Employees were exposed to the hazard of falling while using a single rope rung Jacob's ladder that did not meet OSHA requirements for treads and stability.


Longshoremen load boxes of frozen fish into the hold of a tramper vessel.

Activity at time of incident:

A longshoreman was climbing down a rope rung Jacob's ladder leading from the stern of a tramper vessel to the deck of a waiting tugboat.

Incident Description


A crew consisting of a gang boss, eight longshoremen, a winch operator (all from the local longshoremen's union), and a supervisor from the stevedoring company, are aboard a tramper vessel located in a harbor. Two catcher/processor vessels are rafted to the sides of the tramper. The crew spends the work shift loading crates of frozen fish into the hold of the tramper, and after completing a 10-hour shift, three longshoremen are preparing to take the tugboat back to the shore. Workers normally exit the tramper from a Jacob's ladder placed over one side of the vessel. However, there are fishing vessels along both sides of the tramper, thus the Jacob's ladder, a single rope rung type, is hung off the stern instead, descending about 20 feet to the deck of the tug's bow. The ladder is not secured at the bottom, and a deck hand aboard the tugboat is attempting to hold the bottom of the ladder in place. Strong winds and high waves are rocking the vessels, making it nearly impossible to hold the ladder steady.


At the time of the incident, the first of the three crew members had descended the ladder onto the deck of the tugboat. The second crew member (the victim) was attempting to descend the Jacob's ladder, but after climbing down about four rungs (about 5 feet), the longshoreman froze, began shaking, and indicated that he did not think he could continue. Another longshoreman was attempting to talk him through the descent as the victim fell backwards off the rope ladder. The victim died after falling about 15 feet from the ladder to the tugboat deck and striking his head on the metal housing of the tugboat's wheelhouse.

Relevant Factors:

The rope rung Jacob's ladder did not have any wooden steps or stabilizers and was not a double rung ladder.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1918.23(a): Jacob's ladders. "Jacob's ladders shall be of the double rung or flat tread type. They shall be well maintained and properly secured."

This hazard might have been prevented if the employer had ensured that employees used only a Jacob's ladder meeting OSHA requirements, such as a double rung ladder or a ladder with wooden steps or stabilizers, and that employees properly secured the Jacob's ladder before using it. (The exact cause of the victim's actions is not known, but the victim may not have panicked if the ladder had been secured and more stable.)

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

Supervisors should be trained to recognize unsafe practices, and should have the authority to make on-the-spot decisions to correct safety violations.

New employees should receive training on shipboard safety, including hands-on training in the use of properly designed Jacob's ladders, before working aboard vessels.

Falls/Drowning Accidents No. 5: Victim fell off of rope rung ladder while attempting to descend.

Falls/Drowning Accidents No. 5: Victim fell off of rope rung ladder while attempting to descend.