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.

November 3, 2003

Mr. James A. Simmons, III
Commonwealth Dynamics
5008 Richard Lane
Jacksonville, FL 32216

Re: Is a metal cable ladder a "Jacob's ladder," and if not, what regulations apply to them?

Dear Mr. Simmons:

This is in response to your e-correspondence dated October 30, 2002, to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You ask for guidance with respect to the use of "cable ladders" while constructing industrial exhaust stacks. We apologize for the long delay in providing a response.

We have paraphrased your question as follows:

Question (1)(a): My question relates to a "cable ladder," which is similar to a Jacob's ladder except that instead of rope or chain side-rails, the side-rails are made of steel cable. We would like to use it in constructing an industrial exhaust stack. Does 29 CFR Part 1926 Subpart X (Stairways and Ladders) apply to this type of ladder when used in construction?


We understand from our conversations with you that the ladder would be attached at the top of the exhaust stack by looping the cable through steel attachment points, and securing the cable using U-bolt/saddle (Crosby-type) cable clips. It would also be attached at the bottom to ensure that the side cables remain taught.

In Subpart X (Stairways and Ladders), §1926.1050(a) (Scope and application) states:

This Subpart applies to all . . . ladders used in construction . . .

Section 1926.1053 (Ladders) begins with the following provision:

(a) General. The following requirements apply to all ladders as indicated, including job-made ladders.

The section contains requirements for three different types of ladders -- self-supporting portable ladders, non-self-supporting portable ladders, and fixed ladders. In §1926.1050(b), the standard defines a portable ladder as:

a ladder that can be readily moved or carried.

The ladder you describe cannot be moved without dismantling the securing system at the top and bottom of the ladder. Therefore, it is not a portable ladder.

A fixed ladder is defined as:

A ladder that cannot be readily moved or carried because it is an integral part of the building or structure.

The ladder you describe meets the definition of a fixed ladder because it becomes an "integral part of the . . .structure" once it is installed, and then "cannot be readily moved or carried." Therefore, it must meet the requirements in Subpart X applicable to fixed ladders.

Question (1)(b): Is there an OSHA standard that prohibits the use of a cable ladder in this application?



Question (2): Do the requirements of §1926.1053(b)(5)(i)(required angle for non-self-supporting ladders) apply to this cable ladder?


No. Section 1926.1053(b)(5)(i) states:

Non-self-supporting ladders shall be used at an angle such that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is approximately one-quarter of the working length of the ladder (the distance along the ladder between the foot and the top support).

There is another provision, §1926.1053(b)(5)(iii), that specifies the required angle for fixed ladders:

Fixed ladders shall be used at a pitch no greater than 90 degrees from the horizontal, as measured to the back side of the ladder.

Since the cable ladder you describe is considered a fixed ladder, §1926.1053(b)(5)(iii) applies with respect to the required angle.

Question (3): Does §1926.951(c)(1) apply to the use of a metal cable ladder?


Section 1926.1053(b)(12) states:

Ladders shall have nonconductive side rails if they are to be used where the employee or the ladder could contact exposed energized electrical equipment, except as provided by §1926.951(c)(1) of this part.

29 CFR 1926.951(c)(1) is a provision within Subpart V (Power Transmission and Distribution), which allows conductive ladders to be used when doing a particular type of power transmission and distribution construction work.1 It states:

Portable metal or conductive ladders shall not be used near energized lines or equipment except as may be necessary in specialized work such as in high voltage substations where nonconductive ladders might present a greater hazard than conductive ladders . . .



The metal cable ladder is considered a conductive ladder (with conductive side rails). However, §1926.951(c)(1) is applicable only where the work being done is power transmission and distribution construction work.

If you need any further clarification on this subject, please 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

[Corrected 11/11/03]



1 As stated in §1926.950, the provisions of Subpart V apply only where the worker is engaged in power transmission and distribution construction work. [ back to text ]