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 http://www.osha.gov.

October 18, 2019

Mr. Keith W. Harkins, CSP
1720 Centre Park Drive East
West Palm Beach, Florida 33401

Dear Mr. Harkins:

Thank you for your November 7, 2018, letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), regarding fixed ladders covered under OSHA’s General Industry Walking-Working Surfaces standard. This letter replaces our previous response to you dated April 16, 2019, which has been rescinded. The background information and questions you provided in your inquiry are paraphrased below. OSHA’s responses follow your questions.

Background: Multiple sections of off-set ladders are being designed to be installed on the outside of a grain silo that is 80 feet or more in height. Rest platforms will be installed at each off-set and will be provided with guardrail systems to meet OSHA’s requirements. The rest platforms measure 3 feet by 3 feet in area. Some of the ladder sections are less than 24 feet in length.

Question 1: Does each section of ladder above 24 feet from the ground require a ladder safety system or is the 24-foot height measured from rest platform to rest platform?

Response 1: Under 29 CFR 1910.28(b)(9)(i)(B), employers must ensure that each new fixed ladder extending more than 24 feet above a lower level is equipped with a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system. For purposes of determining whether a fixed ladder extends more than 24 feet above a lower level within the meaning of 29 CFR 1910.28(b)(9)(i), the employer must measure the distance from the ground/lower level to the top of the fixed ladder. The distance a ladder section is located above the ground or a rest platform, and thus the distance that a worker climbing on the ladder could fall, determines whether a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system is required. If the fall distance exceeds 24 feet, regardless of the length of the ladder section, the employer must equip the fixed ladder with a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system.

Furthermore, if the size of a rest platform is such that a worker climbing the fixed ladder could fall past the platform and more than 24 feet to the ground or a lower level, the employer must equip the ladder with a personal fall arrest system or a ladder safety system. In the example you provided, where the rest platform measures 3 feet by 3 feet, it is possible that a worker climbing the fixed ladder could fall past the platform and to a lower level. Thus, the distance the ladder is considered to extend above a lower level would be measured from the ground and not from the lower rest platform.

Background: Under 29 CFR 1910.23(a)(1), there is an exception for ladders used in emergency operations such as firefighting, rescue, and tactical law enforcement operations, or training for these operations. The ladders described in question #1 are only in place for emergency escape from the roof level of the structure should there be an emergency and personnel are on the roof at the time of the emergency. An elevator is normally used to access the roof of the structure.

Question 2: If the access point from the roof and ground levels to the ladder were clearly marked to indicate for emergency use, would the exception apply in this situation as it relates to installation of ladder safety system?

Response 2: No. The exception under 29 CFR 1910.23(a)(1) only applies to ladders specifically used in emergency operations such as firefighting, rescue, and tactical law enforcement operations, or training for these operations. In the preamble to this rule, OSHA explained that this exception was needed because of the exigent conditions under which emergency responders perform emergency operations and training. OSHA also explained in the preamble that Subpart E (Exit Routes and Emergency Planning) establishes requirements that provide workers with safe means of exit from workplaces, particularly in emergencies. (Federal Register/ Vol. 81, No. 223, pg. 82531). Therefore, in accordance with OSHA’s existing enforcement policy under Subpart E requirements, OSHA will not issue citations when fixed ladders installed on the outside of grain silos are not equipped with safety devices, including cages and ladder safety systems, when such ladders are exclusively used for emergency egress and “Emergency Use Only” signs are posted and visible at both ends of the ladder.

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA’s requirements are set by statute, standards, and regulations. Our letters of interpretation do not create new or additional requirements but rather explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances. This letter constitutes OSHA’s interpretation of the requirements discussed. From time to time, letters are affected when the Agency updates a standard, a legal decision impacts a standard, or changes in technology affect the interpretation. To assure that you are using the correct information and guidance, please consult OSHA’s website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Directorate of Enforcement Programs at (202) 693-2100.

Sincerely,

 

Patrick J. Kapust, Acting Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs