Ladder cages and vertical ladder lines: what and why

Looking up a fixed ladder, through an installed ladder cage, to the sky.

When it comes to providing protection against falls associated with fixed ladders, there are two main options – vertical ladder lines and ladder cages.

Fixed ladders come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Although their purpose is relatively straight forward – assisting a worker in ascending or descending from one level to another – the number of places they can be used is just about endless.

And as with anything to do with ascending, descending or just generally not having two feet flat on the ground, using a fixed ladder brings with it the risk of a fall. A risk that must be mitigated if compliance is to be maintained with workplace health and safety legislation.

There are two common ways risks of a fall from a fixed ladder are mitigated – ladder cages and vertical lifelines.

What is a ladder cage?

A ladder cage is a fixed canopy that encompasses a ladder. They create a sort of tunnel, that the worker moves through as they ascend or descend the ladder.

They are generally made from aluminium and are mostly used on longer ladders located on the outside of buildings.

Ladder cages can be fitted to a ladder either the time the ladder is initially installed or retrofitted to an existing ladder. Retrofitting usually occurs after a compliance inspection or height safety audit has highlighted potential issues with the system.

What does a ladder cage protect you from?

In the main, a ladder cage protects a worker against the risk of falling off either side, or back away from, the fixed ladder.

Although a ladder cage will not necessarily mitigate the risk of a fall itself, they can provide protection against a fall being a greater distance. Keeping a fall along the path of a ladder reduces the chances of a worker falling off another nearby edge.

It is also possible that a ladder cage could assist in a moment of unsteadiness by providing a structure against which the worker can brace themselves to regain their balance and improve their hold on the ladder.

Vertical line shuttle with shock pack hanging off a ladder line installed on a fixed internal ladder.

What is a vertical ladder line?

A ladder line is a vertically mounted static line that is attached to the ladder. It is made up of a tensioned steel cable onto which a worker connects to using a harness, shock absorber and shuttle.

The shuttle travels up and down the line as the worker ascends or descends the ladder. In the event of a fall, the shuttle will grab the line, arresting the fall.

What happens after a fall?

Following a fall, a worker connected to a vertical ladder line will require rescuing. Remaining suspended in their harness for extended periods can itself be dangerous, so a rescue plan should be put into effect immediately.

Depending on the exact situation and environment where the fall has occurred, what the rescue plan looks like will vary. This also applies to the equipment that will be used as part of the rescue.

As far as the vertical ladder line is concerned, it will at least need to be inspected for compliance following its involvement in a fall. However, it is extremely likely that a replacement will need to be installed.

Do I need a cage or a ladder line for my fixed ladder?

Unfortunately, like most things when it comes to height safety and fall protection, the answer is “it depends”.

The most practicable solution for your access needs will depend on what sort of fixed ladder you have, its location and the specific risks associated with its use.

Importantly, there are never a cage and a vertical lifeline installed on a system together. The reason for this is simple – performing the rescue of a worker suspended on a ladder line while enclosed within a ladder cage introduces significant additional risks for the rescuers. These risks can be mitigated, and a rescue be more efficiently performed, by choosing either option on its own.

Making your workplace safer

Height Safety Engineers are the experts in safe access and fall protection for those working at heights and in high-risk environments. Our team can advise and assist no matter your safety situation. Call us on 1300 884 978 or email and start the safety journey with your partners in protecting people.

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