Think Safe, Be Safe

Ladders can be dangerous.  Using proper techniques and adhering to safe practices significantly reduces the risk.

When a Normal Day Turns Horrible

Phones are vital to any business

The phone is ringing... Is it good news or bad news?

In the course of running a small business, each day has it’s ups and downs.

A customer calls to say thank you and tip your employees.  Another customer owes you money, rudely hangs up on you and refuses to pay.

One employee completes a job flawlessly and quickly.  Another one loses his equipment and forgets to complete his paperwork.

That large check finally arrives in the mail.  The rent is due and the van needs new tires.

As a business owner you get used to these normal highs and lows, learn how to manage your expectations, make it to the next day and do it all again.

On May 18th, 2009 at 12:36pm, I got the worst call anyone could ever receive…

John, there’s been an accident.

Accidents Happen, Some Can Be Avoided

Josh, On the Job, Enjoying the View

Josh, On the Job, Enjoying the View

The day started off just like any other Monday.

The cleaners arrived at 7am and began readying their equipment and picking up work orders.  I brought in donuts to celebrate our lead cleaner Josh’s 48th birthday.  We all sang to him, had some fun and talked about his birthday plans.

Josh requested a light workload and early finish because he and his wife were meeting friends and family at his favorite restaurant, Red Lobster.  Not an issue.

Today, he would be training one of our newest cleaners, Juanito, and I’d assigned to them some smaller route work and then scheduled them to finish with a larger job at a nearby hotel.  It should be an easy day, they should be done by 1:30pm and Josh will be eating lobster by 5pm.

Before becoming a window cleaner, Josh was a painter and had always worked on ladders.  Even though he’d had years of experience, we trained him on proper ladder techniques and usage when he was hired.  Also, during our weekly safety meetings we continually review proper techniques, discuss ladder usage and administer quizzes to make sure each cleaner understands the material and our commitment to working safely.

The guys leave the office at 7:30am and the normal ups and down begin.

5 hours later, I get the call.  

It’s a shaken Juanito, telling me that Josh has had an accident.

Improper Angle - This ladder does not adhere to the 1/4 rule

Improper Angle - ladder does not adhere to the 1/4 rule

Josh was using a ladder, he fell about 10 feet and severely broke his ankle.

By the time I got to the hotel, Josh had already been rushed to the hospital and I asked Juanito about the incident.  He informed me that Josh had not used the proper ladder angle and it slipped out from under him.

I was finally able to see Josh about 5pm and it was not to share a lobster dinner.   He’d been in 2 hours of surgery, was now recovering and I met his wife for the first time.

As I approached his bed Josh looks at me, begins to tear up, and says, “John, I’m so sorry.”

He’s the one in an emergency room with a broken ankle and he’s telling me he’s sorry?

He goes on, “We constantly train on safety and this morning I took a shortcut.  It’s one I’ve taken many times before.  Today I got caught.  I’m so sorry that this happened, especially on my birthday.”

I’m speechless.  

I begin to tear up too, we discuss what happened and start the healing process together.

Last November, 2.5 years after his accident, we cleaned the windows at Josh’s home.  He’s had 4 additional surgeries, walks with a cane and will never regain full ankle mobility.  Our Worker’s Compensation insurance has paid for all of his medical needs, but Josh will never work again.

It was bad. I probably would have closed our business if something worse had happened.  I try not to think about the “what ifs”.

What I do focus on: This accident was avoidable.

Safety is Everyone’s Responsibility

A spotter is required when working on a ledge

A spotter is required when working near a ledge

We constantly train on safety issues and employees are always reminded to follow the proper techniques and OSHA safety regulations.

Employees understand that anyone not adhering to OSHA safety regulations will be written up and are subject to termination.

We also instruct our employees to use common sense and listen to their inner voice: If they ever don’t feel safe performing a task, simply don’t do it.  We’ll find another way.

Josh is experienced with ladders and received proper training.  He knows our policies and he, like everyone, does not want to be injured on the job.

So, what was the real cause of his accident?

  1. Mild distraction with an eye towards the day’s end.
  2. Over confidence in personal ladder experience.
  3. A momentary lapse in judgement.
  4. All of the Above.
Phil's ladder properly uses the 1/4 Rule

Phil's ladder correctly uses the 1/4 Rule

Correct Answer: #4 – All of the Above.

a) He was looking forward to his birthday dinner and wanted to finish the job quickly.

b) Instead of going to his truck and getting a smaller section of ladder to properly lean it at the correct angle, he used an unsafe technique that he’d successfully “gotten away with” previously.

c) He climbed a ladder he knows was not properly set.

These decisions and series of events took just a couple of seconds.

With a little caution, application of his training and some common sense, Josh would have eaten his lobster dinner and would still be working for my company.

Instead, his “All of the Above” decisions caused an accident, and now he can no longer work.

It’s that simple.

Safety regulations are necessary and designed to keep you injury free.

Use them always.

At work or at home, remind everyone you know to be vigilant about safety.

Life is too precious to take unnecessary risks.

Employee Awareness About Ladder Safety

The proper angle for a ladder is as follows:

For every 4 feet of ladder, the base must be 1 foot away from the building.  This is commonly known as the 1/4 rule.

OSHA Website

OSHA Website

Here are some additional OSHA ladder safety regulations:

  • Inspect every ladder prior to every use.
  • Do not use ladders with structural defects; properly tag with “Do Not Use” and withdraw from service.
  • Carry ladders parallel to the ground.
  • Tie ladders down securely when transporting.
  • Keep ladders free of oil, grease and other hazards.
  • Do not load ladder beyond maximum intended load.
  • Use only for the purpose for which the ladder was designed (refer to manufacturer’s labeling and recommendations).
  • Barricade traffic areas in vicinity of ladder use.  Lock, barricade or guard doorways in which a ladder is placed.
  • Keep area around the top and bottom of ladder clear.
  • Never “WALK” a ladder.
  • Use only non-conductive side rails around live electrical equipment.
  • Do not use top or top step for standing/stepping.
  • Do not stand on cross bracing.
  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • Always maintain three points of contact with the ladder (two feet/one hand or two hands/one foot should be in contact with ladder at all times).
  • Carry tools in pouches around waist; use a rope to raise or lower large items such as tool boxes or materials.
  • Do not overextend sideways.  Use the belt buckle rule: keep your belt buckle positioned between the side rails at all times, which should maintain your center of gravity between the side rails.
  • Never allow more than one worker on the ladder at a time.
  • Wear protective clothing and rubber-soled shoes.

For more detailed information on ladder safety visit the OSHA website.

Always Remember: “Think Safe” and Be Safe!  

Thanks for reading!


About the Author

John Gran & Cynthia Julian

John Gran & Cynthia Julian

John Gran (@FishSouthBay) is an entrepreneur and former marketing and product development executive who has grown his successful Fish Window Cleaning franchise in the Los Angeles – South Bay area to become a leading professional in window cleaning services for business owners and home owners.

With his popular blog A Clear View Through Clean Windows, John shares his window cleaning expertise by addressing topics and answering questions that customers continually ask him during his day.  He also uses window cleaning pictures, inspirations and stories about his business to demonstrate the fundamentals for building a strong, healthy, thriving business.

John lives & works with his wife Cynthia in Redondo Beach, CA (she runs the business too!)

If you have a question or would like window cleaning services click Here or Call 310-973-3474 for a Free, on-site written estimate.

4 comments on “Think Safe, Be Safe

  1. John, this article is very well written. Not only do you give proper techniques to follow, you give a personal account of the tragedy of not following guidelines.

    • Thank you John, I very much appreciate your comments. I just hope everyone takes a moment to remember that life is too short and precious to take unnecessary risks. Be Safe!

  2. Great reminder John! We had a close call the other day….i will be using this article in our meeting tomorrow!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s