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Ladder Cages Are No Longer the Right Solution

Ladder Cages Are No Longer the Right Solution

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of climbing the side of a building, chances are you are well-aware of the round metal cage whose function it is to protect you from violently crashing to the ground.

Also, it’s likely that at some point during your ascent you thought, “How is this round metal cage supposed to protect me from violently crashing to the ground?”  Well, it looks like you weren’t the only one.  In fact, it was widely recognized that ladder cages did nothing in terms of worker safety and fall prevention. So, as of the release of the new Walking/Working Surface standard, ladder cages are being phased out. 

Now, don’t panic if you’ve got a facility full of them.  OSHA has various dates for compliance to allow for a gradual transition and to ease the financial burden on property owners/employers who find themselves needing to make a change.  For now, existing ladder cages are grandfathered in, but that will change eventually.

The first compliance date comes late next year and is the deadline for when employers must ensure that all fixed ladders have some type of safety system.  The deadline, November 19, 2018, still allows employers to select wells as their fall protection option as long as the ladder already existed. Technically, that means that a newly installed ladder between now and then could still have a cage installed because it will have been “existing” on November 19, 2018.  Of course, to make things easier going forward, employers could simply opt to install a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system, as well, or as their main fall protection solution.

On that same date, all new fixed ladders (as well as any replacement ladders or ladder sections) will be required to be installed with either a ladder safety system or a personal fall arrest system.  No new installations will be allowed with cages or wells.
For the most part, that takes care of the near-future deadlines.  But, OSHA is phasing wells and cages out altogether, so while you may try squeezing new installations in before the deadline, keep in mind that in 20 years’ time (November 18, 2036 to be exact) all fixed ladders greater than 24’ in length will be required to have fall arrest systems or ladder safety systems. This means that your existing ladders with cages and wells will need to be retrofitted because there will no longer be any grandfathering allowed.  Granted, this is quite a way down the road, but there’s no sense in employers waiting 19.5 years and scrambling at the last minute to change everything in their facility.  

So, as mentioned above, this leaves you with a choice between two remaining acceptable solutions: ladder safety systems and personal fall arrest.  Most people are familiar with personal fall arrest systems (PFAS) – a harness, lanyard, and suitable anchor point.  The requirements here are no different than the requirements elsewhere: fall clearance, freefall distance, proper inspection and maintenance of equipment, anchor point capacities and training in the equipment’s use must all be taken into account just as if you were using this equipment to keep somebody from falling off the edge of a building.  Ladder safety systems, though, may be a little bit less familiar.  While they still require a harness, ladder safety systems are rails or cables that run the length of the ladder vertically.  An employee “ties-off” by hooking the front D-Ring of his or her harness to the trolley or rope grab and proceeds to climb.  Certain systems will require some manual action by the user while others will simply allow them to climb, locking into place only in the event of a fall.  Keep in mind that employees will need to be able to transition from the ladder to the level to which they are climbing without exposing themselves to a fall, so the ladder safety device may need to extend farther than the ladder.  Ensure that this is designed into the system when installed or it could cause problems later on.

Whichever method you choose – PFAS or Ladder Safety Device – your employees will be safer when climbing your fixed ladders than they were while relying on a cage or well.  Make sure you train them so they can properly use the equipment and are safe.  Improperly worn/used fall protection equipment may be offering nothing more than a false sense of security.  And false senses of security make people take unnecessary risks that could lead to disaster.  Make sure to review your facility and start taking the necessary precautions now.

4 Things You Need To Know About the New OSHA Regulations

The end of last year marked a significant update to the OSHA Fall Protection Regulations. With this new update, OSHA produced a 513 page document as a final rule on Working-Walking Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment. Knowing that reading this regulation would be a feat of its own, we did the work for you. Download this ebook to learn more about the 4 core changes that you will want to know.

What's Inside:

  • New terms introduced by OSHA
  • Learn where on your roof you need fall protection
  • Understand the new requirements for ladder safety
  • New fall protection training requirements from OSHA

Understanding the New OSHA Approved Options for Fall Protection

Understanding the New OSHA Approved Options for Fall Protection

Late last year, OSHA published a long-awaited final rule on Walking and Working Surfaces.  One of the main reasons for this update to the existing general industry standard was an attempt to bring the fall protection requirements for manufacturing, warehousing, maintenance, and other similar operations more in line with the construction requirements.  To those who, at times, are governed by the construction regulations, much of the new rule will be familiar, specifically the section on Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS).  However, this is definitely not all that is new.  Below is a guide to what has changed.

Fall Protection

Prior to this rule, the general industry regulations required that a company consider guardrails as their primary method of fall protection.  While passive systems are always a great option, they are not always feasible.  The new rule gives companies the flexibility to decide which method works for them, including Personal Fall Arrest Systems (harnesses, lanyards, anchor points, or what is commonly known as “tying off”).  The new rule not only allows for this type of system to be used, but also lays out requirements for their performance, use, and inspection.

In addition, the rule allows for certain methods to be used in situations that can be considered “temporary and infrequent.”  For example, work being performed on a low slope roof that meets the criteria for temporary and infrequent may be allowed to utilize a designated work area.  This area, 15’ back from the edge may preclude the use of other fall protection equipment, as long as all of the requirements set forth in the regulation are met.


Rather than update the outdated scaffolding section, OSHA now requires that employers who are using scaffolding under the general industry regulations follow the construction guidelines found in 29 CFR 1926. This is a quick, simple change that could eliminate a great deal of confusion.

Fixed Ladders

Say goodbye to cages and wells.  Kind of.  Over the next 20 years (based on whether or not a ladder already exists, is being repaired or replaced, or is a new installation), fixed ladders that are over 24’ in length will need to be equipped with ladder safety devices or personal fall arrest systems.  Cages and wells will no longer be acceptable as they have not proven to prevent falls.

Qualified Climbers

This one only affects you if you’re in outdoor advertising, but the allowance for “qualified climbers” in outdoor advertising to climb without fall protection is gone.  The phase-in timeline for fixed ladders mentioned above applies, but if their ladders have no cages or wells currently, they have 2 years in which they could choose to install those to become compliant with existing regulations.  After that, they will still need to meet the timeline set forth for ladder safety devices or PFAS.

Rope Descent Systems

This part is basically taking an OSHA memorandum and making it law.  Companies that use Rope Descent Systems (RDS) may not do so over 300’ above grade.  It also requires that building owners provide (and employers obtain) information to show that the anchorage points have been inspected, tested, certified and maintained to meet the requirements.

Inspection of Walking-Working Surfaces

While this may seem like it goes without being said, it apparently needs to be said: employers must regularly inspect walking-working surfaces and maintain/repair them as necessary.


What rule would be complete without a section on training?  Most notable is the fact that employers – as in construction – must train employees on how to use, inspect, store, and maintain their PFAS.  Workers in specified high-hazard situations must be trained in those hazards and the hazards associated with their fall protection equipment.  As always, workers must be trained in a manner that they understand.  It is the employer’s responsibility to determine what that manner is and to verify that their employees have understood the material.

While the changes may not be earth-shattering to many, the addition of the use of PFAS is a long-anticipated change that gives employers much more flexibility in determining fall protection solutions.  Likewise, while ladder changes may be costly for facilities that have many fixed ladders, the timeline helps companies to spread that cost out and, in the end, replaces an ineffective system with something that will actually prevent injuries and fatalities.  Some of these requirements simply make it easier by having one place to go, i.e. for scaffolding, rather than having to worry which regulations you are supposed to be following and whether or not those regulations match up.  And isn’t giving employers flexibility, making things simpler and preventing injuries and fatalities exactly what we want?