OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

December 18, 1991

Mr. Joseph T. Prendergast, President
American Ski Federation
207 Constitution Avenue N.E.
Washington D.C. 20002

Dear Mr. Prendergast:

This is in response to your letter of October 18, to Mr. Raymond Donnelly of my staff. You refer to a recent decision by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to grant a variance to the Gannett Outdoor Companies with respect to the fixed ladders they employ in their outdoor advertising specifically involving billboards. You state that the fixed ladder systems used by members of your Association at ski lifts are similar to those used in outdoor advertising with billboards.

We have inferred from your letter that you believe that members of your organization should be considered for the same relief from the requirements of the fixed ladder standard.

About a year ago, extensive hearings were held by OSHA with respect to this and other walking/working surface issues, and at that time members of organizations utilizing fixed ladders in their operations submitted testimony, exhibits, depositions and photographs to support their contention that their fixed ladder systems would be in conformance with the proposed change in rulemaking with respect to Subpart D of 29 CFR 1910.

Unfortunately, members of your organization did not participate in these now concluded hearings and therefore, we have nothing in the record to support the possibility that fixed ladder systems and their use in ski-lift operations are like those used in outdoor advertising employing billboards.

We cannot reasonably extend the variance provisions granted to Gannett to members of your organization without first having the opportunity to review written descriptions and photographs of your climbing systems and their use in your individual operations. By extension we cannot at this time grant you the relief afforded Gannett Outdoor Companies in the approved variance.

Therefore, I have enclosed a copy of 29 CFR 1905 for your guidance. Please refer to Section 1905.11 for a description of the information required for a permanent variance application. In addition, since you would be applying on behalf of a class of employers, the following information should be provided:



  1. The address of each company affected by the application;
  2. The number of employees working at each company;
  3. The number and size of the signs (posters and bulletins) each company will be changing and maintaining.
  4. Frequency of changing signs;
  5. A description of the alternatives used or proposed to be used in lieu of utilizing fixed ladders without cages, wells or landing platforms (see Gannett's Federal Register notice date March 1, 1991);
  6. A detailed training program from each company which outlines safe work procedures for, among other things, the use of combination ladders and 18-inch lanyards;
  7. A statement as to whether employees of each company who routinely climb ladders have undergone training and have demonstrated the physical capability to safely perform the necessary climbs. Whether these employees satisfy the "qualified climber" requirements in the proposed 29 CFR 1910.32(b)(5) (paragraph 5 of Gannett's variance order F.R. Vol. 41; March 1991);
  8. A statement as to whether any citations, pending or in the process of abatement, have been issued to each company for violations of Federal and State fixed ladder standards. Provide copies of the citations and any abatement plan;
  9. A description from each employer of how employees have been informed of the application and of their right to petition the Assistant Secretary for a hearing;
  10. A side-by-side comparison of the Federal Standard versus a State with a State Plan to show that the standards are identical in substance and requirements (Note, in States such as Michigan where the State plan is not identical, the company will have to comply directly to that State for a variance.); and
  11. Assurance from each company that all ladder safety devices that are currently installed on fixed ladders less than 50 feet in length of climb or which ascends to heights less than 65 feet above grade shall not be removed and shall be properly maintained and used by employees.

Please do not hesitate to contact this office should you require further assistance in this matter.


Patricia K. Clark, Director
[Directorate of Enforcement Programs]

[Corrected 4/4/2005.

Note: On April 10, 1990 OSHA published proposed revisions to Walking and Working Surfaces; Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems); Notices of Proposed Rulemaking; Slips; Falls; Trips in
Federal Register 55:13360-13441. It is available electronically only as an abstract. On May 2, 2003 OSHA reopened the rulemaking record on the proposed revisions to Walking and Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems). It was re-published in its entirety in Federal Register 68:23527-23568 and is available electronically.]