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A Life Saver. No, Literally.

“I know a man. Eight foot step-ladder. Simple to climb. Simple to fall off of. His funeral was a week later. This is serious business.”

I’d watched this video last week. As a terrible fate would have it I almost lost my footing on a ladder yesterday. Almost. I remembered what he says about the last two steps on a stepladder not being steps. I was stepping back down as it tipped but I caught and corrected myself in time. Check this Essential Craftsman video out. Plunging 3,4,5 + feet to the concrete is not a something you want to try out.

“You’ll think, ‘If I can just reach over there six more inches I can do it.’ Stop. Don’t do it. Just put a mental brake in there. Get down. Move the ladder six inches and climb back up.”

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  • azlibertarian December 21, 2017, 1:35 PM

    About a quarter-century ago, I was the new owner of a large (for me, at least) property of oranges. Being almost completely house-poor, and fairly stubborn, I decided that I’d maintain my orange trees myself.

    My only ladder was this 6-foot aluminum step-ladder with a bent spreader arm which meant that it was never, even under ideal circumstances, all that stable.

    And the circumstances of this story weren’t ideal. The tree in question was located next to a berm, which meant that there was no level place to put the ladder.

    And I was going to use a chainsaw. [You see where this is headed, don’t you?]

    Going into this, I told myself that this was dangerous bordering on stupid, so I set some limits for myself: I wasn’t going to climb up onto that top step, and I wasn’t going to raise the chainsaw above my shoulders. Had I respected those self-imposed limits, I probably wouldn’t have a story to tell.

    But now, 25 years later, I can re-live the fall I took from that ladder like it was yesterday. A fall from a 6-foot ladder takes but a fraction of a second, but it was all slo-mo for me. The ladder went out from under me to my left, and I fell to the right as I shoved that running chainsaw away from me with all my might. I landed in a heap with my legs atop the downed ladder, and the biggest bruise I suffered was to my ego.

    Yeah, ladders (and chainsaws) are dangerous items, and I’ve learned through luck (and not a little Divine Intervention) to use them carefully.

  • GoneWithTheWind December 21, 2017, 2:39 PM

    I got a good gig once working for a contractor whose partner in business had fallen and broke his back. The contractor was under the gun to finish a few big projects and if he couldn’t he would lose big bucks. The partner had put a 6 foot step ladder up on top of a scaffold and leaned it against the building so he could work on the gutter. The force against the ladder pushed the scaffold away from the building and it all came down with him in the middle somewhere. He never walked again.

  • tljhound December 21, 2017, 3:13 PM

    Worked with a guy in his forties whose job required him to climb 60 feet of stairs and permanent ladders – up then back down – every half hour. A tough job but he was a genuinely tough guy. One Sunday in January his wife asked if he wanted to go to the store with her, he told her no, he was going to take down the Christmas lights. A neighbor heard a noise, it was the guy cursing and ripping off a gutter as he fell from a ladder leaning on his single story ranch. A police report said his feet had been just shy of 5 feet off the ground. His head hit the frozen ground, the local hospital flew him to a regional trauma unit, and we stood at his grave a few days later.

  • Mike G. December 21, 2017, 3:21 PM

    These kinds of stories are all too common. I had one of those accidents myself. Actually was supposed to get someone else to do the work and supervise, but decided to do it myself. So I wheeled out the cutting torch and leaned the six foot ladder up against a round post instead of setting it up properly. I had to cut a small piece of steel out of the way. Well, the small molten piece of steel fell straight down towards my left foot. I moved my foot, the ladder went off to the right and I went off to the left horizontally. Landed on my left hip on the asphalt pavement with a full tool belt on and for the first minute or so all I could worry about was the lit torch that fell from my hands when I fell. Then the pain set in. 24 hours and emergency hip surgery later, I had (3) 3 inch screws in my hip. That was in 1998. Wrong setup of the ladder and no safety man was my downfall.

    And just recently, we had an employee do the six foot ladder on top of scaffolding. It didn’t end well for him either, although he just lost most of the use of his right arm where it got sliced on some metal studs work when he fell.

  • MMinLamesa December 21, 2017, 6:32 PM

    There’s stupid and sensible. Just 2 days ago I was up over 30′ feet installing leaded glass panels on the side of a church. Yeah it was hairy. Death if I fell or at least lots of breakage. Sensible ladder usage and no problem. Still an 8 pucker factor. Had a 10 pucker factor one time on a 5 story scaffold job. A cold front blew in as we were installing the top most panel in the side of this church. Lordy.

    BTW I have that exact extension ladder-same color too.

  • ghostsniper December 21, 2017, 7:05 PM

    Lemme tell ya about my twice yearly gutter chore.
    I don’t allow my wife to watch, she can’t contain her emotions properly and I find them very distracting and distractions aren’t necessary when doing ladder work.

    The ladder is a 24′ alum extension pulled all the way out.
    The gutter is on the front of our house, across the porch roof.
    It’s a 2 story house with a slope roof across the first floor porch.
    The house is built on land that slopes steeply in 2 directions and in the front it drops away from the house very quickly. Where the legs of the ladder sit the ground is about 4′ lower than the porch floor.

    None of my other ladders will work for this job and even with the extension it is hairy.
    The bottom of the ladder is about 10′ out from the house and climbing this low sloped thing is like a monkey on a jungle jim. Oh yeah, 1 leg of the ladder doesn’t reach the ground but I’m going to bolt an extension on that leg sometime.

    Anyway, when I’m on the top of that thing dragging big handfuls of saturated and decomposing leaves out of the gutter and throwing them on the ground the ladder, with 1 leg on the ground and the opposite leg (or is it an arm when it’s at the top?) is against the gutter and it’s rocking back and forth. So with one hand anchored to the gutter I lean way out to the up hill side as far as I can to grab the leaves and therefore not have to move the ladder so many times. After all it’s quite a chore scaling this thing.

    I always start this process at the highest part of the gutters so the water is always going down stream. Yes, the leaves have blocked the downspout too and all that nastiness is backed up in that gutter, which is about 30′ long. So as I’m working the ladder along the downslope of the gutter the ground slopes up, meaning, this job gets easier as I go along, til I get to the end which is the low side of the gutter, and the ground is almost flat there. shwew.

    The first time I did this back in 2007 my wife was terrified and stood there on the porch begging me to call someone to deal with it and I’d have none of that. She tried her best to contain herself but little shrieks eeked out of her uncontrollably and I finally told her to get inside and don’t come back out til I’m done. Afterwards she told me she stood inside watching out the window with her cell in hand ready to call 911.

    Extension ladders ain’t cheap and when I built the 2 story porch on the back of our house in 2006 I didn’t have the extension so I used a 16′ ladder I built out of 2×4’s. The ground is even steeper and foreboding back there and I got it done with no injuries. None. Though it came close when I fired a 3.5″ spike through my Paslode cordless nailer and it curved with the grain and curled out between 2 fingers on the hand that was holding the boards together. shwew again

  • Gordon December 21, 2017, 7:08 PM

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve been on a lot of ladders and I’m of an age where I don’t climb them if I can avoid it. I learned some interesting stuff.

    i just paid $5,000 to a company to install new gutters, downspouts and leaf filters so I never have to climb up there again.

  • Daniel K Day December 21, 2017, 7:40 PM

    I borrowed a ladder from a neighbor down the alley once to apply some concrete patch to the exterior wall of the house I rented. I don’t know how long the ladder was, but he was a well-equipped carpenter. This was a *tall* plain ladder with round rungs that placed my feet at least 12 feet above the ground when I got up to where I needed to be.
    I tied the ladder securely to the house. No problem there. There were just 2 issues. (1) The ladder angle was pretty steep. (2) I needed 1 hand to hold horizontal the little board that I had mixed the patch material on, 1 hand to apply the patch with my trowel, and 1 hand to hold on to the ladder. (Roping myself to the ladder had not occurred to me; on the other hand, that has its own hazards, doesn’t it?) The latter job was actually performed by my right elbow as my mother had not conceived me with a 3rd hand. I was most of the way through the patching job when I forgot, for a moment, just how precarious my stance was, and disengaged my elbow in order to position the trowel a little better.
    There I stood, in nearly perfect equilibrium on the round rung of the ladder, patch on board in waiter’s-platter posture on the tips of my left fingers, trowel in right hand, nothing holding me to the ladder but gravity. I wondered which way I would fall, toward my house, or toward my neighbor’s front Japanese garden, separated from our place by a 4-foot cinder block fence. My neighbor’s house was just inside her wall, a few feet to my left, and the steel roof over her front porch looked sturdy, several feet below my eye level … but there was a low, equally sturdy steel sheet-covered balustrade along the edge of that roof which I would really want to clear if I jumped that way.
    A moment later, equilibrium gone, I “fell” toward my own house against the ladder. No harm, no foul. But it was a bad moment.

  • Mizbish December 21, 2017, 9:09 PM

    My husband came home one day looking dazed and covered in blood. I asked him what happened. He didn’t remember some of it, but the upshot was that he fell off a ladder while using a chainsaw on a tree, hit his head on a rock, and was out (we figured) about 30 minutes before he came to while our sweet lab was licking his face. How he drove the 30 minutes home, I’ll never know. Said he thought maybe he’d broken his cheekbone. I said, “let’s get to the ER.” He said he wanted to shower first. I said, “ f- – – the shower, get in the car.” He cracked his skull and has about a golf ball sized, 1/4 “ deep indentation over his left ear to show for it. Very lucky the chainsaw didn’t get him. And very lucky he had no seizures or debilitating brain damage. He’s not allowed to use ‘ladder’ and ‘chainsaw’ in the same sentence around the house.

  • Casey Klahn December 21, 2017, 9:17 PM

    Ladders are for the youth. 40? Think twice. 50? Don’t climb that ladder!! 60? Whaddayatalkin abaout?

    I did some sick sh!t on ladders in my teens. Another story: once, I was driving by a la Quinta Inn and saw a guy up a 30 footer and painting a wall, and he was on the top rung. Paper said he’d died of the fall, and La Quinta had some BS story about it that didn’t match what I’d seen. To this day I will not stay at a La Quinta unless a loaded gun is pointed at my head.

    Falling is a young man’s sport. Avoid if possible and even at great cost.

  • Ed December 21, 2017, 11:03 PM

    How many of us have decided to wiggle the ladder a bit to gain some advantage while up near the top? Whether to extend reach, or just obtain better stability down at the footing, it really doesn’t matter.

    It can be done. But you need both hands, probably. It involves balancing the ladder on one leg while torquing it just enough to pivot around the based leg, and then shifting your weight to the free leg when it’s about where you want it. Oh, I forgot to mention you have to have already raised the free leg free of the ground before you initiate the twisting. This is done by holding the ladder firmly while leaning in the required direction, thus tilting the ladder. Of course you have now removed one point of stabilizing contact up at the top. So, thoughtful and careful planning is necessary. Seeking better footing by moving both legs outward can be accomplished also, but this requires pulling both top legs away from your support and balancing while doing the tilting and twisting.

    I can’t remember the circumstances that necessitated developing these skills. I seem to have done it often in different circumstances. I must have saved a great deal of time by not climbing up and down quite so often. Things you do when working alone.

    I avoid ladders as much as possible these days. My knees have gotten weaker as I mature.

    I also believe in guardian angels, but we’ll save those stories for another time.

  • ghostsniper December 22, 2017, 4:29 AM

    HA! Ed, thanks for the memory filled visuals.
    I’ve “walked” a step ladder sideways a few times when I had something to hold onto.
    A little scary, but doable especially if the floor (not ground) is smooth.
    If the floor/ground is not smooth then you have to sort of “hop” it over.

  • John The River December 22, 2017, 6:16 AM

    Never ‘burrow’ a ladder from someone you don’t know.

    Didn’t want to go downstairs and get the ladder off the truck. So I asked the customer if they had a ladder I could use for a minute.
    Long story short, when I opened my eyes I was lying on top of a desk (on top of staplers, pen holders and smashed file holders) looking up at the ceiling just as another big piece of the ceiling followed me down.
    Someone had ‘taped’ the broken leg of the ladder I burrowed back together.

  • Snakepit Kansas December 22, 2017, 10:52 AM

    December 2002 I slipped off a ladder in my garage. I was only three feet up and landed ass down, right onto a stamped sheet metal L shaped shelf bracket. I did not know I was impaled immediately, got up and tried to walk it off. It hurt horribly. I reached back to the pain in my left ham and felt that sheet metal. I yanked it out and the blood went flying. The back of my leg became hot and I knew I was in trouble. I put a death grip with my left hand on the wound, laid down on the garage floor. My room mate at the time was within ear shot and I yelled for him to call 911. The cops and meat wagon showed up pretty quick. I got put face down on the stretcher and once they loaded me up, the bigger of the two EMTs sat on me, putting pressure on the wound. When we arrived at the ER, there were personnel waiting outside for me just like on TV. They had concern that I may have cut an artery. Face down again inside the ER, my clothes were cut off and I wore nothing but a t-shirt. My cut jeans were dropped on the floor within sight. One blue leg and a red leg. It did not take them long to determine an artery was not cut and the situation calmed somewhat. A nicely dressed doctor came in, put gloves on and stuck his fingers into my wound. I flinched and yelled. blood sprayed up on his chest. Morphine started to kick in and I got the muscle sewed up, then the skin sewed up. I limped for months afterward and to this day, there is a chunk missing out of my lower ass about a third the size of a human fist.

    Respect the ladder.

  • Fred December 22, 2017, 5:39 PM

    I don’t understand how this expert can demo a ladder like this and not suggest leg levelers at the bottom and a wide standoff at the top.

    I hung siding and installed windows back in my youth and we used both of these ladder accessories daily. They are lifesavers. Cheap at twice the price.

    Leg Levelers: https://www.amazon.com/LADDER-ACCESSORIES-600C-Ladder-Leveler/dp/B005J4BS6M/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1513992616&sr=8-2&keywords=ladder+leg+levelers

    Standoff: https://www.amazon.com/Louisville-Ladder-LP-2200-00-Stabilizer/dp/B0000CBILQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1513993091&sr=1-3&keywords=ladder+standoff

  • ghostsniper December 22, 2017, 6:19 PM

    $100 for those 2 things.
    You can make them out of stuff you already have laying around.

  • Janice the Elder December 24, 2017, 12:51 PM

    I will not lend tools or equipment to anyone.
    I used to lend tools and equipment. Thought it was a neighborly sort of thing to do. Then I lent a ladder to a co-worker. Fairly nice extension ladder. He needed to do some work on the side of his house. My ladder wasn’t long enough for what he wanted to do. Instead of bringing it back, and maybe renting a longer ladder, he improvised. He extended the ladder out past the safety margin. It still wasn’t long enough. So he piled up some concrete blocks, on end, to set the over-extended ladder on. He climbs up. Reaches way over, because he doesn’t want to have to move things, and everything collapses. The ladder gets bent where he over-extended it. The concrete blocks slide off of each other, and he falls onto a concrete sidewalk. He was lucky, because he didn’t break anything. I asked where my ladder was. He said it was broken, so he wasn’t going to bring it back. He then said, jokingly of course, that he wasn’t going to sue me because my ladder broke.
    I will not lend tools or equipment to anyone.

  • Snakepit Kansas December 24, 2017, 2:19 PM

    Awful neighbor. No, do not loan out tools unless you have developed trust.

  • ghostsniper December 24, 2017, 7:26 PM

    He’d have went to the ER to see if they could unscramble his huevos.