If there’s one tool that rooftop workers shouldn’t do without, it’s the ladder. Designed to access places that are otherwise impractical or dangerous to climb, ladders are essential to staying safe on the roof.
Unfortunately, many construction companies don’t feel the same way. According to the American Ladder Institute (ALI), around 300 people die from ladder-related accidents every year and thousands more suffer debilitating injuries. If your company doesn’t use and install ladders properly, your workers might end up adding to those grim statistics.
Fortunately, there are many types of ladders on the market, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Here, we’ll be covering one of the more common types — namely, the fixed access ladder.
What is a fixed access ladder?
As its name suggests, a fixed access ladder is a permanent structure. Most commercial buildings have them and most building codes require them. Despite these facts, however, fixed access ladders are often built hurriedly or as an afterthought, presumably because the builders assume they’re not much use once the building is completed.
Nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, fixed access ladders are crucial to rooftop safety. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has even dedicated an entire section (1926.1053) to ladder specifications. We’ll have a quick overview of those specifications later. For now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty of fixed access ladders.
Anatomy of a Fixed Access Ladder
Like all ladders, fixed access ladders have two main parts: the rungs and the rails. The rungs are the horizontal bars you step on to climb to the top, while the rails are the vertical bars that keep the rungs parallel to each other. However, fixed access ladders are special because they also have brackets.
Essentially, brackets attach the fixed access ladder to a building. They can be made of any material, though it’s strongly recommended to pick ones made from high-strength aluminum alloy or steel. Not only is aluminum alloy a tough material, but it also lowers the chances of a ladder deflecting while it’s being used.
A fixed access ladder may also have a cage or well. A cage is a series of bars that encircle the ladder, while a well is a walled circular structure surrounding the ladder. Both of these serve as extra protection for the climber while the ladder is in use.
What to Look for When Purchasing Fixed Access Ladders
No matter which fixed ladder you choose, your primary consideration should be its compliance with OSHA rules on stairways and ladders. The link provides more in-depth information on the subject, but to summarize:
General Requirements for Ladders
- If there is a “break in elevation” of at least 19 inches (48 cm) and there is no other way to climb to the elevated area, ladders must be provided at all points of access.
- If there is only one point of access between levels, it must be either cleared of all obstacles or the employer must provide a second unobstructed point of access.
- If there are more than two points of access, at least one of them should be kept clear of obstructions.
- Ladders must be used only for their designated purpose.
- Ladders must be used only on stable and level surfaces.
- Ladders must be placed away from areas with heavy foot traffic. If it’s not possible for the ladder to be kept away from a high-traffic area, a barrier must be erected around the ladder to indicate that it is in use.
- Ladders must be kept clean and free of obstructions at all times to prevent slipping and similar accidents.
- Ladders must be installed such that they won’t snag on clothing or cause injuries.
- Ladders must not be loaded beyond their maximum intended load or manufacturer’s rated capacity.
- Ladders mustn’t be tied together to create longer sections unless designed otherwise.
- Side rails may be spliced together, but only if their strength is equivalent to a one-piece rail of the same length and material.
- If the ladder is to be used near an electrical area, the side rails must be made of a nonconductive material.
Requirements for Fixed Access Ladders
- Rungs, cleats, and steps must not be spaced less than 10 inches (25 cm) or more than 14 inches (36 cm) apart along the rails.
- If the total length of the climb on a fixed ladder is at least 24 feet (7.3 m), the ladder must be equipped with ladder safety devices; or self-retracting lifelines and rest platforms at intervals up to 150 feet (45.7 m); or a cage/well and multiple ladder sections, with each section up to 50 feet (15.2 m) in length.
- The fixed ladder sections must be offset from adjacent sections and landing platforms must be provided at intervals not exceeding 50 feet (15.2 m).
- Fixed ladders must be able to support at least two loads of 250 pounds (114 kg) each between any two attachments, plus added loads from surrounding conditions (e.g. winds and ice) and ladder safety devices.
- Fixed ladders must extend at least 42 inches (1.1 m) above an access level or landing platform.
- Fixed ladder rungs must be shaped and treated to prevent slipping.
- Fixed ladders must be provided with cages, wells, and other ladder safety devices where the length of the climb is less than 24 feet (7.3 m), but the top of the ladder is at a distance greater than 24 feet (7.3 feet) above lower levels.
- If no cage or well is available, the ladder must have a 15-inch (38 cm) clearance away from the nearest permanent object on each side of the ladder’s centerline.
Again, this is only a summary of OSHA requirements for fixed access ladders. To get more information on the subject, refer to the appropriate guidelines.
Fixed access ladders can significantly improve your workplace’s safety ratings, provided they’re built and installed according to OSHA standards. The more you know about how to choose ladders, the safer your workers will be.
Need more information on what type of ladder best fits your needs? Contact us today.