Considering Fixed Ladders and/or Stairways During the Design Phase

Fixed ladders and stairways can eliminate the need for portable ladders, lifts or scaffolds that may create a greater hazard to the worker.


The specification of fixed ladders and/or stairways on a building during the design stages of a project is a prevention through design (PtD) process that addresses worker exposure to fall hazards.  Having fixed ladders or stairways in place can eliminate the need for portable ladders, lifts or scaffolds that may create a greater hazard to the worker.

Designating the installation of these fixed systems will be dependent on the guidance of a competent person with structural engineering experience and adhering to the guidance of OSHA standards.  To be effective, installation must occur early in the construction process, particularly in areas where large numbers of workers require access or manual materials handling is expected.  Design details and sequence must minimize damage to permanent stairs and railings during contruction.

Design details and construction of fixed general industrial stairs (figure 1,2) can be found in OSHA 1910.24.  This does not apply to: stairs used for fire exit purposes, construction operations in private residences, or to articulated stairs.  In summary, this regulation specifies:

  • Where fixed stairs are required 1910.24(b)
  • The loading strength of the fixed stairways shall be designed and built to carry "five times the normal live load anticipated but never of less strength than to carry safely a moving concentrated load of 1,000 pounds" 1910.24(c)
  • Fixed stairways to have a minimum of 22 inches in width 1910.24(d)
  • The permissible range of 30 to 50 degrees when constructing the angle of the stairway rise with a guidance table 1910.24(e) (Figure 2)
  • Treading requirements on the stair steps 1910.24(f)
  • Stairway platforms shall be no less than the width of a stairway and a minimum of 30 inches in length measured in the direction of travel 1910.24(g)
  • The necessity for railings and handrails on open sides of all exposed stairways and stair platforms and additional guidance on installation requirements 1910.24(h)
  • At least 7 feet of vertical clearance above any stair tread to an overhead obstruction measured from the leading edge of the tread 1910.24(i)

Figure 1.  OSHA's Table D-1 guidance on rise/tread dimensions in producing stairways within permissible range (Photo courtesy of OSHA)

Details for safe and efficient fixed ladders can be found in OSHA 1910.27.  In summary, this regulation specifies:

  • Design considerations for meeting load requirements and requirements for ladders made from wood components 1910.27(a)
  • Requirements for: rungs, cleats, steps, side rails, fastenings, splices, electrolytic action, and welding as well as guidance to protect ladders from deterioration 1910.27(b)
  • Various ladder clearance considerations 1910.27(c)
  • Various requirements for ladders with special features 1910.27(d)
      - Cages or wells
      - Landing platforms
      - Ladder extensions
      - Grab bars
      - Ladder safety devices
  • Various permissible ranges when angling ladders 1910.27(e)
  • The requirement of ladder maintenance 1910.27(f)

Figure 2. Fixed stairs and ladder. (Photo courtesy of ELCOSH)

For more detailed information on each respective standard, please click on the link.  Where manual oar cart handling of materials or heavy objects are planned, ramp access should also be considered.   Ramps may also further reduce trips and falls.

Risks Addressed:

Workers climbing ladders are at increased risk of falling from heights.  The improper use of this equipment may pose a safety hazard. The result of such falls can potentially cause fractures, sprains, strains, contusions, severe damage to internal organs and even death.

How Risks are Reduced:

Fixed ladders and/or stairways meeting federal regulatory guidance are more structurally stable than portable ladders, scaffolds and lifts. Also having a fixed access to work at heights reduces the risk of back injuries and other related injuries associated with carrying, placing and installing the portable equipment.

Additional Considerations:

The information on this page was adapted from the Fall From Ladders Design Solution: Specify Fixed Ladders or Stairways document.  Further, through the OSHA Alliance Program's Construction Roundtable, the Roundtable participants developed this product for informational purposes only.  It does not necessarily reflect the official views of OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor.

If design allows replacing portable ladder access with stairs or aerial lifts or ramps this can also reduce the cost of managing ladders safely; including training, regular inspection, red tagging, and replacement and supervision.  Several large construction contractors (like Turner Construction) particularly on commercial sites, regularly prohibit all use of portable ladders.

Hazards Addressed:


OSHA Alliance Program's Construction Roundtable
The designation of fixed ladders and/or stairways installed onto buildings will be dependent on the guidance from a competent person with structural engineering experience and federal regulatory standards. For more information regarding system applicability, please contact the fixed ladder and stairway manufacturer directly. The information in this page was adapted from the Alliance Program Construction Roundtable

NIOSH Workplace Solutions Sheet
The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) has published a series of “Workplace Solutions”, which are easy-to-understand recommendations from NIOSH research results. Related to this Construction Solution, please find more information on: Preventing Falls from Heights through the Design of Embedded Safety Features and Supporting Prevention through Design (PtD) Using Business Value Concepts

Return on Investment

To calculate the return on investment (ROI) for your specific application, please visit our Return on Investment Calculator. While a specific ROI example has not been developed for this particular solution, the ROI Calculator provides a useful tool and guidance on how to generate your own on investment analysis.