Fixed Access Ladders Explained

Fixed Access Ladders Explained

20th March 2014

A fixed access ladder is a vertical ladder that has been permanently mounted onto a structure and is used primarily to gain access to roofs or other structures, usually for industrial purposes.  A fixed ladder may be fitted to a variety of different structures – buildings, chimneys, tanks, wind turbines, machinery, even vans and lorries.

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published Working at Height Regulations (WAHR) to cover all types of working at height in order to reduce the risk of accidents and falls.  However, the WAHR legislation is quite ambiguous when it comes to fixed access ladders and this has resulted in confusion and misinterpretation.  There is an Engineering Equipment and Materials Users’ Association (EEMUA) guide that contains some clarification and recommendations for the installation and use of fixed access ladders.

In general a fixed access ladder should only be installed where occasional access is needed and the installation of a stairway is not practical.  Whether the ladder is vertical or inclined (the angle of inclination should not be more than 15˚), adequate clearance should be provided around the ladder to ensure safe use.

Fixed ladders should not rise more than 6m without an intermediate landing to break the line of the ladder – however, this does not apply to ladders on chimneys or other high structures.  Intermediate landings should be at least 840 mm square and guarded by handrails and toe plates on all sides.  If there is risk of a user falling from a height of 2 m or more, or any risk of contact with dangerous equipment, safety hoops should be provided or a fall protection system installed.

There should be a clear width between stringers of between 380 mm and 450 mm.  If the ladder offers access to the platform from the outside, the stringers should be opened out above the platform level to ensure a clear width of 600 mm to 700 mm to allow adequate room for the user to turn to face the ladder before making a descent.

The stringers should be constructed from a flat bar with minimum dimensions of 65 mm x 10 mm and, if possible, should be fabricated from one continuous length.  If a joint is necessary on the stringers, then a fishplate should be used on the inside of the stringer, either bolted, riveted or welded.  If bolts and rivets are used on the joint they should have a minimum diameter of 12 mm with countersunk or cup heads on the outside of the stringer.

The stringers should be supported from the structure at intervals with fixing cleats firmly attached to the adjacent brickwork, structural members or floor construction members.

Rungs should be fabricated from round bar 20 mm – 50 mm in diameter and should be uniformly spaced to provide a rise of between 225 mm and 255 mm.  Steel rungs should be constructed from solid bar in order to minimize any potential corrosion.  Rungs will need to withstand a concentrated load of 1.5 kN (Kilonewton) in any position and should be securely fixed.  The top surface of the top rung should be level with the platform or landing area to eliminate any gap.  Clearances at the back of any rung need to be at least 230 mm to allow adequate foot room.