5 Rules for Simple OSHA Ladder Safety

In November 2018 OSHA will implement new standards for fixed ladders. See OpenSesame’s updated guide, “Six Guidelines for OSHA ladder safety 2018” for a summary of new ladder safety standards.


Ladders, when used effectively, make large-scale jobs easier. Anyone in construction understands the advantages of this tool. Workers gain access to hard to reach spots with light and portable equipment. Set up and take down is quick and easy. But when used carelessly, the aforementioned benefits are overshadowed by the potential hazards.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for ladder use. We’ve distilled their rules into their simplest parts: a list of 15 OSHA safety rules and considerations that will help you begin to understand the tedious OSHA guidelines, so that you can minimize the risk of an expensive incident.

Rule 1: Use common sense. Many of the OSHA Ladder Safety Requirements are ones that are necessary to list, but only because people on the site – because they’re hot and tired and think they can manage – will disregard their common sense to get things done.

Examples of common sense standards from OSHA Ladder Requirements:

  • 1926.1053(b)(13) – The top or top step of a stepladder shall not be used as a step.

  • 1926.1053(b)(4) – Ladders shall be used only for the purpose for which they were designed.

  • 1926.1053(b)(16 – 17) – Portable/fixed ladders with structural defects shall either be immediately marked in a manner that readily identifies them as defective, or be tagged with “Do Not Use” or similar language. Defective portable/fixed ladders shall be withdrawn from service until repaired.

Rule 2: Take care of your equipment. This means frequently checking to make sure that your ladder and ladder add-ons are clean, sturdy, and functioning properly.

Example of equipment care standards from OSHA Ladder Safety Regulations:

  • 1926.1053(b)(2) – Ladders shall be maintained free of oil, grease, and other slipping hazards.

  • 1926.1053(b)(15) – Ladders shall be inspected by a competent person for visible defects on a periodic basis and after any situation that could affect their safe use.

  • 1926.1053(b)(18) – Ladder repairs shall restore the ladder to a condition meeting its original design criteria before the ladder is returned to use.

Rule 3: Understand the limits of the equipment. Ladders are useful tools, certainly, but they’re simple tools with limitations. Knowing where your ladder is strong, where it is weak, and how much weight it can handle goes a long way towards preventing an accident.

Examples of understanding equipment limits from OSHA Ladder Regulations:

  • 1926.1053(b)(3) – Ladders must not be loaded beyond the maximum intended load for which they were built, nor beyond their manufacturer’s rated capacity.

  • 1926.1053(b)(13) – The top or top step of a stepladder shall not be used as a step.

  • 1926.1053(a)(7) – Do not tie or fasten together ladders to create longer sections unless the ladders are specifically designed for such use.

  • 1926.1053(b)(6) – Ladders shall be used only on stable and level surfaces unless they are secured to prevent accidental displacement.

  • 1926.1053(b)(11) – Ladders shall not be moved, shifted, or extended while occupied.

Rule 4: Understand the limits of your employees. Don’t let someone’s bad habits cost you. Make sure your employees understand what constitutes risky, unsafe practices, and do your best to eliminate these behaviors.

  • 1926.1053(b)(20) – When ascending or descending a ladder, the user shall face the ladder.

  • 1926.1053(b)(21) – Each employee shall use at least one hand to grasp the ladder when progressing up and/or down the ladder.

  • 1926.1053(b)(22) – An employee shall not carry any object or load that could cause the employee to lose balance and fall.

Rule 5: Know the numbers. Angles, measurements and weight limits are extremely important when it comes to ladders. Setting up a ladder too close to a building or failing to note the minimum clear distance between side rungs can be a costly mistake to make. Taking the time to understand these figures before using a ladder in your project will save you the time spent on damage control down the line.

Examples of important calculations from OSHA Ladder Standards:

  • 1926.1053(b)(1) – When portable ladders are used for access to an upper landing surface, the ladder side rails shall extend at least 3 feet (.9 m) above the upper landing surface to which the ladder is used to gain access; or, when such an extension is not possible because of the ladder’s length, then the ladder shall be secured at its top to a rigid support that will not deflect, and a grasping device, such as a grab rail, shall be provided to assist employees in mounting and dismounting the ladder. In no case shall the extension be such that ladder deflection under a load would, by itself, cause the ladder to slip off its support.

  • 1926.1053(b)(5)(iii) – Fixed ladders shall be used at a pitch no greater than 90 degrees from the horizontal, as measured to the back side of the ladder.

  • 1926.1053(a)(1) – Ladders must be able to support the following weights without failure:

Ladder Type Non-Self-Supporting Portable Ladders Self-Supporting Portable Ladders: Extra Heavy Duty Type 1A Plastic or Metal Ladders Fixed Ladders
Weight 4 times the maximum intended load 4 times the maximum intended load 3.3 times the maximum intended load Every rung must be capable of supporting a concentrated load of 250 pounds at the center of the rung. Any two rungs must be capable of supporting 2 loads of 250 pounds simultaneously plus anticipated loads caused by ice buildup, winds, rigging, and impact loads resulting from the use of ladder safety devices.
  • 1926.1053(a)(3)(i – iii) – Rungs, cleats and steps must be spaced between 10 inches (25cm) and 14 inches (36cm) apart, measured from the center lines. Exceptions to the rule (all measurements from center lines):
Ladder Type Step Stools Base of Extension Trestle Ladders Extension Section of Trestle Ladders
Minimum Spacing 8in (20cm) 8in (20cm) 6in (15cm)
Maximum Spacing 12in (31cm) 18in (31cm) 12in (31cm)
  • 1926.1053(a)(4)(i – ii) –  Minimum clear distance between side rails for different ladder types:
Ladder Type Individual-Rung/Step Ladders Fixed Ladders Portable Ladders
Minimum Clear Distance 16in (41cm) 16in (41cm) 11.5in (29cm)
  • 1926.1053(a)(13 – 15) – The minimum perpendicular clearance between the centerline of rungs and an obstruction:
Ladder Type Fixed Ladder (obstruction behind ladder) Elevator Pit Ladder Fixed Ladder Rungs (obstruction on climbing side)
Minimum Perpendicular Clearance 7in (18cm) 4.5in (11cm) 30in (76cm)

If unavoidable obstructions are encountered, the minimum perpendicular clearance may be reduced to 24 inches (61 cm), provided that a deflection device is installed to guide employees around the obstruction

  • 1926.1053(a)(16) – Through fixed ladders at their point of access/egress shall have a step-across distance of not less than 7 inches (18 cm) nor more than 12 inches (30 cm) as measured from the centerline of the steps or rungs to the nearest edge of the landing area. If the normal step-across distance exceeds 12 inches (30 cm), a landing platform shall be provided to reduce the distance to the specified limit.

With OpenSesame’s collection of Ladder Safety Courses, you can easily deploy safety training to ensure your employees know how to work safely with ladders. For the full list of the official OSHA ladder safety regulations, visit the Standard 1926.1053 site site.