Tag Archives: Handrails

Steel Fixed Ladder Handrail Options

Does my ladder need a handrail?

Almost all ladders will have an extension at the top, with the only exceptions being ladders accessing roof hatches, manholes, floor doors, or anything else that closes over the top of the ladder. If you are exiting the ladder to the side or going to an offset platform due to the 30’ maximum climbing distance between ladders, you will need to add four more rungs above the platform. Those rungs are only to be used for hand-hold only, to give you something to grab onto to safely exit the ladder.

 

Side step ladder platform for climbs over 30' in length

Side step ladder platform for climbs over 30′ in length

If the ladder is going up to a wall, to a roof, or to a mezzanine, then you will need extensions on the ladder for the “walk-through” exit of the ladder.

We have three different designs of walk-through handrails and I’ll go into the details on each of them below.

Steel ladder handrail options

Steel ladder handrail options

The first design, the “8” shape, is our standard ladder design. This is the most commonly used handrail setup as it allows for the top of the walk-through to mount to the landing surface, providing the greatest rigidity at the handrail. It also makes installation easy, as there are no questions where the top rung mounts; it is always installed properly meeting the top of the landing surface as required by code.

In cases of short parapets or locations where you cannot have the walk-through handrail anchor to or even set upon the roof you would use the second “P” profile, our “self supported walk-through handrail”. This handrail design works well when there is a parapet under 14” high that the handrail mounting pads would not line up with. It is not a necessity to use the “P” shaped handrail in those instances. Many installers still prefer the “8” layout for the added cross brace back to the ladder. When installing a ladder with our self-supported walk-through handrail, be sure to install properly, with the top rung level with the top of your roof. There is no foot pad at the top to ensure this is done, so installation just requires a check to be sure of compliance.

The last ladder handrail design is our “customer supplied walk-through handrail”. This is used in instances where the installation location has existing railing and handrails that they want to weld the walk-through handrail to. This is useful in locations where space is minimal and existing site conditions allow for field welding to existing rails.

Not shown is our step across platform, which is essentially a crossover used when site conditions require the ladder rung to be more than 12” away from the landing surface as required by OSHA standards. Most commonly, this is used on locations with gutters that are more than 5” off the face of the climbing side of the wall.

OSHA 1910.27(d)(3)

“Ladder extensions.” The side rails of through or side-step ladder extensions shall extend 3 1/2 feet above parapets and landings. For through ladder extensions, the rungs shall be omitted from the extension and shall have not less than 18 nor more than 24 inches clearance between rails. For side-step or offset fixed ladder sections, at landings, the side rails and rungs shall be carried to the next regular rung beyond or above the 3 1/2 feet minimum (fig. D-10).

Do I Need a Swing Gate on My Fixed Ladder?

 

Walk-thru fixed ladder with cage

Walk-thru fixed ladder with safety cage

Do you need a ladder gate at your ladder opening in your railing? According to OSHA 1910.23(a)(2) “Every ladderway floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a standard railing with standard toeboard on all exposed sides (except at entrance to opening), with the passage through the railing either provided with a swinging gate or so offset that a person cannot walk directly into the opening.”

This means that every ladder opening needs to be either (a) Offset so that a person cannot walk (or fall) directly into the opening or (b) Protected by a ladder safety gate. It is an easy either/or. The most common ladder installation locations are not offset and as such require safety gates. Below you will see some photos of ladders and top view sketches clarifying why each of their orientations either do or do not require a gate.

One quick note – there is often a source of confusion surrounding the OSHA standards because of the passage further in the standard (1910.23(c)(1) which states “Every open-sided floor or platform 4 feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing (or the equivalent as specified in paragraph (e)(3) of this section) on all open sides except where there is entrance to a ramp, stairway, or fixed ladder. The railing shall be provided with a toeboard wherever, beneath the open sides, persons can pass, there is moving machinery, or there is equipment with which falling materials could create a hazard.”

Many people had been incorrectly interpreting this believing that if their ladder opening was under 4’h, a gate was not required. OSHA has cleared up this misconception by stating “Unguarded ladderway floor openings and unguarded ladderway entrances on all surfaces should be cited under section 1910.23(a)(2)”, for all intents and purposes, if you have a ladder opening, it is required to meet OSHA 1910.23(a)(2).

Now that we know what the code requirement is, it is time to review a few common ladder mounting orientations to discuss where they fall under the code.

Fixed ladder mounted to side of platform

Fixed ladder mounted to side of platform

The above fixed ladder is mounted onto the side of the platform. Work is performed further down the platform but it is possible to fall directly down the ladder opening. This location is not offset and as such would require a swing gate. See the below top view sketch for clarification.

Top view sketch of side mounted fixed ladderway opening

Top view sketch of side mounted fixed ladderway opening

You can walk directly to the ladder opening from where work is/can be expected to be performed and as such, a safety gate is required at the ladder opening.

Fixed ladder with offset landing platform

Fixed ladder with offset landing platform

The above ladder accesses a platform and then turns to access the main walkway. This ladder is offset and would not require a swing gate at the opening.

Top view sketch of offset mounted fixed ladderway opening

Top view sketch of offset mounted fixed ladderway opening

As you can see above, if someone fell while at the main walkway they would fall onto the ladder landing surface, they would not fall down the ladder opening. If the ladder was rotated to the left side of the landing it would require a safety gate because then the ladder opening would no longer be offset.

Ladderway opening on side of catwalk

Ladderway opening on side of catwalk

Above is a very common ladder mount position. This one can be tricky until you lay it out from the top view. From first glance it looks like because the ladder is off to the side that it would be offset from the normal flow of traffic, but if you fell at that point of the catwalk there would be no guarding to protect you. A swing gate is a requirement at this location.

Top view sketch of catwalk side mounted fixed ladderway opening

Top view sketch of catwalk side mounted fixed ladderway opening

As you can see from the above sketch, there is a single direction of travel to the ladder from the catwalk. This is not offset. It would be a single direction fall into the ladder opening and as such, a ladder safety gate is required to protect your employees when a ladder is installed in the above orientation.

Most areas are not offset. A good rule of thumb is that if you can fall into the ladder opening with a single direction fall, then you are not offset. The only example above that didn’t need a gate was the second ladder location. With that orientation, you would fall onto the ladder landing and then hit the rear railing, not fall through the ladder opening.

Replacement Stair Rails

We recently were called out to a site with a corrosive environment that was in need of replacement stair rails as all of the original handrails were rusting and in disrepair. The paint was almost all chipped up, and some areas of the handrails were so corroded you had to choose between risking a fall by not grabbing the stair handrails, and grabbing the handrails but risking the need for a tetanus shot.

Existing railings corroded from damp environment

Existing railings corroded from damp environment

The above picture shows the lowest section with a bollard and chain assembly “protecting” the pit ladder that is bent, corroded and weakened at the base. It also doesn’t meet OSHA standards for rail heights or strength at top rail. You can also see the rusted handrail and stair rail. Anytime you have a damp environment it’s best to use a material besides carbon steel – Galvanized steel, aluminum or stainless steel all perform much better over time. Remember that corrosion doesn’t just make the metals look bad, but it also weakens them, substantially lessening their lifetime usability. Sure, the other metal options cost more than plain carbon steel, but when you have to replace the material before its time you have to pay for demo of the inferior material, fabrication of the new material, installation of the new material and have the lost time from the job being out of service during that process.

 

New hot dipped galvanized replacement stair rails and safety gate

New replacement hot dipped galvanized railings and safety gate

Here is the same view after we finished. We removed the bollard and replaced it with one with a more sturdy post and baseplate. The chains were removed and replaced with our MLG Ladder Safety Gate with a hot dipped galvanized finish. The new set-up is going to stand up to the moist, caustic environment much better and easily meets OSHA standards for guarding at a ladderway opening.

29 CFR 1910.23 Guarding of floor and wall openings and holes. “(a)(2) Every ladderway floor opening or platform shall be guarded by a standard railing with standard toe board on all exposed sides (except at entrance to opening), with passage through the railing either provided with a swing gate or so offset that a person cannot walk directly into the opening.”

New rails with OSHA required toe guard to prevent items from falling over the edge

New rails with OSHA required toe guard to prevent items from falling over the edge

All of the new handrails were done to OSHA standards with a 4” toe kick at the bottom, a 21” mid rail and a 42” top rail. Along the stairs, the stair rails were 34” high from the edge of the nosing. There was no wall mounted rail as the stair width is less than 44” wide and there is only one open side.

29 CFR 1910.23 (d) Stairway railings and guards. “(1)(ii) On stairways less than 44 inches wide having one side open, at least one stair railing on open side.”

 

Smooth, continuous handrail to maintain contact with rail throughout the climb

Smooth, continuous handrail to maintain contact with rail throughout the climb

The replacement stair rails are designed for a seamless transition between flights, allowing someone to slide their hand from the top rail to the bottom of the stairs without letting go of the rail. This gives a nice, clean look and also allows for safer access and increased strength of rails. Added strength also comes from the baseplate design with a four bolt pattern to maximize rail strength and minimize movement regardless of where pressure is applied front, back, top etc.

There were some unique challenges to this project with the winding rails, but with proper site dimensions and knowing the details about the installation environment, it was quite easy to supply this customer with replacement rails that fit and will last them a lot longer than their previous set.