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.
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.
There are many ways you can prevent a fall from a ladder—below are a few suggestions to get you started.
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.
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:
It is necessary to tie the top and bottom of a ladder to fixed points when:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
The following are some things your employer should do to prevent fall hazards at your worksite:
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.
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.
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.
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