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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

Hierarchy of Fall Protection

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSP) Z359, Fall Protection Code, has identified a hierarchy of fall protection controls, from most effective to least effective. The hierarchy includes:

  • Elimination. Removing the need to work at an elevated height above the working surface such as using an extension pole to replace light bulbs. Most effective control.
  • Passive fall protection. Using physical barriers such as guardrails to prevent a fall.
  • Fall restraint systems. Using positioning and fall restraint systems that restrict movement to prevent a fall.
  • Fall arrest systems Use of full-body harness systems or safety nets, that work together to break a fall.
  • Administrative controls. The use of policies, procedures, practices, training, and warnings to restrict worker actions and increase awareness of fall hazards. Least effective control.

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.

Watch these videos for more information on fall protection:

1. If a fall hazard cannot be eliminated, what would be the next best fall protection strategy according to the hierarchy of fall protection?

a. Fall restraint systems
b. Fall arrest systems
c. Passive fall protection
d. Administrative controls

Next Section

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

Image of worker next to guardrails
Make sure the ladder is long enough and placed at a stable angle.

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 portable ladders are step ladders, straight ladders, and extension ladders. Each ladder type is 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 should not 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. Click on the link below to see the most common portable ladder ratings.

Fatal Four Focus - Falls

You can open a comprehensive description of the various types of portable ladders at the American Ladder Institute Ladders 101 webpage.

2. To determine if a ladder is right for the job, ask two basic questions about ladder _____.

a. length and support
b. stability and construction
c. length and stability
d. angle and base

Next Section

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 does not extend at least 3 feet above the landing;
  • it is contacting slippery surfaces; or
  • 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.

3. It is necessary to tie the top and bottom of a ladder to fixed points if each of the following conditions exist EXCEPT when _____.

a. the ladder does not extend at least 3 feet above the landing
b. it is contacting slippery surfaces
c. it could be displaced by work activities or traffic
d. it is made of hardwood or plastic

Next Section

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-contact method requires a worker to depend solely on any three points of contact with the ladder. Using the stomach or palm are examples of points of contact; these points of contact are unstable, unreliable, and lead to a false sense of stability. For instance, if a worker has both feet on a ladder while resting one palm on the roof, they will not be able to prevent a fall if both feet were to slip. For this reason, three-point-contact is not considered a safe work practice.


The three-point-control method is preferred because it requires a worker to use either two feet and one hand or one foot and two hands providing greater stability and support. 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 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 about half of person's bodyweight.

If a worker, using the three-point-control method with both feet properly positioned on the ladder and is gripping a horizontal rung, the likelihood of a fall is much less if both of their feet were to slip. Click on the link below to see the 7 conditions for appropriate point-of-control ladder use.

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

  1. Hold on to a horizontal rung, not the vertical rail.
  2. Grasp using a power grip, rather than merely making contact
  3. Use light tools and materials designed for single-hand use.
  4. Make sure the ladder is stabilized.
  5. Keep the ladder at the lowest height possible.
  6. Make sure belly button remains between side rails.
  7. Keep both feet at the same level.

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.

4. Which of the following is the preferred method for safely climbing a ladder?

a. Two-Point-Contact
b. Three-Point-Contact
c. Two-Point-Contact
d. Three-Point-Control

Next Section

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 do it: Lean the ladder up against the landing. 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:

5. What is the ratio of a non-supporting ladder's working length to set-back distance?

a. 3:1
b. 4:1
c. 1:4
d. 1:3

Next Section

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 because 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. A qualified person is someone who has very specific knowledge or training, and is responsible for the proper 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.
  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; guardrails must be between 39 and 45 inches high; and midrails must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface.

6. On supported scaffolds, planks are to be overlapped on a support _____.

a. at least six inches, but not more than twelve inches
b. by more than six inches
c. by three inches or more
d. from eight inches to sixteen inches

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Basics of Scaffold Safety (Continued...)

  1. OSHA standard 1926.451(g) requires employers to provide workers with fall protection when working on a scaffold 10 or more feet above a lower level. 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.

7. Which of the following is NOT an acceptable means of access to scaffolds?

a. crossbraces
b. ladders
c. stair towers
d. ramps

Next Section


Your employer must provide you with fall protection training if you are exposed to fall hazards. The training topics must include:

  • instruction on how to recognize hazards, perform safe practices, and explain appropriate procedures;
  • training with demonstration on how to use fall protection;
  • hands-on practice using fall protection in the learning environment; and
  • evaluation by a competent person to ensure adequate ability to use the fall protection on the job.

Fall Protection Guidelines for Workers

  1. The employer's fall protection plan.
  2. Use of fall protection equipment.
  3. Inspection of fall protection equipment prior to use.
  4. Requirements for fall protection while working at elevation.
  5. Specialized training before working on scaffolds, lifts or ladders.
  6. Scaffold access, planking, stable footing and guard rail requirements.
  7. Safe practices for using ladders and platforms.
  8. Protection from floor holes and edges.
  9. Reporting fall hazards.

8. Which of the following are necessary components of fall protection training?

a. Instruction, training, and experience
b. Instruction, training, practice, and evaluation
c. Training, assessment, verification, and experience
d. Evaluation, instruction, and training

Check your Work

Click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. Any questions you missed will be listed below. To correct your answers, go back to the question, change your answer, and come back to this section and click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button again.

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