Course 114 Walking-Working Surfaces and Fall Protection

Surface Hazards Causing Falls

Copyright:leaf / 123RF Stock Photo
Elevated walking-working surfaces are especially hazardous.

Slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents. They cause 15% of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of death.

General Requirements

Housekeeping: The employer must ensure:

  • All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, service rooms, and walking-working surfaces are kept in a clean, orderly, and sanitary condition.
  • The floor of each workroom is maintained in a clean and, to the extent feasible, in a dry condition. When wet processes are used, drainage must be maintained and, to the extent feasible, dry standing places, such as false floors, platforms, and mats must be provided.
  • Walking-working surfaces are maintained free of hazards such as sharp or protruding objects, loose boards, corrosion, leaks, spills, snow, and ice.

Loads: The employer must ensure that each walking-working surface can support the maximum intended load for that surface.

Copyright: loganban 123RF Stock Photo
Inspect and maintain walking-working surfaces in good condition.

Access and egress: The employer must provide, and ensure each employee uses, a safe means of access and egress to and from walking-working surfaces.

Inspection, maintenance, and repair: The employer must ensure:

  • Walking-working surfaces are inspected, regularly and as necessary, and maintained in a safe condition;
  • Hazardous conditions on walking-working surfaces are corrected or repaired before an employee uses the walking-working surface again. If the correction or repair cannot be made immediately, the hazard must be guarded to prevent employees from using the walking-working surface until the hazard is corrected or repaired; and
  • When any correction or repair involves the structural integrity of the walking-working surface, a qualified person performs or supervises the correction or repair.

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1. Which of the following industrial accidents is second only to motor vehicles as a cause of death?

a. Slips, trips, and falls
b. Strains and sprains
c. Falls from scaffolds
d. Struck by heavy objects


Door or Gate Opening on Stairway - OSHA Image
Climbers working on a tower with fixed ladders system.

The employer must ensure that each ladder used meets the requirements of OSHA 1910.25 Subpart D. This information covers all ladders, except when the ladder is:

  • Used in emergency operations such as firefighting, rescue, and tactical law enforcement operations, or training for these operations; or
  • Designed into or is an integral part of machines or equipment.

General Requirements

Click on the button to see the general safety requirements when using ladders:

  • when the ladder is placed in position for use, ladder rungs, steps, and cleats should be parallel, level, and uniformly spaced;
  • wooden ladders are not coated with any material which may obscure structural defects;
  • metal ladders are made with corrosion-resistant material or protected against corrosion;
  • ladder surfaces are free of puncture and laceration hazards;
  • ladders are used only for the purposes for which they were designed;
  • ladders are inspected before initial use in each work shift, and more frequently as necessary, to identify any visible defects which could cause employee injury;
  • any ladder with structural or other defects is immediately tagged "Dangerous: Do Not Use" or with similar language and removed from service until repaired, or replaced;
  • each employee faces the ladder when climbing up or down it;
  • each employee uses at least one hand to grasp the ladder when climbing up and down it; and
  • no employee carries any object or load which could cause the employee to lose balance and fall while climbing up or down the ladder.

What is Ladder Safety? Oregon OSHA.

Securing Ladders

There is a significant risk of falling if portable ladders are not safely positioned each time they are used. Unsecured ladders can slip or shift due to the weight load or lack of friction between the ladder and contact points. It is very easy to lose your balance while getting on or off an unsteady ladder. Be sure to evaluate the situation; do not use a ladder on slippery surfaces unless it is secured or has slip-resistant feet.

Inspecting Ladders

Before using a ladder, a competent person must inspect the ladder for visible defects, such as broken or missing rungs. If a defective ladder is found, it must be immediately marked with a defective sign or clearly labeled with a “Do Not Use” sign. It should then be taken from service until it is completely repaired.

2. Employees should not use ladders on slippery surfaces unless _____.

a. it is placed on wood blocks
b. it is secured or has slip-resistant feet
c. it is inspected and not considered defective
d. it has a history of non-slippage while being used

Portable Ladders

mil public domain photo
Worker on portable ladder using 3-point contact positioning.

Portable ladders help you access a work area or provide support while you work. Portable ladders make getting to a work area easy, but they can increase the potential for falls if not used properly. Portable ladders are versatile, economical, and easy to use. However, workers sometimes use them without thinking safety.

Falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. Here are some OSHA requirements for using portable ladders:

  • The minimum clear distance between side rails for all portable ladders must be 11.5 inches (29 cm).
  • The rungs and steps of portable metal ladders must be corrugated, knurled, dimpled, coated with skid-resistant material or treated to minimize slipping.
  • Non-self-supporting and self-supporting portable ladders must support at least four times the maximum intended load; extra heavy-duty type 1A metal or plastic ladders must sustain 3.3 times the maximum intended load.
  • The side rails must extend at least 3 feet (.9 m) above the upper landing surface. When that is not possible, the ladder must be secured and a grasping device such as a grab rail must be provided.
  • A ladder extension must not deflect under a load that would cause the ladder to slip off its supports.
rf123 photo 5013964_m
4:1 angle = 75 deg.

Ladder Angle

A non-self-supporting ladder (e.g., extension, straight etc.) should have a set-up angle of about 75 degrees — a 4:1 ratio of the ladder’s working length to set-back distance to ensure proper stability.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand at the base of the ladder with your toes touching the rails.
  • Extend your arms straight out in front of you. If the tips of your finger just touch the rung nearest your shoulder level, the angle of your ladder has a 75 degree angle or 4:1 length/set-back ratio.

3. To ensure proper stability, an extension ladder should be set-up with a _____ or a _____.

a. 60 degree angle, 2:1 length/set-back ratio
b. 45 degree angle, 1:1 length/set-back ratio
c. 90 degree angle, 3:1 length/set-back ratio
d. 75 degree angle, 4:1 length/set-back ratio
Image lockout devices
Figure D-2. Side-Step Fixed Ladder Sections.

Fixed Ladders

The employer must ensure:

  • Fixed ladders are capable of supporting their maximum intended load.
  • The minimum perpendicular distance from the steps or rungs, or grab bars, or both, to the nearest permanent object in back of the ladder is 7 inches (18 cm) and 4.5 inches (11 cm) for pit ladders.
  • Grab bars do not protrude on the climbing side beyond the rungs of the ladder that they serve.
  • The side rails of through or sidestep ladders extend 42 inches (1.1 m) above the top of the access level or landing platform served by the ladder.
  • For through ladders, the steps or rungs are omitted from the extensions, and the side rails are flared to provide not less than 24 inches (61 cm) and not more than 30 inches (76 cm) of clearance. When a ladder safety system is provided, the maximum clearance between side rails of the extension must not exceed 36 inches (91 cm).
  • For side-step ladders, the side rails, rungs, and steps must be continuous in the extension (see Figure D-2 above).
  • Individual-rung ladders are constructed to prevent the employee's feet from sliding off the ends of the rungs.
  • Fixed ladders having a pitch greater than 90 degrees from the horizontal are not used.
  • rf123 photo 20750539_ml
    Correct 3-Point Control Position

Climb Safely - Use Three-Point-Control

Three-point-control vs. three-point-contact positioning: The three-point-control technique requires a worker to use any three of his or her four limbs for reliable, stable support. Another requirement when using the three-point-control technique is that the hands must grasp the horizontal rung of the ladder. A horizontal grip allows the worker to hold their bodyweight and prevent a fall: the vertical grip will not.

The three-point-contact technique is not recommended for positioning because it only requires that any three body parts, not just hands or feet, must contact the ladder to maintain stability.

The three-point-control technique is the best method because the worker has both feet on the ladder and is gripping a horizontal rung, so the worker is much less likely to fall then if the hand is gripping a vertical rail or another body part is merely resting on a part of the ladder. Remember, when climbing:

  1. keep both feet at the same level, and
  2. maintain a horizontal one-hand grip (power grip) with fingers wrapped around the rung of the ladder.

4. When using the three-point-control method to climb a ladder, be sure to _____.

a. grasp the horizontal rung
b. grip the vertical rail
c. lean up against the rungs
d. keep the feet on separate rungs

Mobile Ladder Stands and Platforms

Quick look at a mobile platform ladder from Gorilla.

The employer must ensure:

  • The steps and platforms of mobile ladder stands and platforms are slip resistant. Slip-resistant surfaces must be either an integral part of the design and construction of the mobile ladder stand and platform, or provided as a secondary process or operation, such as dimpling, knurling, shotblasting, coating, spraying, or applying durable slip-resistant tapes;
  • Mobile ladder stands and platforms are capable of supporting at least four times their maximum intended load;
  • Wheels or casters under load are capable of supporting their proportional share of four times the maximum intended load, plus their proportional share of the unit's weight;
  • Mobile ladder stands and platforms with a top step height of 4 feet (1.2 m) or above should have handrails. Removable gates or non-rigid members, such as chains, may be used instead of handrails in special use applications;
  • The maximum work-surface height of mobile ladder stands and platforms does not exceed four times the shortest base dimension, without additional support. For greater heights, outriggers, counterweights, or comparable means that stabilize the mobile ladder stands and platforms and prevent overturning must be used;
  • Mobile ladder stands and platforms that have wheels or casters are equipped with a system to impede horizontal movement when an employee is on the stand or platform; and
  • No mobile ladder stand or platform moves when an employee is on it.

5. How much weight must mobile ladder stands and platforms be capable of supporting?

a. over 100 pounds per square foot
b. a minimum of 300 pounds live weight for each worker
c. at least four times their maximum intended load
d. 5000 pounds dead weight


Mil Image 150818-F-RA202-048
"Cable Dawgs" working in a manhole. Note the steps.

Step bolts. Step bolts are literally used as steps on steel communication and electrical transmission towers. Each step bolt is designed, constructed, and maintained to prevent the employee's foot from slipping off the end of the step bolt. They should be inspected before use. They should be uniformly spaced, and any step bolt bent more than 15 degrees must be removed and replaced prior to use.

Manhole Steps

The employer must ensure that each manhole step is capable of supporting its maximum intended load. They should be made of materials that prevent corrosion. The should be uniformly spaced and should be designed to prevent the employee's foot from slipping off the end. They should be inspected before use and maintained without defects.


The employer must ensure:

  • Handrails, stair rail systems, and guardrail systems are provided as required;
  • Vertical clearance above any stair tread to any overhead obstruction is at least 6 feet, 8 inches (203 cm)
  • Stairs have uniform riser heights and tread depths between landings;
  • Stairway landings and platforms are at least the width of the stair and at least 30 inches (76 cm) in depth, as measured in the direction of travel;
  • Door or Gate Opening on Stairway - OSHA Image
    Door or Gate Opening on Stairway
  • Each stair can support at least five times the normal anticipated live load, but never less than a concentrated load of 1,000 pounds (454 kg) applied at any point;
  • Standard stairs are used to provide access from one walking-working surface to another. Winding stairways may be used on tanks and similar round structures when the diameter of the tank or structure is at least 5 feet (1.5 m).
  • Spiral, ship, or alternating tread-type stairs are used only when the employer can demonstrate that it is not feasible to provide standard stairs.

6. When may spiral, ship, or alternating tread-type stairs be used to access a higher working surface?

a. Anytime it is feasible to use them
b. When standard stairs are not feasible
c. When climbing more than 6 feet vertically
d. They are never allowed to be used
Image lockout devices
Figure D-8. Minimum Riser Height, Tread Depth and Width.

Standard Stairs

The employer must ensure standard stairs installed after January 17, 2017:

  • Are installed at angles between 30 to 50 degrees from the horizontal;
  • Have a maximum riser height of 9.5 inches (24 cm);
  • Have a minimum tread depth of 9.5 inches (24 cm); and
  • Have a minimum width of 22 inches (56 cm) between vertical barriers (see Figure D-8).

Spiral Stairs

Image shift change OROSHA photo</a>
Spiral Stairs

The employer must ensure spiral stairs:

  • Have a minimum clear width of 26 inches (66 cm);
  • Have a maximum riser height of 9.5 inches (24 cm);
  • Have a minimum headroom above spiral stair treads of at least 6 feet, 6 inches (2 m), measured from the leading edge of the tread;
  • Have a minimum tread depth of 7.5 inches (19 cm), measured at a point 12 inches (30 cm) from the narrower edge;
  • Have a uniform tread size;

Alternating Tread-Type Stairs

The employer must ensure alternating tread-type stairs:

  • Have a series of treads installed at a slope of 50 to 70 degrees from the horizontal;
  • Have a distance between handrails of 17 to 24 inches (51 to 61 cm);
  • Have a minimum tread depth of 8.5 inches (22 cm); and have open risers if the tread depth is less than 9.5 inches (24 cm);
  • Have a minimum tread width of 7 inches (18 cm), measured at the leading edge of the tread (i.e., nosing).

7. Employers must ensure standard stairs are installed at angles _____.

a. no greater than 70 degrees from the horizontal
b. between 30 to 50 degrees from the horizontal
c. determined by a registered structural engineer
d. that increase with as riser widths increase


Image of forklift loading truck Mil Photo
Use dockboards to load trucks.

The employer must ensure that:

  • Dockboards are capable of supporting the maximum intended load;
    • Dockboards put into initial service on or after January 17, 2017 are designed, constructed, and maintained to prevent transfer vehicles from running off the dockboard edge;
    • Exception: When the employer demonstrates there is no hazard of transfer vehicles running off the dockboard edge, the employer may use dockboards that do not have run-off protection.
  • Portable dockboards are secured by anchoring them in place or using equipment or devices that prevent the dockboard from moving out of a safe position. When the employer demonstrates that securing the dockboard is not feasible, the employer must ensure there is sufficient contact between the dockboard and the surface to prevent the dockboard from moving out of a safe position;
  • Measures, such as wheel chocks or trailer landing gear sand shoes, are used to prevent the transport vehicle (e.g. a truck, semitrailer, trailer, or rail car) on which a dockboard is placed, from moving while employees are on the dockboard; and
  • Portable dockboards are equipped with handholds or other means to permit safe handling of dockboards.

The employer must ensure that each employee on a dockboard is protected from falling 4 feet (1.2 m) or more to a lower level by a guardrail system or handrails, unless:

  • Dockboards are being used solely for materials-handling operations using motorized equipment;
  • Employees engaged in these operations are not exposed to fall hazards greater than 10 feet (3 m); and
  • Those employees have been trained in accordance with OSHA Standard 1910.30.

8. Which of the following is a suitable measure to prevent vehicle movement while employees are on the dockboard?

a. A spotter and signal person
b. Dockboards with handholds
c. Wheel chocks or sand shoes
d. Wood planks or rope ties

Scaffold and Rope Descent Systems


rf123 photo 60006793_s
Suspended scaffold and rope descent system.

Scaffolds used in general industry must meet the requirements in 29 CFR part 1926, subpart L, Scaffolds.

Rope Descent Systems

The employer must ensure:

  • Before any rope descent system is used, the building owner must inform the employer, in writing that the building owner has identified, tested, certified, and maintained each anchorage so it can support at least 5,000 pounds (2268 kg), in any direction, for each employee attached.
  • All components of each rope descent system, except seat boards, are capable of sustaining a minimum rated load of 5,000 pounds (22.2 kN). Seat boards must be capable of supporting a live load of 300 pounds (136 kg);
  • The employer must ensure that no employee uses any anchorage before the employer has obtained written information from the building owner that each anchorage meet OSHA requirements.
  • No rope descent system is used for heights greater than 300 feet (91 m) above grade unless the employer demonstrates that it is not feasible to access such heights by any other means or that those means pose a greater hazard than using a rope descent system;
  • The rope descent system is used in accordance with instructions, warnings, and design limitations set by the manufacturer or under the direction of a qualified person;
  • Each employee who uses the rope descent system is trained in accordance with OSHA 1910.30;
  • The rope descent system is inspected at the start of each workshift that it is to be used. The employer must ensure damaged or defective equipment is removed from service immediately and replaced.

9. How much weight must seat boards used with rope descent systems be able to support?

a. At least 5000 pounds for each worker
b. The maximum intended load for each employee
c. A live load of 300 pounds
d. A dead-weight load of 200 pounds and safety factor of 2

Rope Descent Systems (Continued)

rf123 photo 1599772_m
Window washer using rope descent system with seat board.

The employer must ensure:

  • The rope descent system has proper rigging, including anchorages and tiebacks, with particular emphasis on providing tiebacks when counterweights, cornice hooks, or similar non-permanent anchorages are used;
  • Each employee uses a separate, independent personal fall arrest system (PFAS) that meets the requirements of 1910 Subpart I, Personal Protective Equipment;
  • Prompt rescue of each employee is provided in the event of a fall;
  • The ropes of each rope descent system are effectively padded or otherwise protected, where they can contact edges of the building, anchorage, obstructions, or other surfaces, to prevent them from being cut or weakened;
  • Stabilization is provided at the specific work location when descents are greater than 130 feet (39.6 m);
  • No employee uses a rope descent system when hazardous weather conditions, such as storms or gusty or excessive wind, are present;
  • Equipment, such as tools, squeegees, or buckets, is secured by a tool lanyard or similar method to prevent it from falling; and
  • The ropes of each rope descent system are protected from exposure to open flames, hot work, corrosive chemicals, and other destructive conditions.

10. What is the requirement for use of fall protection when working with a rope descent system?

a. Only certified competent persons can use PFAS
b. Each employee uses a separate, independent PFAS
c. Workers must be "dual secured" while working at height
d. Body belts are allowed with experienced workers


Mil photo public domain
Fall protection equipment training.

The employer must provide information and training to each employee prior to exposure to hazards and in a manner that the employee understands.

Fall Hazards

Before any employee is exposed to a fall hazard, the employer must provide training for each employee who uses personal fall protection systems. The employer must ensure that each employee is trained by a qualified person. The employer must train each employee in at least the following topics:

  • The nature of the fall hazards and how to recognize them;
  • The procedures to be followed to minimize hazards;
  • The correct procedures for using, installing, inspecting, operating, maintaining, disassembling, and storing personal fall protection systems.

Equipment Hazards

The employer must train each employee on the proper care, inspection, storage, and use of equipment, including dockboards, rope descent systems, and designated area set-up and use, before an employee uses the equipment.


The employer must retrain an employee when the employer has reason to believe the employee does not have adequate understanding and skill. Retraining should also be conducted annually if employees do not regularly perform tasks that require fall protection. Situations requiring retraining include the following:

  • When changes in the workplace render previous training obsolete or inadequate;
  • When changes in the types of fall protection systems or equipment to be used render previous training obsolete or inadequate; or
  • When inadequacies in an affected employee's knowledge or use of fall protection systems or equipment indicate that the employee no longer has the requisite understanding or skill necessary to use equipment or perform the job safely.

11. Which of the following situations would NOT require fall protection retraining?

a. Changes that render previous training obsolete
b. Workers regularly perform tasks requiring fall protection
c. Changes in equipment make previous training inadequate
d. Employee demonstrates inadequate knowledge and/or skills

Check your Work

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Optional Video

Watch Out! Hazards! - Prevent Slips Trips and Falls - Safety Memos Safety Training Video. For more free safety training videos like this one, see the Safety Memos YouTube channel.

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