Ladders are Evil

One of my coworkers loves to say this. “Ladders are Evil!” he’ll proclaim. “They’re all trying to kill you!” Which isn’t, precisely, true. It’s not that ladders are evil. It’s that people are dumb and don’t always think things through. Like gravity. The earth loves us all, and wants to give us a big hug, so the higher we get off the ground, the more it misses us and wants to show us some love. Real hard love. So it’s not that ladders are evil, it’s that terra firma lives up to the latter part of it’s name.

As my dad used to say, he was really good at falling. It was the landing part he could never get right, no matter how hard he practiced. So we did our best to keep from having to recover from a botched landing. I’m bringing you this safety chat today because yesterday, we met one of our new neighbors. The First Reader and I were sitting on the porch at the Nut House, chatting about what needed to be done, enjoying the late afternoon sun, and sipping coffee. All was well with our world. I’d set up our chairs at an angle, so we could see into the woods rather than staring at the house directly across the road, and from the corner of my eye I could see the neighbor to the West, working on his roof. He was nailing something down, and the sound attracted my attention. As I looked over, I could see him start to get off the roof. He got from roof, to ladder, and then… he just stopped. He was standing on the top step of a a-frame ladder, and he wasn’t moving. Curious now, I watched and realized that something was wrong. We were too far away to see his facial expression, but as I pointed him out to the First Reader, he started to holler for help.

Now, I realize he was calling for someone inside his own home, but I’d also been told a little about these neighbors by the sellers of our house, and I knew that his Mom, who he was shouting for, suffered from dementia. I headed on over, waving, and asking him if he needed a hand. When I got close enough, I could see that he was holding onto the gutter with a death grip, looked terrified, and the ladder was wavering under him. Long story short, once both of us were there we managed to support the ladder and coax him down off it. Once he had caught his breath, we exchanged names and chatted about the ladder, a better ladder for the job, and eventually returned to our coffee, the First Reader muttering about the ladder he was going to buy, one that turns into a scaffold. I may have been muttering something about stubborn men, and how when you’re past 70 you should probably find some young thing to take your chances for you.

It was a somewhat nerve-wracking demonstration of what you are NOT supposed to do on a ladder. You should never use the top step on a stepladder (which this A-frame is, even if it is 6 feet tall). You really shouldn’t go up on the roof alone with no-one to help if you do run into trouble. At the very least, had he a cell phone he could have called for help. In addition, I am fairly sure that the ladder in question was rated for 200# and he was over that by a significant margin. So many things wrong. Oh – and when you are on a ladder, you should be sure you are wearing more than light slippers with holes in the soles and absolutely no traction.

Ladders aren’t evil if you pay attention. Check before you climb up – is there damage? Are you heavier than the rating? Are the rungs wet, or oily? Is this the right ladder for the job? If you’ll have to climb onto the top step, it’s too short for this job. Do you have the proper slope, if you are using an extension ladder? Placing it too close to the structure isn’t safe, either.

Personally, I’m rather cautious about ladders and scaffolds. I’ve done enough rock climbing and ropes training to know where my center of balance is, and I’m conservative enough to not push that. I want to have three points of contact – I have five! – with the most stable surfaces possible at all times. I’ll move slow, if I can, and if I’m being rushed, I’m not doing it. I have no urge to find out how well I land.

46 thoughts on “Ladders are Evil

  1. Wrong. They ARE evil. Ladders are a Communist plot to decimate the male population. Particularly A frames.

    That’s why I don’t own one. I have a 16′ extension ladder, a 3-way ladder that can adapt to stairs, a two-step, and a couple of those sawhorse style ones you can put a plank across.

    In 30 years of painting they have all tried to kill me, but so far I am too smart for them. 😈

  2. Glad it ended ok!

    Over the weekend I went over to a friend’s farm to buy some eggs, but also to take my first look at her new barn, as her old one had burned in January and the construction just finished on the exterior of her new one. I walked into the new barn to spot her dad up on a very shaky, narrow base, elderly extension ladder, and her down below bracing a post for him to screw in, watching him white faced.

    I offered to let them borrow our ladder, he kept insisting the one he was on was fine, she informed me she’ll be by this week to borrow the ladder.

    If you’re buying a new ladder don’t be afraid to spend a bit of money. It’s worth it. We bought a Werner MT series “multi-ladder”. Nice wide base, heavy aluminium, works as a A-frame starting at 6′ to an extension ladder at 23′, and it was worth every penny for all that it’s heavy enough to make it occasionally awkward to setup.

  3. On a bright(ish) note, Mr. Banks* now knows that y’all are good folk, reliable, friendly neighbors.

    *for those who have never seen Heywood Banks – he use to have a step ladder on stage during one of his routines and would pause during the act, point at the top of the ladder and say “This is Not a Step”. πŸ˜‰

    1. And that is now my blog name for him, since I suspect he’ll appear again πŸ˜€

      He was a nice man, and his mother who did come out to meet us once he was down and able to check on her, was a sweetie even if she did make me mist up. She greeted me with outstretched hands, clasped mine, and said “I’m so happy to see you again, dear!”

      Sigh. Age is cruel.

      1. Poor lady! But it isn’t age that’s cruel — consider how all of the women in our family (so far) have lived to at least ninety and in some cases a hundred and the only one I know of who suffered from any kind of dementia was Great-aunt Loretta, who died at one hundred and wasn’t quite right mentally for about a year before she died. (And that was probably caused by other health issues, not alzheimer’s.) For the most part, in our family at least, we manage to get to a great old age without suffering from dementia. So it isn’t age.

        Sure glad you guys were in the right place at the right time and were able to help your neighbor.

        1. My great grandmother lived to be 98. Her daughter, my grandmother lived to be 78. Mom was 58, just week shy of 59 when she died. I use to wonder if I would live past 38. πŸ˜‰

          I am now nearing mom’s age when she passed.

      2. “Age is cruel. ”

        Yes, it is. The first time I got to meet my adopted grandmother in person was after she was suffered from dementia. I greeted her as an honored elder, as native tradition required, she looked at me with this huge smile and said “can we keep this one”.

        Grandmother was 1/2 Cherokee and had adopted me, sight unseen, two years earlier. She had forgotten.

        Age denied both of us so much. πŸ™

  4. Having had more experience with ladders than is prudent. allow me to say that a five-foot ladder can kill you as easily as a thirty-foot one, (speaking as one that has fallen from both.) Both are left as tools more prudently used by those under forty.

  5. I did additional damage to my already-damaged knees climbing up a ladder in an attempt to fix a leaky roof… and discovered my wobbly knees makes my fear of heights very much worse.

    1. A while back I was attempting to change light bulbs in my kitchen ceiling lights.

      No accidents (besides damage to one of the light fixtures) but the way my knees were behaving, I decided to let my apartment building custodians handle changing those light bulbs.

      Oh, they’ll do that with no objections besides expecting me to provide the new light bulbs. πŸ˜‰

    2. Just took a look at my childhood home in StreetView – still has the same extremely pitched roof on it. I used to scramble up to the very top and sit.

      Now it makes me shudder. My knees are in great shape for my age, but the inner ears are not. Besides being rather more aware of this thing called “mortality” than I was fifty years ago…

  6. According to our OSHA consultant, falls from ladders and scaffolds are the leading cause of serious injury on job sites. Lately I have been spending a lot of time on ladders because we are relamping the campus (changing from fluorescent bulbs to LEDS) and it’s easy to get careless after the spending all day doing the climb up/climb down/move ladder/repeat drill.

    1. We’ve discussed ladders, stairs, and other trip/slip hazards at work in safety meetings twice already this year.

      I have been spending a lot of time on a ladder recently at work, and you’re right. It’s easy to get too comfortable with it and possibly careless.

      1. Careless? No way! My dad CERTAINLY never put a ladder against a 10ft chain link fence post (sans fence) in order to put the top rail on the fence, had it twist around the post, fall down, and sit on the ladder with his foot under it, resulting in getting a pin, a plate, and two screws put in his ankle!

        Wait – what? That’s exactly what happened? And after he started driving again (way before he was supposed to), he got his cast stuck under the brake pedal and nearly had an accident? Oh.


          1. No, my tales of any of his disasters are mere blips of poor judgement, usually brought about by complicating factors, combined with frequent opportunity. For example, the ladder accident was caused by a deadline combined with lack of adequate tools with which to build such a fence, complicated by an assistant who was not terribly careful about his help. Basically, dad was perfectly able to set a ladder against a 10ft pole and climb it to put the top rail on, but his assistant didn’t get the rail into his hands, and dad got impatient and reached for it, unbalancing him and causing the ladder to twist around the pole. Had *I* been his helper that day, that accident would not have happened.

            Now, the time when he cut his bicep in two with a circular saw required a combination of factors: a tight corner in the barn he was building where he needed to cut off a board sticking out, a circular saw where the “table” did not reach around the outside of the blade, a wall behind the board he was cutting, that caused the saw to walk up it, and the safety guard that slides over the blade to get pulled back as the saw slid across his chest.

  7. My dad was 75 and just 2-3 weeks after getting home from the hospital after having a ruptured abdominal anyeurism that kept him in the hospital for over a week, when he was up on the neighbor’s roof, supervising the replacement of said roof. I think my mother was ready to send him BACK to the hospital, if you know what I mean.

  8. We got a Little Giant ladder after we moved here. It’s like 3 ladders in one or something. All I know is that it’s been very handy for all the things we’ve had to do over the past five years. It’s a 22-foot, but we needed that length to reach the back of the house.

    We met our new across-the-street neighbor when his little trash fire got out of control. We both ran over and began filling buckets, manning hoses, and dousing hot spots and… Well, we got it out, but it burned a few acres. What a way to make an acquaintance.

      1. Thinking about it again this morning, it was probably only an acre. I’m bad with judging distances. I tell ya, though, at the time it felt like a bigger chunk of land.

        1. Chuckle Chuckle

          I *remember* my grandfather Huggins “truck” farm as very large but as an adult I know that it was only 3 acres which isn’t that large for a farm. πŸ˜‰

          1. Going through some family papers a few years ago, I came across those from when my grandparent’s place in Kansas was sold. To this day, I cannot believe that it was only a 3/4 acre lot.

  9. A supervisor at work now has a largely plastic elbow because of a ladder mishap.
    I had just finished pushing the snow off the almost flat porch roof and was getting on the ladder to return to the ground. An instant later I was laying on my back in the mound of snow. There may have been a brief little girl shriek during the weightless time period, but it was all a blur. No injuries and much more care around ladders.
    We bought what we now call, “the overly complicated ladder” and learned the following.
    Like a multi tool, the ladder does a lot of different things, but a single purpose ladder does most of them better.
    It is heavy and has numerous finger pinch points.
    It is though, absolutely perfect for setting it up so one side is straight up and down, and putting that side against the house.
    And depending on the rise and run of the stair treads, it may work perfectly on the stairs, or not at all.

    1. Falling is fun! Landing, not so thrilling.

      Hm, that’s good to know. I think we are going to asses what we need as we move. The ranch style does mean we haven’t got high rooflines, and a gentle slope to the roof is good, too. Hopefully I shan’t need to be up there anytime soon!

  10. I have a very close friend who lost her 73-year-old father to male stubbornness and a ladder. I will not share this post with her.

    1. How sad πŸ™

      I wrote this tongue-in-cheek, but there is indeed a very serious underlying problem. Ladders and improper usage lead to death and injuries all the time, most of which could be prevented with more safety awareness.

  11. So true and such great advice. Like any tool, ladders are quite valuable but must be used correctly if one is to avoid injury. I’m 60 and have had a few mishaps with ladders over the years, fortunately none resulted in serious injury. Every ladder mishap I’ve had resulted from using the tool incorrectly.

  12. When I was young and foolish I used to work on a wooden 20′ A frame with a 12′ extension that came out the middle to change stage lighting.

    I am very lucky to have the opportunity to be old a foolish, all things considered. I am coming to the realization that something that would have been merely painful to me a few decades ago could well be fatal today.

  13. Ladders: How Earth says, “Come to mama….”

    “I want to have three points of contact – I have five!”
    No, no, no. Those _aren’t_ the points of contact with the best grip. πŸ˜€

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