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.