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Nelson & Associates :: Falls :: Climbing Systems

Climbing Systems


Climbing systems primarily consist of various types of stair and ladder systems.

The universal purpose of such systems and their design is to provide for appropriate and adequate footholds and handholds to fit the capabilities and limitations of the human persons who will use them to gain access from lower level walking and working surfaces to various raised or upper level walking and working surfaces.


Stair Systems

Major stair design guidelines and standards may be found in the following codes, standards, and regulations:


Ladder Systems

Major ladder design guidelines and standards may be found in the following codes, standards, and regulation

Vehicle Access Systems

Major access to vehicle design guidelines and standards may be found in the following codes, standards, and regulations:


Special note: SAE International J-185
And the Design of Any Climbing System for Human Use

The safety literature well recognizes that a major source of injury to the operators of both on-road commercial vehicles and off-road industrial and construction equipment is related to cab ingress and egress, as well as access to truck trailers. While desirable handhold and foothold design guidelines may be found in both the on-road and off-road safety literature, since the human body and its need to maintain stability during the climbing process is identical in all cases, logic, prudence, and competent engineering practice demands that the entire body of relevant guidelines should be consulted and used where applicable to the design of a safe means of ingress and egress for any vehicle.

The pre-eminent standard for the design of handholds and footholds to fit the needs of the climbing human body in regard to the ingress and egress to and from the above ground operator's cabs on off-road industrial equipment, was first published by the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1970, that being the standard SAE J185-1970 titled "Access Systems for Construction and Industrial Equipment." This standard (SAE J185) was republished with minor changes in content and format in 1981, 1985, 1988, and 2003 (and re-titled "Access Systems for Off-Road Machines."

SAE J185, titled Access Systems for Off-road Machines, like many other standards prepared for specific (but unnecessary limited) application, is recognized in the engineering (technical design) profession as applicable to the proper design of climbing system footholds and handhold for human use regardless of the type of vehicle or machine to which such footholds and handholds are attached. In essence and actual application, J185 is a human standard, not a machine standard. That is, regardless of the title of J185, or its preamble or stated (limited) scope, at a minimum, J185 stands as authoritative guideline to be followed by prudent designers (engineers, technical personnel, managers, etc.) exercising ordinary care for persons likely to be exposed to the same or similar hazards addressed by the content of J185.

Accordingly, under the dictates of ordinary care and the engineering practice of technology transfer, it cannot be argued that the specific title or stated purpose of SAE J185 (or similar standard and guidelines) limit the logical and practical application of its technical contents to substantially identical potential dangers associated with a wide variety of additional vehicles (and even stationary) equipment not addressed in the specific text of J185.

Therefore, while titled "Access Systems for Off-Road Machines," this standard (as its original all inclusive 1972 edition title (Access Systems for Construction and Industrial Equipment) suggests, is applicable to any industrial vehicle climbing system (or any climbing system for that matter), including commercial (industrial) over-the-road vehicles and equipment. This standard and its content should be well known to the designers and manufacturers of both off-road and over-the-road vehicle and equipment designers and manufacturers, and regardless of its title, they should be aware that its contents, and that such technology addresses across-the-board human needs in regard to climbing systems, and is not limited to ingress and egress systems of only off-road vehicles.

That is, given the ordinary meanings of the words "apply" and "applicable," ordinary logic and simple reason must acknowledge that the technical content of design standards, typically originating in the minds of their authors for the purpose of solving a particular problem at hand, are commonly "capable" of being "applied" to an entire class of similar problems. This process is called creative adaptation or technology transfer and is inherent to engineering design work. Contrary to being extra-ordinary, creative adaptation and the transfer of knowledge concerning similar systems is ordinarily what engineers and designers do, and in fact must do in most design situations. For any given subject matter, creative adaptation involves combining the prudent application of basic design concepts and principles with the intelligent and practical use or adaptation of available resources that address the same or significantly similar subject matter. This process is what makes an engineer or designer a "professional" in contrast to a skilled "technician" in the "construction" or "assembly" of various things from exact step-by-step instructions.

In the legal profession, the courts use "precedent" regarding the use of same or substantially similar previous court decisions to resolve current matters. It is no different with engineers, who use "technology transfer" pertaining to readily known published technology pertaining to same or substantially similar product design issues. If the technology fits, prudent engineering practice dictates that it be applied.

Note: For a brief outline of the content of SAE International J-185, see Fall Protection and Prevention – Access to Vehicles on this website.


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