Specification for aluminum fixed vertical ladders including design criteria; materials; field erection procedures and warranty.


A common question asked when specifying ladder products is what materials of construction should be used.  All fixed ladder designs specified should meet OSHA and ANSI requirements, along with the specific requirements unique for the application.  Ladders commonly specified in the marketplace are constructed of aluminum and coated carbon steel.  Stainless steel ladders are typically only used in food grade applications.

If you look to history, fixed caged ladders were first offered in coated carbon steel.  If the ladder product was provided with a HDG (hot dip galvanized) coating at 2.5 mils DFT, these ladders provided adequate service life for industrial applications, where aesthetics were not important.  Typically, a coated carbon steel ladder is the least expensive ladder to purchase.  Under review, it is the “other factors” that has removed it as a top contender for specification.  In today’s market, carbon steel ladder designs utilizing powder or liquid coatings are problematic.  Any sharp edge on a painted ladder component will rust within months of installation.  In many instances, repainting these ladders is more expensive than the original ladder material purchase.  This is one of the main factors that has contributed to the specification and preference for aluminum materials in fixed and caged ladder construction.

Over the last decade, aluminum construction has taken the top position in the marketplace for fixed caged ladder designs.  Relative to applications, over 90% of the applications in the municipal market now specify aluminum construction.  For building roof and structure access applications, aluminum construction has also become the preferred product of choice due to preferred aesthetics and the fact these ladder designs don’t corrode and never require painting.  In industrial applications, both aluminum and HDG carbon steel ladders are commonly specified.  Additional factors to consider when specifying ladder construction includes field installation handling and associated costs.  Since aluminum ladder assemblies are lighter weight than their counterparts in carbon steel, field installation crews prefer their installation.  Lighter assemblies are safer and easier to handle in the field, which also equates to less labor costs for installation.  On an installed basis, a high quality aluminum caged ladder will be comparable in cost to carbon steel construction.

In comparison, Fixed Caged Ladder Construction:

Coated carbon steel ladders

Heavier weight components

Subject to rusting & corrosion

Continuous painting

Carbon steel hardware

Poor aesthetics

Total M&I* cost – comparable to aluminum

      *(materials & field installation)

In comparison, Fixed Caged Ladder Construction:

Aluminum ladders

Light weight components

No rusting or corrosion

No painting

Stainless steel hardware

Good aesthetics

Total M&I costs – comparable to steel

Both aluminum and carbon steel fixed caged ladders are available and offered online in varying quality.  Some of the import products packaged under American brand names represent some of poorest quality ladder designs available in the marketplace today.  Also, it is highly questionable whether or not some of these products meet recognized code standards.

In cost comparisons, high quality fixed aluminum ladders may cost slightly more initially than coated carbon steel construction, but the payback in preventive maintenance is realized within a very short period of time of less than 1-2 years.  Over its life cycle costs, aluminum construction is the highly superior product choice compared to carbon steel ladder designs.

In specifying an aluminum or carbon steel ladder design, always specify a fixed ladder design that incorporates recognized codes/standards and high quality component features.  This includes:

  • Review supplier’s ladder specification – should meet OSHA and ANSI requirements
  • Always review the design of the “ladder component assemblies” (If a supplier doesn’t outline their component design or if they tell you it is proprietary, move on to another supplier.)
  • Specify your preferred materials of construction (aluminum, carbon steel, stainless steel or other)
  • If carbon steel is specified, outline your surface prep requirements, primer spec, topcoat spec and color.
  • Be specific in defining unique requirements: Ladder cage, number of platforms, lock out door, guardrail extensions at the top, standoff bracket distance, safety gates, safety climb device, etc.
  • Specify any special code or engineering requirements

All high quality fixed ladder designs can be supported with engineering calculations and a PE stamp from any state in the U.S., at additional cost.  Additionally, as a standard, a custom drawing for each application should be provided by the ladder manufacturer.

High quality ladder designs don’t necessarily cost more than low quality ladder products, but you must specify your requirements or you will likely be disappointed with the product received.

As one comparison, an extruded ladder rung offered by Ascend Fab is twice the diameter of a competitor rung design and twice the thickness.  Which rung assembly would you prefer?  As previously noted, any quality ladder supplier should provide their component design descriptions for review.  For review, we have pulled Ascend Fab component descriptions for fixed ladders that is listed online:

High Quality Fixed Caged Ladders, Component Descriptions:

  • Aluminum shapes 6061-T6 unless otherwise noted
  • Stringers – C3 x 1.50” x .130”
  • Rungs – 1.5” diameter extruded pipe rungs, non-slip per OSHA
  • Cage Systems – Lower Flared Hoop, 3” x .25” flat bar
  • Cage Systems – Mid Hoop – 3” x .25” flat bar
  • Cage Systems – Upper Hoops (2) – 3” x .25” flat bar
  • Vertical Bars – 1.5” x .1875” flat bar
  • Brackets – 4” x .375” flat bar
  • Platforms – Frame, C6 x 1.92” x .200”
  • Walking Surface – 2” plank grating, 5052-H32
  • Guardrail Posts – L3 x 3” x .25”
  • Rails – 1.5” diameter sch. 40 pipe
  • Toeboard – 4” x .25” flat bar
  • Hardware – 304 stainless steel

About Ascend Fab:  Their “fixed ladder specification” and “component assemblies” are available online at www.ascendfab.com.  Additionally, pricing for ladder assemblies from small ladder sizes (both caged and uncaged) up to vertical runs of over 150’ in height are also listed online.  The company notes quote turnaround time within 24 hours of receipt.  Ascend Fab also stocks many of the standard size ladder assemblies commonly requested, which are available for prompt shipment.

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