Construction and Use of Wire Rope Ladders for the Entertainment Industry

Climbing an ANSI E1.1-2018 wire rope ladder on white background while acting in play.

Last month, we discussed standards for ladders, looking specifically at ANSI ASC A14.2-2017: American National Standards for Ladders – Portable Metal – Safety Requirements by the American Ladder Institute (ALI). Standards written by this organization focus primarily on the construction and care for portable and immobile ladders. However, this scope does not cover an important type of ladder. Rope ladders are used for vertical climbing in areas where the use of a rigid ladder would be impractical. The only ANSI-accredited standard for rope ladders is ANSI E1.1 – 2018: Entertainment Technology – Construction and Use of Wire Rope Ladders.

Rope ladders are unique climbing instruments, since their rails, or the vertical pieces on the side that connect the horizontal rungs, are made of some kind of rope. The rungs, as in all other ladders, are generally constructed of wood or metal. Rope ladders have many different practical applications. One of these that has been standardized is for the entertainment industry. This includes live theater, outdoor music events, and video, broadcast, and film production. Wire rope ladders are often used for vertical access by personnel to interact with lighting and raised platforms. Since a lot of this equipment in the entertainment industry is temporary, the easily-mobile and versatile wire rope ladders are very convenient.

As with other types of ladders, personnel safety is an essential concern with wire rope ladder care. According to the standard, wire rope ladders should only be used when the maximum vertical height is 50 feet (15.2 m). When the height of the working area exceeds this amount, other means of access need to be provided. Something unique to rope ladders is the flexibility of the rails. This can make it more difficult for personnel to climb, increasing the risk for danger. The best way to stabilize the ladder is to secure something to the bottom that applies a downwards force, preventing it from swinging. This should increase the tension of the ropes, but not so much that they can become damaged. There should also be a retractable lifeline adjacent to the ladder.

Wire rope ladders are essential to the production of several different forms of entertainment. Ensuring the safety of all workers who operate on them allows this entertainment to occur while helping to minimize workplace injuries.

ANSI E1.1 – 2018 is a standard by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA). ESTA writes standards for the North American entertainment industry and currently has working groups in seven areas: camera cranes, control protocols, electrical power, floors, fog and smoke, photometrics, and rigging.

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