Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

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

April 2, 1996

J. Nigel Ellis, Ph.D., CSP, P.E., CPE
Dynamic Scientific Controls
P.O. Box 445
Wilmington, DE 19899-0445

Dear Dr. Ellis:

This is in response to your letter of January 28, in which you requested several interpretations relative to portable ladders. Your questions and the relevant responses for general industry and construction are: Is it true that:

[Question #1:] Portable ladders are any ladders which are transportable by any means not just physical carrying?

[Reply #1 (General Industry):] 29 CFR 1910.21(e)(2) defines fixed ladders as "a ladder permanently attached to a structure, building, or equipment." Portable ladders are not defined in the standard, but by inference, a portable ladder would be any ladder not fitting the definition of a fixed ladder. The ANSI standard A14.2-1990 defines a portable ladder as "a ladder that can readily be moved or carried, usually consisting of side rails joined at intervals by step, rungs, cleats, or rear braces."

[Reply #1 (Construction):] 29 CFR 1926.1050 defines a fixed ladder as "a ladder that cannot be readily moved or carried because it is an integral part of a building or structure." A portable ladder is defined as "a ladder that can be readily moved or carried." Also, by inference, a portable ladder would be one that is not an integral part of a building or structure.

[Question #2:] Stacked and scaling ladders must have fall protection over a certain height, even if they are physically removable by crane and even though they are less than 20 ft length in individual piece length (and never joined), and when they are positioned vertically (or steeper than 4:1 angle)?

[Reply #2 (General Industry):] If these ladders do not fit the definition of fixed ladders as defined above, they would be deemed as portable ladders, and, therefore, not required to have fall protection. if they are fixed ladders, they are required to have fall protection at a length of 24 feet. (OSHA proposed rule 29 CFR 1910.23(c)(14)). Such a determination would have to be made on a case-by-case basis, per inspection. The proposed rule also provides for exemption from fall protection requirements for "qualified climbers" as provided in 1910.32(b)(5).

[Reply #2 (Construction):] Scaling ladders often combine features of fixed and portable ladders. By definition, stacked or scaling ladders are portable ladders. The specific provisions for portable ladders address fall protection concerns primarily by requiring the ladder to be used at a four-to-one angle (29 CFR 1926.1053(b)(5)(i)). This provision is intended to address ladder stability. The stability could be addressed by how it is attached to the structure. The ladder assembly would need to be judged on a case-by-case basis to determine if it would be considered a fixed ladder and if fall protection is needed.

[Question #3:] Scaffold ladders independently added to a scaffold or between tank brackets, whether designed by the scaffold manufacturer or not, must have fall protection over a certain height fall exposure?

[Reply #3 (General Industry):] There is no requirement for fall protection on scaffold ladders under the general industry standard.

[Reply #3 (Construction):] There is no requirement for fall protection on scaffold ladders under the construction standard. Scaffolds must have rest platforms, however. Scaffold access is governed by Subpart L.

[Question #4:] When ladders are used to work from, as opposed to access from, fall protection must be applied according to 1926.500 and the equivalent general industry standards?

[Reply #4 (General Industry):] Again, if the ladder in question is a portable ladder, there is no requirement for fall protection. If it is a fixed ladder, it will depend upon the conditions specified in the standard, i.e., is the climber a "qualified climber"? Is the height over 24 feet? When not required, it is advisable, if feasible, however, to have fall protection when the worker doesn't have at least one hand available to hold on to the ladder.

[Reply #4 (Construction):] Ladder use is governed by 1926.1053(b), not 1926.500.



John B. Miles, Jr., Director
Directorate of Compliance Programs

[Corrected 03/25/2009]