I was working on a roof surface one day, and the only way to get up and down was using a ladder. I had to get some tools up to the roof, so I packed them into my tool bag and put them over my shoulder. I didn’t want to take two trips, but couldn’t fit it all in my pack. So, I decided to carry what was left of the material so I would only have to climb the ladder once. I was nearly at the top when I missed the next rung and slipped. With only one hand on the ladder, I scrambled to get back onto it. I almost didn’t make it back on and would’ve fallen over ten feet to the ground.

Three-Point Contact

Most companies have a policy concerning three-point contact. It’s a simple rule that will ensure workers climb safely. But unfortunately, in a lot of workplaces, it is rarely enforced.

This work-safe rule can be summed up as “Always maintain three points of bodily contact with a surface when climbing.” In other words, when a worker is climbing up or down a ladder, a scaffold, or onto machinery, they need to keep either both hands and one foot or two feet and one hand in contact with the surface at all times (learn more about Fall Protection and Ladders). When three points of contact are maintained, the individual’s center of gravity is controlled and they are a lot less likely to lose their balance.

Following the three-point contact rules means climbing slowly and methodically, moving one limb at a time, but it’s worth it when you consider that it reduces the risk of falls and injuries.

Maintaining three points of contact does not necessarily mean that slips and falls won’t occur (see Prevention: Slips, Trips, and Falls to learn more about preventing these incidents). However, even when a slip or fall does occur, the damage can be mitigated because someone with three points of contact on a surface can more easily grab hold of it. Additionally, when the force resulting from a slip or fall is applied to a body through three points of contact rather than two or fewer, the strain of impact is lessened.

Observing the three-point contact rule might mean making multiple trips if you’re hauling tools or materials to a higher or lower work surface. If you’re worried that this will have a noticeable impact on productivity or efficiency, consider using a pulley system to safely and quickly move things from one level to another.

Quick Tips

  • Keep steps and rungs clear of debris, snow, mud, and ice
  • Report rung and step damage to a supervisor immediately
  • Wear slip resistant footwear with a good tread
  • Ascend and descend slowly
  • Be sure you have a firm grip on the rails before taking the next step
  • Never jump to the ground. You may jump onto an uneven surface