Preventing Falls Using the Three-Point Control Method

Falls from ladders cost employers much more than many would expect.  Workers’ compensation for a roofer who falls from a ladder or scaffold averages $68,000. And, working from lower heights can also prove to be dangerous.



Approximately 20% of fatal falls are from a height lower than 15 feet and 50% of fatal falls occur from a height less than 35 feet. The goal of the three-point-control method on ladders aims at reducing injuries and fatalities from lower height falls.

The three-point control method requires a worker to use three limbs for reliable, stable support.

On the other hand, the three-point contact method requires that  a worker only depends upon three  points of contact with the ladder. Using the stomach or palm are examples of unstable points of contact; however, 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. Alternatively, 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. The worker needs to use a horizontal grip. This allows for a 75% to 94% increase in breakaway force when compared to using a vertical grip. This allows the worker to hold their body weight and prevent a fall.

The breakaway force from a vertical rail is too great for a worker, male or female, to be able 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% of person’s body weight.

When working with portable ladders one hand needs to be used to grip the ladder while the other performs light work with both feet on the same level for the best balance. Workers should be required to extend the ladder three feet above the surface of dismount. It is estimated that 75% of workers do not do this. Many OSHA citations involve failing to fully extend the ladder.

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

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

A-frame ladders do not commonly have any horizontal rail to grab on to and warnings are usually paced in areas that are easily rubbed off. In this situation both hands need to hold on to higher steps with all ten fingers wrapped around the edges. If a fall was to occur, grabbing the structure of a standard A-frame ladder could cause serious cuts on the arm or hand. The stepladder should be in the fully opened position, perpendicular to the working surface, with leg-locking bars in place during use.

Applying three-point control to stairs requires two continuous handrails to allow a constant grip while moving up and down the stairway. Arms and hands should be free of materials, enabling them to support the full body weight if necessary. Stairs, such as those found on ships, can be very steep and present a serious fall hazard.

The three-point control method is easily integrated when done in the beginning stages of planning. There are four essential guidelines that can help constitute effective three-point control:

  • Grip and do not lean.
  • Do not simply touch or hold horizontal bar
  • Grip with the hand rather than trying to use some other part of the body for stability.
  • Use a flat step or rung for foot stability. Incorporating the three-point control method can help to reduce the number of fatalities due to falls in all areas.

For more information on ladder safety, please click on OSHAcademy course 603-Stairway and Ladder Safety.


Ellis, J. (2012). Three-Point Control. Professional Safety, 57(11), 30-36.