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Course 806: Focus Four - Fall Hazards

Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Protecting Yourself from Fall Hazards

Use Fall Protection Equipment

The three generally acceptable methods of protection for workers on a construction site who are exposed to vertical drops of 6 feet or more are guardrails, safety net systems, and personal fall arrest systems.

  • Guardrails are considered prevention systems, as they stop you from having a fall in the first place.
  • Safety net systems are designed to catch you and break your fall. They must be placed as close as practicable beneath your working surface, but never more than 30 feet below.
  • A personal fall arrest system consists of an anchorage, connectors, and a full-body harness that work together to break your fall.

When working next to a fall prevention barrier from an elevated position, such as a step ladder next to a guardrail, the guardrail no longer serves as a fall protection device. Additional protection is needed.

In general, it is better to use fall prevention systems, such as guardrails, than fall protection systems, such as safety nets/fall arrest devices. That’s because prevention systems prevent falls from occurring in the first place.

Scaffold work requires guardrails or a personal fall arrest system on any platform 10 feet or higher. Also, do not climb cross-bracing as a means of access; your employer must provide safe access. Ensure your fall protection equipment is right for the work you are doing, in good condition, and used properly. Remember, your employer needs to provide you with protection to prevent falls at your worksite. Please take a moment to refer to Appendix A to review information regarding, "Guardrail and Safety Net Systems", and "Personal Fall Arrest Systems".

The anchorage for a worker’s personal fall arrest equipment must be independent of any anchorage used to support or suspend platforms. It must be able to support at least 5,000 lbs. per worker attached to it.

Safe Ladder Use

There are many ways you can prevent a fall from a ladder—below are a few suggestions to get you started.

Choose the Right Ladder for the Job

First, you need to make sure a ladder is the best equipment for what you need to do. Would scaffolding or a mechanical lift be better?

Many times, the ladder is the only physical support you have while you are working. If it fails, you can fall. That's why it is so important to find the right ladder when you do need to use one. The three main types of ladders—step ladders, straight ladders, and extension ladders—are used in different situations for different tasks.

Before you start using a ladder, ask yourself two questions.

Is the ladder long enough? It should be long enough to set it at a stable angle and still extend over the top edge to give you something to hold on to when you get on the ladder to descend. Setting the ladder at the right angle helps you keep your balance on the ladder. It also helps keep the ladder from falling backward.

  • Make sure the ladder extends 3 feet (3 rungs; 0.9 meters) above the surface you will be working on.
  • Make sure the ladder is placed at a stable angle. For every four feet (1.2m) high the ladder is, the base should be 1 foot (.3 m) out from the wall.

For example, if you will be working on a 10 foot-high roof (3 m), you need a ladder that is at least 14 feet (4.25 m) long. The base should be 2 ½ feet (.75 m) from the wall.

Is the ladder in good working condition? It shouldn’t be missing pieces or be cracked or otherwise damaged. Check the duty rating on extension ladders – is it high enough for the weight you will be putting on it? Longer ladders don’t always have higher duty ratings, so be sure to check. In construction, the most common ratings are:

  • Heavy Duty (I) supports up to 250 pounds (113 kg).
  • Extra heavy duty (IA) supports up to 300 pounds (136 kg).
  • Special duty (IAA) supports up to 375 pounds (170 kg).

Safe Ladder Use (Continued...)

Secure the Ladder

It is necessary to tie the top and bottom of a ladder to fixed points when:

  • the ladder doesn’t extend 3’ above the landing,
  • it is contacting slippery surfaces; or
  • where it could be displaced by work activities or traffic.

Tie both sides of the top of the ladder to a fixed point on the roof or another high surface near where you are working. The bottom should be tied to a fixed point on the ground. Securing the ladder in this way prevents the ladder from sliding side-to-side or falling backward and prevents the base from sliding.

Tying the ladder off at the beginning of the day and untying it at the end of the day will only take you about five minutes. It can make all the difference for your safety. If you need to move the ladder around, allow extra time for this important step or consider using something else, such as a scaffold.

Carrying Tools While Climbing the Ladder

Take precautions when you are going up or down a ladder. Instead of carrying tools, boards, or other materials in your hands, use a tool belt, install a rope and pulley system, or tie a rope around your materials and pull them up once you have reached the work surface. Ask for help if you need to use more than one hand to pull them up.

Carrying tools or anything else in your hands as you climb the ladder can throw you off balance. When you climb a ladder, always use at least one hand to grasp the ladder when going up or down.

Safe Ladder Use (Continued...)

Three-Point-Control vs. Three-Point-Contact

What is the difference between the three-point-control method and the three-point contact method?


The three-point-control method requires a worker to use three limbs for reliable, stable support. The three-point-contact method requires a worker to depend solely on three points of contact with the ladder. Using the stomach or palm are examples of unstable points of contact; these points of contact are unreliable and lead to a false sense of stability.

Though some argue leaning against a surface is acceptable as a point of contact, there is a significant problem with this assumption. For example, if a worker has both feet on a ladder while resting one palm on the roof (three-point contact) they will not be able to prevent a fall if both feet were to slip.


On the other hand, the three-point-control method requires a worker to use three of his or her four limbs for reliable, stable support. This climbing strategy could prevent many of the ladder falls and deaths occurring throughout the United States and world. The three-point-control method requires the worker to place his hand on the ladder in a way to support the full weight of the body if needed in an emergency. The breakaway force from a vertical rail is too great for a worker, male or female, to fully support their weight if only gripping with one hand. During a fall, the hand would slide down the bar until it contacts a rung on the ladder. The hand would most likely disconnect from the ladder when it collides with the rung. A vertical grip can only support approximately 50 percent of person’s bodyweight.

Because the three-point contact method does not require reliable, stable support, it is not the preferred method to use when on a ladder.

If a worker, using the three-point-control method, has both feet on the ladder and is gripping a horizontal rung (three-point-control), they are much less likely to fall if both of their feet were to slip. When a worker uses a horizontal grip, it allows for about a 75 percent to 94 percent increase in breakaway force. This compares to using a vertical grip, which allows the worker to hold their bodyweight and prevent a fall.

There are seven conditions for using three-point-control while working from ladders. They include:

  1. Work only for short periods of time.
  2. Use light tools and materials designed for single-hand use.
  3. Make sure the ladder is stabilized.
  4. Keep the ladder at the lowest height possible.
  5. Make sure belly button remains between side rails.
  6. Keep both feet at the same level.
  7. Maintain a horizontal one-hand grip (power grip).

Keeping three-point-control for good support is critical while a worker is climbing, moving or working at an elevation. It is important to note, the three-point-control method is not a substitution for the use of fall protection equipment.

Safe Ladder Use (Continued...)

Ladder Angle

A non-self-supporting ladder should have a set-up angle of about 75 degrees — a 4:1 ratio of the ladder’s working length to set-back distance.

Here’s how to achieve 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 4:1 ratio.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed an easy-to-use interactive ladder safety application for smartphones. The NIOSH Ladder Safety application features a multimodal indicator, which uses visual and sound signals to assist the user in positioning an extension ladder at an optimal angle. Furthermore, the application provides graphic-oriented interactive reference materials, safety guidelines and checklists for extension ladder selection, inspection, accessorizing, and use. The application is intended to help a wide range of ladder users, employers, and safety professionals, with their ladder-related safety needs.

Here is a link to download the NIOSH Ladder Safety App for Androids and Apple iOS:

Basics of Scaffold Safety

According to the BLS there are thousands of scaffold-related injuries – and about 40 scaffold-related deaths – every year in the U.S. If you are doing work on scaffolds, know how to work on them safely – it could save your life!

  1. A competent person must be available to direct workers who are constructing or moving scaffolds. The competent person must also train workers, and inspect the scaffold and its components before every work shift, and after any event that could affect the structural integrity of the scaffold. The competent person must be able to identify unsafe conditions, and be authorized by the employer to take action to correct unsafe conditions, to make the workplace safe. A qualified person is someone who has very specific knowledge or training, must design the scaffold and its rigging.
  2. Every supported scaffold and its components must support, without failure, its weight and at least four times the intended load. The intended load is the sum of the weights of all personnel, tools and materials that will be placed on the scaffold. Don’t load the scaffold with more weight than it can safely handle.
  3. On supported scaffolds, working platforms/decks must be planked close to the guardrails. Planks are to be overlapped on a support at least six inches, but not more than 12 inches.
  4. Inspections of supported scaffolds must include:
    • Checking metal components for bends, cracks, holes, rust, welding splatter, pits, broken welds and non-compatible parts.
    • Covering and securing floor openings and labeling floor opening covers.
  5. Each rope on a suspended scaffold must support the scaffold’s weight and at least six times the intended load.
  6. Scaffold platforms must be at least 18 inches wide, (there are some exceptions), and guardrails and/or personal fall arrest systems must be used for fall protection any time you are working 10 feet or more above ground level. Guardrails must be between 39 and 45 inches high, and midrails must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface.

Basics of Scaffold Safety (Continued...)

  1. OSHA standards require workers to have fall protection when working on a scaffold 10 or more feet above the ground. OSHA requires the following:
    • The use of a guardrail OR a personal fall arrest system when working on a supported scaffold.
    • BOTH a guardrail AND a personal fall arrest system when working on a single-point or two-point suspended scaffold.
    • A personal fall arrest system when working on an aerial lift.
  2. Your lifeline must be tied back to a structural anchorage capable of withstanding 5,000 lbs of dead weight per person tied off to it. Attaching your lifeline to a guardrail, a standpipe or other piping systems will not meet the 5,000 lbs. requirement and is not a safe move.
  3. Wear hard hats, and make sure there are toe boards, screens, and debris nets in place to protect other people from falling objects.
  4. Counterweights for suspended scaffolds must be able to resist at least four times the tipping moment. They must also be made of materials that cannot be easily dislocated (no sand, no water, no rolls of roofing, etc.). [This would be calculated by the qualified person who designs the scaffold.]
  5. Your employer must provide safe access to the scaffold when a platform is more than two (2) feet above or below the point of access, or when you need to step across more than 14 inches to get on the platform. Climbing on cross braces is not allowed! Ladders, stair towers, ramps, and walkways are some of the ways of providing safe access.
  6. All workers must be trained on:
    • how to use the scaffold, and how to recognize hazards associated with the type of scaffold they are working on;
    • the maximum intended load and capacity;
    • how to recognize and report defects;
    • fall hazards, falling object hazards and any other hazards that may be encountered, including electrical hazards (such as overhead power lines); and
    • having proper fall protection systems in place.

SOURCE: Construction Safety & Health Fall Hazards, Central New York COSH, 2007, OSHA grant product.


Your employer must provide you with training if you are exposed to fall hazards. The training program must train you to recognize the hazards of falling and explain the procedures to be followed in order to minimize fall hazards. You must also be trained before working on scaffolds and when working with ladders.

Fall Protection Guidelines for Workers

  1. Understand your company’s written fall protection plan.
  2. Attend and participate in fall prevention training.
  3. Use fall protection equipment if required for the job. Be sure the equipment is right for the task, fits properly and is in good condition.
  4. Inspect fall protection equipment and devices before each use.
  5. Make sure sturdy guardrails or covers protect floor holes, open shafts and riser penetrations.
  6. Get specialized training before working on scaffolds, lifts or ladders.
  7. When using scaffolds, make sure there is proper access, full planking, stable footing and guard railing.
  8. Keep your feet firmly on the platform of a boom lift and tie-off at all times.
  9. Choose the correct ladder for the task, read the instructions and be sure the ladder is in good condition. Check for surrounding hazards, stable footing and the proper angle.
  10. Identify skylights and make sure they are properly protected.
  11. Contact your supervisor if you see fall hazards or have any questions about fall prevention. Do not work until unsafe conditions have been corrected.

Employer Requirements

Provide Fall Protection

OSHA’s fall protection standards require employers to provide fall protection for you when you are exposed to a fall hazard. The standards set the criteria and practices for fall protection systems and required training. The standards cover hazard assessment, fall protection and safety monitoring systems. The standards also address controlled access zones, safety nets, and guardrail, personal fall arrest, warning line and positioning device systems.

OSHA requires employers provide for “prompt rescue of employees in the event of a fall or shall assure that employees are able to rescue themselves.

Your employer is required to assess the workplace to determine if the walking/working surfaces on which you are to work have the strength and structural integrity to safely support workers.

The employer must not permit you to work on those surfaces until it has been determined that the surfaces have the strength and structural integrity to support all workers.

Once your employer has determined that the surface is safe for workers, they must select one of the permitted types of fall protection for the work operation if a fall hazard is present.

For example, if you are exposed to falling six feet or more from an unprotected side or edge, your employer must select a guardrail system, safety net system, or personal fall arrest system to protect you. There are similar requirements for other fall hazards.

If personal fall protection systems are used, your employer must pay particular attention to identifying attachment points and to ensuring workers know how to properly don and inspect the equipment.

Employer Requirements (Continued...)

Provide Fall Protection

The following are some things your employer should do to prevent fall hazards at your worksite:

  1. Develop a written fall protection plan.
  2. Identify potential fall hazards prior to each project and during daily walk-arounds. Pay attention to hazards associated with routine and non-routine tasks.
  3. Eliminate the need for fall protection where possible by rescheduling the task, isolating the task, or changing the task.
  4. Ensure fall protection equipment is appropriate to the task, in good condition and used properly.
  5. Conduct general fall prevention training on a regular basis.
  6. Train workers about the specific fall hazards identified and the required personal protective equipment.
  7. Conduct regular inspections of fall protection equipment in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and OSHA’s requirements.
  8. Emphasize fall hazards unique to the site, such as open floor holes or shafts, riser penetrations and skylights.

Employer Requirements (Continued...)

Proper Scaffold Construction

Your employer must construct all scaffolds according to the manufacturer’s instructions. A “competent person” must supervise as scaffolds are erected, moved, taken apart or changed, and must inspect the scaffolding. A guardrail system or a personal fall arrest system is required for scaffolds more than 10 feet above a lower level. In addition, employers must provide safe access to scaffold platforms.

A competent person is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to workers, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Ladder Use and Condition

Your employer is required to provide ladders where necessary and maintain the ladders in proper condition. They must also train workers to recognize ladder and stairway hazards.

Worksite Maintenance

Poor worksite maintenance can lead to clutter and debris on a construction site, creating additional slip, trip and fall hazards. Poor maintenance of ladders, scaffolds and fall protection equipment can also lead to serious injuries. Your employer is required to keep worksites free of form and scrap lumber with protruding nails and other waste and trash, including combustible debris.


As discussed, your employer must provide you with training on fall hazards and the required personal protective equipment. OSHA also has specific standards requiringyour employer to train you when you work with scaffolds and ladders. If you see fall hazards or have any questions about fall prevention, contact your supervisor. Do not work until unsafe conditions have been corrected. If hazards are not corrected, you may contact OSHA and file a complaint.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. You must answer all of the questions before submitting the quiz.

Good luck!

1. In general, fall protection must be provided to construction workers who are working on surfaces with unprotected sides and edges that are _____ above the lower level.

2. What are the ways an employer can protect workers from falls?

3. For workers on scaffolds, fall protection must be provided if they are working _____ above a lower level.

4. Guardrails are often used by employers to protect workers from falls. How high must the top guardrail (the top rail) be above the working surface?

5. The top of a ladder must extend at least _____ above the surface you are climbing onto.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.