What Goes Up….

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / May 1, 2005

What goes up, must come down is the old saying that doesn’t mean a darn thing to me.  Maybe it has something to do with the stock market; sure doesn’t have anything to do with scaffolding, unless of course, you are thinking about access for the scaffold.  Experience suggests that there are common questions regarding access for scaffolds.  Here’s a few, along with the answers.


Do you need access to all platforms?  No, you only need access to the platforms you are going to use.  However, why have the platforms if you can’t get to them?

Can users climb cross braces on a frame scaffold?   Only if you want to die; OSHA prohibits it, manufacturers prohibit it, and intelligent people don’t do it.

Is access different for industrial users from commercial users different from residential users?  No.  Access is required for all scaffolds no matter the type of scaffold or where they are used.

What are safe forms of access?  Safe access can be portable ladders, hook-on/attachable ladders, stairways, stairway type ladders, ramps, walkways, integral prefabricated scaffold access, elevators, and direct access.

Can scaffold erectors climb certain equipment that users cannot?  Yes.  The employer shall provide a safe means of access for erectors.  The employer’s competent person determines the feasibility and potential hazards of the access that will be used.  The determination will be based on the site conditions and the type of scaffold being erected or dismantled.

Can scaffold frames be used as access by erectors?  Yes, provided the horizontal members are parallel and level, not more than 22 inches apart, and the frame provides a good hand and foot hold.

Can scaffold frames be used as access by users?  Only under certain restrictive conditions.  It must be specifically designed and constructed for use as a ladder.  It must have rung lengths at least 8 inches long, be uniformly spaced within the frame, have a maximum spacing of 16/3/4 inches, and a rest platform every 35 feet, maximum.  Non uniform spacing between frames is allowed provided the space is no more than 16-3/4 inches.

Since hook-on/attachable ladders are vertical, are they considered “fixed ladders?”  No.  Since, by definition, a scaffold is temporary, the ladder cannot be “fixed.”  Besides, it is clear in the OSHA Letters of Interpretation, and other sources, that ladders manufactured for use with scaffolds are not considered fixed ladders.

If I use a portable ladder, such as an extension ladder, does it have to comply with any other standards besides the scaffold standards?  Yes.  Portable ladders, both self supporting, and non-self supporting, must comply with the standards in Subpart X of the OSHA Construction Industry Standards when used in construction.

What the maximum vertical height can there be between platforms before I have to provide access?  24 inches.

If I use a scaffold stairway to access a scaffold, what is the maximum first step?  24 inches.

If I climb off a catwalk onto a scaffold platform, what are the maximum allowable vertical and horizontal distances?  24 inches vertically, and 14 inches horizontally.

If I use a scaffold stairway to access a building, and not a scaffold, what is the maximum first step?  19 inches.

If I use a ladder to access a scaffold, what is the maximum first step?  24 inches.

What is the fall protection safety device for hook-on/attachable ladders?  The rest platform, which is to be spaced no more than 35 feet apart.

Do I need to supply a rest platform if I use an extension ladder? No, you can lean against the ladder to rest.  If your legs get that tired, used a stairway; the landings have to occur at each level.

Is a rest platform a special platform or is it any platform where I can get off the vvertical ladder to rest my hands?  Any properly constructed platform will do.

Can I climb over guardrails to get on a platform?  Sure.  But in many instances, an access gate panel should work pretty well.

Is a ramp considered part of the scaffold platform?  No.  You must provide a guardrail system once the ramp is 6 feet above the level below.

Since stairs are welded units, what is there for me to install?  Don’t forget to install the handrails on the stairs and the guardrails on the landings.

How many points of access do I need to provide on a scaffold?  At a minimum, you must have proper access for all platforms.  In a refinery, since there may be many platforms, access must be provided to each one.  This access can be direct access, ladders, ramps, and in certain instances, stairs.  In commercial construction, you can have one ladder for the entire scaffold platform but that would be inconsiderate of the employees.  Logic and common sense should prevail; install as many as required to get the workers safely to all the platforms.  (OSHA Construction Subpart X (Stairs and Ladders) specifies frequency for structures under construction.  While Subpart X doesn’t apply to scaffolds, it will give you an idea of how often to install points of access.)

Can I jump from a roof onto a scaffold platform?  No!  That would really be dumb since you will probably overload the platform, particularly if it’s plank, and keep on going.

Can scaffold erectors climb frame scaffold cross braces?  No.  That would be dumb too.

When do scaffold erectors have to install the access?  As they build the scaffold, except on towers where the stair units are being installed.  In that case, the stair units are usually installed from the top down.


In summary, access is required for all scaffold platforms.  You have multiple choices for that access.  And of course, climbing cross braces and frames that are not designed for climbing are not on the list of choices.  For erectors, it is the employer’s competent person that decides the correct access.

Tags: Scaffolding Scaffolding Platforms access for scaffolds fixed ladders OSHA Standards & Regulations Resources scaffold erector safety scaffold frames

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