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.

July 18, 2002

Mr. Herbert Weller
6614 Discovery Drive South
Indianapolis, IN 46250

Re: §§1926.1050 and 1926.1053(a)(1); portable ladders

Dear Mr. Weller:

This is in response to your February 3, 2002, letter addressed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requesting an interpretation of the construction standard for ladders. Your letter was delayed in reaching this office because mail addressed to the government is first sent to a facility thatsanitizes it. We apologize for the delay in addressing your concerns.

In your letter, you describe a particular situation and ask about the applicability of requirements in OSHA's ladder standard, 29 CFR part 1926, subpart X.

Question: An employee plans to use a regular duty portable extension ladder in the fully retracted or collapsed position. The portable ladder is set up against the vertical face of a structure at the manufacturer's recommended angle. The employee steps onto only the bottom fly section rung and the upper section of the ladder jumps away momentarily from the vertical face (and then immediately rests again on the vertical face). Does this constitute a "failure" of the ladder under §1926.1050?

Answer: Under §1926.1053(a)(1), portable ladders used in construction

"shall be capable of supporting the following loads without failure:
*       *       *

(ii) . . . At least four times the maximum intended load....The ability of a ladder to sustain the loads indicated in this paragraph shall be determined by applying or transmitting the requisite load to the ladder in a downward vertical direction when the ladder is placed at an angle of 75½ degrees from the horizontal. Ladders built and tested in conformance with the applicable provisions of Appendix A will be deemed to meet this requirement."

The §1926.1050 definition for "failure" states:

"'Failure' means load refusal, breakage or separation of component parts. Load refusal is the point where the structural members lose their ability to carry loads."

The concept of "load-refusal" was discussed in the preamble to the standard. The Agency explained that the term "failure" was not limited to "breakage or a physical separation of parts." What is also included was described as follows:

The one comment (Ex. 2-29) OSHA received concerning this definition expressed the view that OSHA should "[f]ind a better definition for 'failure'" because "[l]oad refusal is nebulous at best." The commenter did not explain the basis for this concern or suggest alternative wording. OSHA notes that in some cases failure will be evidenced by breakage or separation of components that can be easily detected through visual inspection. In other cases the ability of a component to hold its rated load will be destroyed without any permanently visible breakage or separation. Such cases include situations where an object, such as a ladder siderail, buckles after it has been loaded to the point of collapse. The siderail will not support the load and will not return to its original shape when the load is removed. Although the siderail could be straightened, the fact that the rail has sustained severe damage and will easily bend again may not be visibly apparent. While such structural members may show no signs of breakage or separation, the prior damage precludes their future use. Given these circumstances, the Agency believes that the definition, as revised, provides the appropriate guidance to employers.

[Emphasis added].

Therefore, the use of the concept of "load-refusal" includes situations where overloading causes damage, but the damage is not visibly apparent.

Based on the scenario you describe, it appears that the movement of the ladder would not constitute a failure. In any event, §1926.1053(a)(1) states that "ladders built and tested in conformance with the applicable provisions of Appendix A will be deemed to meet this [§1926.1053(a)(1)(ii)] requirement." The testing protocol listed as acceptable for manufactured portable metal ladders under Appendix A is ANSI A14.2-1982.
1 If the ladder meets the ANSI standard, it is acceptable for purposes of §1926.1053(a)(1)(ii).

If you need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us by fax at: U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA,[Directorate of Construction, Office of Construction Standards and Guidance], fax # 202-693-1689. You can also contact us by mail at the above office, Room N3468, 200 Constitution Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20210, although there will be a delay in our receiving correspondence by mail.


Russell B. Swanson, Director
Directorate of Construction



1Note that, to the extent the movement you describe is caused by deflection of the ladder, there are deflection testing protocols and maximum deflection limits in the ANSI standard (see section 7 of the ANSI standard, "Horizontal Bending Test"). We are not aware of any other part of the ANSI standard that may directly or indirectly address the movement you describe. [back to text]