Construction Accidents: Ladder Cages Are Not Safe

Posted on March 05, 2020

Fixed ladder cages are being phased out due to OSHA safety concerns. Accident and injury reports show that ladder cages do not provide adequate fall prevention and safety for construction workers.

Construction Fall Protection

Under OSHA’s 1910 Walking/Working Surface Standard, requirements related to fixed ladders and wells are being redefined. OSHA has determined that ladder cages do not provide acceptable fall protection for the general construction industry.

For many years, the construction industry has used fixed ladders and ladder cages to provide fall protection and prevent work-related injuries for construction workers. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that sets workplace safety standards, all fixed ladders over 20 feet tall require a ladder cage. Fixed ladders are often attached to the interior and exterior building walls, construction projects, grain silos, and elevator shafts to provide easier access to rooftops and hard to reach areas. A ladder cage creates a safety barrier by enclosing the ladder’s climbing space. It’s usually fastened to one or both ladder side rails or to another structure such as the building wall.

Under current OSHA regulations, if a fixed ladder extends more than 24 feet above the ground, the ladder must be equipped with ladder safety systems that include a body harness with connectors, carrier, safety sleeve, lanyard, and platforms to stand on. If a fixed ladder is taller, OSHA requires a maximum limit of 30 feet between platforms.

All ladder cages around fixed ladders must extend 42 inches above the top of a landing, the same OSHA safety requirement for guardrails. Regulations require a ladder cage to begin between 7 to 8 feet off the ground, with a minimum flare of 4 inches at the bottom of the cage. This provides necessary clearance for a worker to enter the cage and climb the ladder without hitting his/her head, while also providing protection at a height that would expose the climber to a dangerous fall.

Ladder Cages Deemed Unsafe

In 2017, OSHA passed new fall protection regulations that impact all fixed ladders, ladder cages, and wells. The new ruling notes that ladder cages are unsafe and do not provide adequate fall protection for construction workers and other individuals who use them. OSHA’s new ruling states that the use of ladder cages and ladder wells will be phased out to protect workers from dangerous and potentially deadly falls. The revised ruling establishes that ladder cages and wells will be phased out over the next 20 years.

Although OSHA’s new ruling does not require the removal of existing ladder cages and wells prior to the final deadline, it does require that all existing cages and wells be equipped with personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems to ensure compliance with OSHA safety regulations.

  • Employers have up to 20 years to install ladder safety or personal fall arrest systems on fixed, caged ladders installed prior to November 19, 2018
  • Employers must install personal fall arrest systems on all fixed ladders erected on or after November 19, 2018
  • Employers must install fall arrest systems on fixed ladders that are repaired or replaced
  • All fixed ladders must include a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system after November 18, 2036

Ladder Safety Systems

Ladder safety systems include a harness with cables or rails that run the vertical length of the ladder. To prevent workplace accidents and falls, a worker must hook his/her harness to the cables or rails when climbing. Some ladder safety systems require manual attachment, while others allow workers to climb freely and lock into place only when a worker falls.

Personal Fall Arrest Systems

Personal fall arrest systems include a harness with connectors, a lanyard, and designated anchor points. Since this system attaches to the worker, regular inspections and maintenance are essential to prevent serious and fatal falls from building rooftops and high places. Employers must ensure that personal fall arrest systems are working properly.

Construction: A High-Risk Occupation

Construction-related fall injuries and fatalities make up a high number of Illinois workers’ compensation claims seen by work injury lawyers every year. Construction workers working at extreme heights face the possibility of deadly falls. Ladder cages are not adequate to arrest falls. If a fall does occur, a worker can easily hit his/her head on the way down and lose consciousness. Some injury cases report workers who become entangled during a rapid fall and lose limbs due to an uncontrolled descent of 20 to 30 feet.

Construction workers face high risks for falls from high elevations. One-third of all construction fatalities are caused by falls from rooftops, and falls from ladders, scaffolding, and elevated platforms are commonly seen by work injury lawyers. According to the Bureau of Labor, one-half of construction worker deaths are caused by falls, and at least one-third of workers killed have no fall protection system in place.