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An Architect’s Choice: Aluminum vs. Steel Ladders

Derek Tokarz

Derek Tokarz

Certified in Safety Management Group's Training in Fall Protection

As an architect, ensuring a building’s safety is paramount. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the number one cause of death in the construction industry. Utilizing safety equipment like fixed ladders is critical to eliminate those preventable deaths and reduce injuries.

When deciding what type of ladder to install, architects can choose between aluminum and steel. While both are widely used, the materials differ in their benefits. So, should you choose aluminum or steel ladders?

Below, we’ve compiled four key points to consider as you select ladders for your work site. Compare the benefits of aluminum vs. steel ladders to determine the best type of ladder to install on your next project.

1. Long-Term Cost Savings 

One of the most significant benefits of aluminum fixed ladders is their lower lifetime cost compared to steel fixed ladders. This lower cost is directly related to how well each material meets standards for corrosion resistance. OSHA standard 1910.23 requires employers to use corrosion-resistant metal ladders. The ladders may be made from corrosion-resistant material or protected against corrosion.

Steel

Although manufacturers can use stainless steel to construct fixed ladders if they want to achieve corrosion resistance, standard steel isn’t naturally rust-resistant. Over time, exposure to the elements leads to the development of rust on the steel, weakening its strength and decreasing its aesthetic appeal. This property of steel doesn’t affect the use of steel ladders indoors, but outdoors is another matter.

Because steel ladders are vulnerable to corrosion, they require galvanizing to resist rust formation after exposure to the elements. The galvanizing process involves applying a coating of protective zinc to the ladder’s steel structure. This process effectively makes steel corrosion-resistant. However, galvanized steel requires additional maintenance like paint coatings to preserve its corrosion resistance, which is a cost passed on to the customer.

If you want to use a steel fixed ladder with corrosion resistance, you’ll have to pay for galvanization, which is an extra customization cost. Adding a galvanized coating also creates ongoing maintenance costs, including repainting the ladder.

Aluminum

In contrast, aluminum is a naturally corrosion-resistant metal — aluminum fixed ladders don’t need an additional coating to protect them from rust corrosion. This aspect eliminates the need for galvanization upfront and the yearly maintenance costs associated with steel ladders. Even without a protective coating, aluminum ladders maintain their structural integrity for years.

Another factor relating to long-term cost is durability. Some architects may think steel is more durable because it’s heavier, but aluminum fixed ladders are equally as durable for their intended purpose. 

2. Compliance 

Compliance with industry regulations is essential for all kinds of building materials and structures, including fixed ladders. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reported over 350 falls to a lower level in the construction industry in 2020.

OSHA writes and enforces regulations that aim to improve the safety of types of equipment and reduce potential hazards. Other standards-producing bodies like the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) create standards regarding equipment like fixed ladders, worker protection equipment and other structures.

While compliance with ANSI and ASSP standards is voluntary, many companies view their standards as minimum safety requirements along with OSHA regulations. Ultimately, complying with safety standards from all of these regulatory bodies is the best practice for ensuring maximum safety on the worksite.

Steel vs. Aluminum

All ladders used on work sites must meet OSHA’s various requirements. Let’s review these standards and see how steel and aluminum can provide certain advantages or downsides in some compliance situations:

  • Rust and corrosion resistance: Corrosion resistance is a critical feature for worker safety and compliance with OSHA regulations. While steel ladders can receive a galvanized or painted coating to become corrosion-resistant, aluminum ladders naturally comply with OSHA’s corrosion resistance regulation. Aluminum meets corrosion resistance standards without needing an additional galvanized coating, making production and maintenance easier in the long run.
  • Height requirements: New OSHA standards require all ladders taller than 24 feet in vertical height to follow the fall protection standards in standard 1910.23. Previously, ladders taller than 20 feet were required to follow the same requirements.
  • Ladder equipment: Many ladders include personal fall arrest systems like cages as fall protection measures, which were considered compliant fall protection. New OSHA regulations require that employers replace cages and wells with personal fall arrest or ladder safety systems — employers must implement the change by November 18, 2036. ANSI and ASSP also provide regulation Z359.16 regarding the design, performance and testing of ladder fall arrest systems.
  • Ladder repair: Employers must repair any ladder damage promptly and replace any non-functioning or damaged sections, cages or wells with a ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system. Because aluminum requires very little maintenance, you can better meet OSHA standards when you choose aluminum ladders for your work sites.

Ultimately, aluminum ladders are more flexible and easier to maintain, making them better for meeting and maintaining OSHA standards on your job sites.

3. Peace of Mind 

Because of the nature of rooftop work and the tendency for construction or repair workers to move quickly, using equipment that provides peace of mind is invaluable. Navigating rooftops can be dangerous, especially closer to the edge where ladders are often placed. Anyone who needs rooftop access to your new construction will benefit from features that enhance peace of mind.

Steel

Steel’s durability and strength provide users reassurance that a steel ladder won’t fall over easily and can support them as they climb it. Having a sturdy, trustworthy ladder is key on any job site, but steel can cause some difficulties when working with it.

Steel’s weight makes it harder to transport. With a steel ladder, a crane is almost always required to move the ladder into the correct position. This process can add time and costs to your construction plan. These ladders are typically also pre-welded, making them take up more space during transportation. Once installed, the weight of a steel ladder will be much greater than an aluminum ladder, which means that the wall is subjected to a higher load.

Further, many steel fixed ladders feature round or square rungs that aren’t serrated, providing workers with limited foot traction. Because steel fixed ladder rungs provide limited traction, especially during periods of rain or snow, they create a poor climbing experience — workers may feel their grip sometimes slip on steel ladders, making climbing uncomfortable and even unsafe in some situations.

Another aspect to consider is that steel ladders have a lengthened lead time because they need galvanizing or painting to ensure corrosion resistance and are assembled to a specific height before they get to the job site.

Aluminum

By specifying aluminum fixed ladders for new construction projects, you give users the peace of mind that comes from:

  • Ease of installation: The peace of mind that comes from an aluminum fixed ladder begins with its ease of installation. This material’s light weight makes ladders easier and less costly to install. Unlike steel ladders, aluminum fixed ladders may not require a crane or lift to be moved into place on the worksite. An aluminum ladder also exerts a lighter load on the wall or roof on which it’s mounted.
  • Safety: Compliance with industry regulations about ladder construction goes a long way in ensuring a ladder’s safety. Aluminum ladders are built to applicable height, width and rung spacing requirements to ensure maximum safety. You can also personalize an aluminum fixed ladder with fall arrest systems, stability-improving mounting styles and modular kits that provide a site-specific fit.
  • Foot traction: OSHA has several requirements in standard 1910.23 for ladder rungs and steps that regulate their spacing and width. These regulations provide maximum traction to protect workers from losing their balance while working from the ladder and ensure they have sure footing. Aluminum fixed ladders have an ergonomic rung design with a wider profile and serrated grip for improved traction.
  • Better climbing experience: Ladder rung construction and ladder width also impact a worker’s climbing experience. Aluminum fixed ladders provide a more comfortable experience and ergonomic design. The emphasis on comfort saves workers from developing injuries or unhealthy working positions and gives them peace of mind about each climb’s safety and ease.
  • Reduced lead time: Unlike steel ladders, aluminum fixed ladders don’t need galvanization or painting and are ready to ship much sooner. Some aluminum fixed ladders come in a modular design that can be dispatched in a few days rather than a few weeks, shortening lead times even further.
  • Manufactured Strength: Aluminum fixed ladder systems are manufactured of high-grade, high-tensile aluminum, giving the ladder superior strength and loading performance.

Despite steel’s strength, aluminum provides more advantages to help keep end users confident and safe when working on a building.

4. Maintenance and Appearance 

Whether a new construction project is an office building or a manufacturing facility, overall design and aesthetic matters. A well-designed building enhances the company’s brand. Even safety equipment like fixed ladders can contribute to an appealing or unappealing building aesthetic.

When it comes to aluminum vs. steel ladders and their aesthetics, the differences may seem slight. However, many safety issues can also become aesthetic issues that require repair or replacement to maintain the ladder’s professional appearance.

Steel

Blemishes like rust, holes, burrs or rough edges are all reasons to update a fixed ladder. These flaws are often the result of corrosion, which means steel ladders see more of them than aluminum ladders. Even with galvanization and painting, steel ladders require regular maintenance to fix chipping paint and regalvanize the surfaces.

Aluminum

In contrast, the aesthetic of an aluminum ladder remains the same over time with very little maintenance. Aluminum’s natural corrosion resistance provides enhanced protection from damage caused by rain, snow and moisture. An aluminum fixed ladder stands the test of time, providing superior tensile strength and loading performance even under the demands of constant weather exposure.

Using aluminum fixed ladders in your building design ensures the equipment requires little maintenance and remains aesthetically appealing for years.

Should You Choose Aluminum or Steel Ladders? 

When comparing aluminum vs. steel ladders, the best choice becomes clear. Aluminum fixed ladders offer better corrosion resistance than steel, meeting OSHA regulations to enhance rooftop safety during construction, repairs and inspection. Aluminum’s resistance to rust ensures these ladders maintain their structural integrity and tensile strength over time. Many aluminum ladders also meet applicable OSHA regulations for ladder height, width and rung design better than steel ladders.

With their reduced need for maintenance, aluminum fixed ladders also have a lower lifetime cost than steel ladders. The costs of maintenance and repairs over a steel ladder’s lifetime far outweigh the upfront cost difference of the initial purchase of an aluminum fixed ladder. Aluminum ladders also resist unsightly rust, so it’s easy to maintain a clean and professional look with less maintenance than steel ladders require.

You also benefit from enhanced peace of mind with aluminum fixed ladders. From better foot traction to easier installation and safety, aluminum ladders offer numerous benefits that help create a stress-free work environment. These qualities enable workers to have confidence in their safety equipment and gain ease of use.

The difference between the compliance, long-term cost savings, aesthetics and peace of mind that aluminum ladders have over steel ladders gives architects an easy choice. It’s time to choose the superior fixed ladder material and benefit from the qualities of aluminum.

Choose Aluminum Fixed Ladders From FIXFAST USA 

When you need a fixed ladder that offers high strength, industry compliance, reliable performance and peace of mind, choose aluminum over steel. Aluminum fixed ladders are the superior choice for worker comfort and safety and long-term maintenance.

FIXFAST USA provides a wide selection of aluminum fixed ladders based on OSHA and ANSI standards that help worksites attain OSHA compliance. Your safety is our biggest motivation, so we’ve designed our ladder systems to ensure end users feel safe at any elevation. When you compare our fixed ladders to others, benefits like a modular system design, minimum lead time, easy delivery and safety put us ahead.

To explore our selection of fixed ladders, browse our fixed ladders and request a quote. You can also contact us to learn more about which of our systems could be best for your next project.

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