations, such a change would present a greater hazard for employees. One of the commenters who was involved in the preparation of Ex. 3-1 restated the points discussed above in a comment (Ex. 10-214 in Docket S-041) on Issue 1 (Application of Qualified Climber concept to Outdoor Advertising Industry and Use of Rest Lanyards by Qualified Climbers) of the hearing notice for proposed subpart D.

Two of the respondents (Exs. 3-2 and 3-3) did not discuss the merits of the variance application, but supported the comments presented above (Ex. 3- 1). One of the respondents (Ex. 3-3) urged OSHA to deny the variance application based on the general safety concerns expressed by the commentators in Ex 3-1.

One commenter (Ex. 3-4) objected to the granting of the variance and recommended a ladder safety device as a means of protecting employees from fall hazards while climbing fixed ladders to access working platforms. The commenter also addressed general billboard safety issues rather than matters pertinent to the variance application. These issues will be addressed in the above-mentioned subpart D rulemaking.

Another commenter (Ex. 3-5) stated "the use of a portable ladder to make a mid-air transfer to a fixed ladder without even the benefit of a landing platform should be discouraged." Regarding the use of an 18-inch rest lanyard, the commenter stated that the variance would not offer protection equal to or better than that provided through compliance with the existing standards. In particular, the commenter stated:

A ladder cage is always in place providing protection without effort by the employee. It provides protection should an employee fall backwards allowing them a chance to catch themselves and get another grip on the ladder. The proposed eighteen-inch lanyard would not protect the employee who loses their grip or mis-steps on the ladder.

The commenter also stated that compared to a ladder safety device, which would protect the employee by arresting a fall, "there is no reason to consider this variance request equal to exisitng standards nor better." OSHA notes, however, that existing 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(5), which regulates the use of ladder safety devices, does not provide for the use of ladder safety devices on billboard ladders.

Moreover, cage and well installation can be hazardous. As one member of the California OSHA Advisory Committee put it in the "minutes" of a meeting where the promulgation of California exception to the fixed ladders standard (discussed above) was considered:

People in the outdoor advertising industry were highly expertise at working from and climbing ladders as would be firemen, linemen, etc. It was recognized that because of the safety belt system that we utilized and that each employee wear a safety belt when working above ground at any height, the outdoor advertising employee had a built in safety that superseded whatever advantage a cage could supply. A cage does not prevent a fall, but merely gives the victim something to bounce off from or become entangled into on the way down.

According to the Outdoor Advertising Association of American, Inc. (OAAA) (Ex. 3-62 in Docket S-041, the walking and working surfaces rulemaking record), only physically qualified climbers are allowed to climb fixed ladders on sign platforms. Workers climb the combination ladders as part of their daily work routine and receive extensive training in their use and maintenance.

Moreover, the OAAA explained:

The unique elevated access of fixed ladders in the outdoor advertising industry does not lend itself to the use of cages. Pursuant to 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(iv) the bottom of the cage must be at a level not less than seven feet above the point of access. A fixed ladder on a sign structure that is at a height of 25 feet from grade, with an access point of 15 feet from grade, is only 10 feet in length. If the cage requirement applied to that situation, the cage would start only 3 feet from the bottom of the work-platform.

OSHA received testimony supporting the variance application at the public hearing on proposed subpart D from the Sign & Pictorial Painters Local Union 820 (Tr. 9-11-90, p. 57), the OAAA (Tr. 9-11-90, p. 83) and the United Steelworkers of America (Tr. 9-14-90, p. 1387). In addition, the posthearing submission by Penn Advertising, Inc. (Ex. 84) supported the variance application and indicated that Penn's fall protection program for climbers was very similar to that set out in the variance application.

IV. Decision

As noted above, the use of fixed ladders on outdoor advertising signs has never been mandated by OSHA. Therefore, Gannett could have its employees access billboards by complying with existing 29 CFR 1910.25 or 1910.26, using portable extension ladders up to 60 feet in length. The applicant and other members of the outdoor advertising industry have indicated that the use of a combination ladder, as described above, is inherently safer than using only portable ladders to reach all sign platforms. OSHA believes that where the fixed ladder sections of combination ladders extend less than 50 feet or where the height of the platform above grade is less than 65 feet the installation and maintenance of ladder safety devices, cages, wells or landing platforms on those fixed ladders would expose employees to a greater hazard than having climbs performed by qualified climbers equipped with rest lanyards.

The State of California has allowed the use of a rest lanyard in lieu of cages or wells since 1978. As stated above, the California standard does not require that "Fixed ladders on outdoor advertising structures, have a cage or well, where employees use an approved safety belt and lanyard which can be used if a rest period is required."

As noted above, Gannett Outdoor of California shows no falls from fixed ladders during 1984 to the present. During that period workers for Gannett Outdoor of California made over 250,000 climbs. The other accident data indicate that the applicant has never had a problem ensuring the safety of its employees while using combination ladders.

Although the applicant has requested a variance from the ladder safety device requirement in 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(5), such devices are not required on billboard ladders. Therefore, OSHA has determined that a variance from 29 CFR 1910.29(d)(5) is not necessary. However, the Order accompanying this notice requires the applicant to use ladder safety devices to assure the safety of employees climbing fixed ladders at heights over 65 feet from grade or when length of fixed ladder climb is over 50 feet, whichever is less. Moreover, the Order provides that the applicant will maintain and use those ladder safety devices currently installed on its billboard fixed ladders. Based on its review of the record for this proceeding and its evaluation of the potential fall hazards for qualified climbers on combination ladders, OSHA has determined that ladder safety devices need not be installed on fixed ladders which are below the thresholds discussed above.

OSHA has determined that the successful completion of the applicant's training program in conjunction with the use of 18-inch rest lanyards, as set out in the Order below, will permit the applicant's employees to perform the necessary climbs safely.

The Agency notes that, based on existing 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(iv) (which requires that cages extend down a latter to within 7 to 8 feet above the base), if OSHA required installation of cages on billboard fixed ladders, the cages would start between 2 and 3 feet from the bottom of most work platforms. OSHA believes this scenario indicates that application of 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii) and (d)(2) to billboard ladders is not appropriate. Therefore, pending completion of the subpart D rulemaking, the Agency will require Gannett to comply with the Order set out below in lieu of complying with the above-referenced standards.

The 50-foot limit on the length of fixed ladders covered by this variance is based on ergonomic data, which indicates that employees can climb 50 feet on a fixed ladder without increased risk of falling due to fatigue. The limit is also based on proposed subpart D (proposed 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(16). The proposed requirement, which is based on the ANSI standard for fixed ladders, A14.3-1984, section 4.1, provides that the length of continuous climb on a fixed ladder equipped only with a cage or well shall not exceed 50 feet. Insofar as OSHA has concluded that the applicant's alternative means of compliance with the existing fixed ladder standards is equivalent to the use of cages or wells, the Agency believes it is appropriate to set consistent limits on their use.

As part of the Order, the applicant will be required to comply with the provisions for "qualified climbers" set out in proposed subpart D (proposed 29 CFR 1910.32(b)(5)). Compliance with the "qualified climber" provision will ensure that all employees using 18-inch rest lanyards in lieu of cages or wells have been properly trained and are physically capable of climbing safely.

It appears from the application, and supporting data that the use of an 18- inch rest lanyard is as safe as the use of cages, wells, or landing platforms for resting should a climber become fatigued. The applicant has furnished information which indicates that there have been no accidents while using the fixed combination ladders, that the applicant's training program ensures the safety of employees who climb combination ladders, and that only qualified climbers will be allowed to use the 18-inch rest lanyard. Therefore, based on the record discussed above, OSHA has determined that compliance with the terms of the Order set out below, will provide employment and places of employment which are safe and healthful as those which would provided if the applicant were to comply with the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii) and 29 CFR 19101.27(d)(2).

IV. Order

Pursuant to section 6(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Secretary of Labor's Order No. 1-91 (55 FR 9033) and 29 CFR part 1905, it is ordered that Gannett Outdoor Companies is authorized to comply with the following conditions in lieu of complying with the provisions in 29 CFR 1910.27(d)(1)(ii) and 1910.27(d)(2).

1. Each employee who climbs combination ladders shall wear a safety belt or body harness equipped with an appropriate 18-inch rest lanyard as a means to tie off to the fixed ladder on lengths of climbs on fixed ladder of up to feet or heights of up to 65 feet from grade.

2. Each employee shall have both hands free of tools or material when climbing or descending a ladder.

3. Each employee who climbs combination ladders where the length of fixed ladder climb exceeds 50 feet or where the ladder ascends to heights exceeding 65 feet from grade shall be protected through the installation of appropriate ladder safety devices for the entire length of fixed ladder climb.

4. Each employee who climb fixed ladders equipped with ladder safety devices shall use those devices properly and shall follow appropriate procedures for inspection and maintenance of those devices.

5. Each employee who routinely climbs fixed ladders shall undergo training and demonstrate the physical capability to safely perform the necessary climbs. These employees shall satisfy the "qualified climber" requirements in proposed 29 CFR 1910.32(b)(5) (proposed subpart D), as follows:

A. Qualified climbers shall be physically capable (demonstrated though observations of actual climbing activities or by a physical examination) of performing the duties which may be assigned to them;

B. Qualified climbers shall have successfully completed a training or apprenticeship program that covered hands-on traning for the safe climbing of ladders or step bolts and shall be retrained as necessary to ensure the necessary skills are maintained;

C. The employer shall ensure through performance observations, and formal classroom or on-the-job training that the qualified climber has the skill to safely perform the climbing;

D. Qualified climbers shall have climbing duties as one of their routine work activities; and

E. Qualified climbers, when reaching their work position, shall be protected by an appropriate fall protection system.

6. All ladder safety devices that are currently installed on Gannett's fixed ladders less than 50 feet in length of climb or which ascend to heights less than 65 feet above grade shall be properly maintained and used by employees.

Effective date: This order shall become effective on March 1, 1991, and shall remain in effect unless otherwise modified or revoked in accordance with section 6(d) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.

Signed at Washington, DC on this 25th day of February, 1991.

Gerard F. Scannell,

Assistant Secretary of Labor.

[FR Doc. 91-4912 Filed 2-28-91; 8:45 am]


56 FR 8801-01