Fall protection for fixed ladders is of special concern to OSHA. Why? In their words, "Falls from heights and on the same level (a working surface) are among the leading causes of serious work-related injuries and deaths." These injuries and deaths include fixed ladder falls.
In order to address this problem, OSHA has guidelines for fixed ladder fall protection. Importantly, they require a fall protection system on any ladder that extends beyond twenty-four feet. Additionally, ladder cages are no longer deemed as an acceptable means of fall protection. In fact, by November 18, 2036 cages must be replaced with an acceptable fall protection system.
Fixed Ladder Fall Protection Options
There are at least two ways to provide the needed fall protection on a fixed ladder. The first is to simply use a dual leg 100% tie-off lanyard. The second is to install a fixed ladder system. Note that in either case, because the fixed ladder would now be serving as a fall arrest system, one would have to verify that the ladder structure can handle the required loads to do so. Specifically, that both the ladder rungs and the way the ladder is attached to the structure meet anchorage point requirements.
Please also note that in both of the above methods, an appropriate harness is required. The harness needed is one that has a front/chest D-ring which is sometimes known has a climbing D-ring. The lanyard (in the first case) or the cable/trolley grab (in the second case) would attach to this climbing D-ring.
Pros/Cons of Each Method
The problem with the lanyard method noted above is meeting one of the requirements of OSHA's regulations. It is required that the worker is firmly on the work surface and off of the ladder before disconnecting from the fall protection system. This is difficult to do with the lanyard.
However, a fixed ladder system (like the FrenchCreek VL-38) makes it easy to comply with this requirement. A permanently installed fixed ladder system includes a top ladder bracket that extends beyond the ladder itself. This insures that the worker can exit off of the ladder onto the roof or work surface and then detach from the system.
A fixed ladder fall protection system is easy to install. It consists, normally, of the needed length of cable, the cable guides, the top and bottom brackets, and the cable grab. The FrenchCreek VL-38 System is one we highly recommend. This system can be ordered as a kit that suits the length of your ladder.