I stretch to pick that one, huge, perfect apple, just barely out of reach. It’s so much larger than the other apples on the tree and looks so beautiful. I know I should get down and re-position the ladder, but it seems like so much trouble for just one more apple. My 5-gallon bucket is almost full. It’s just one more.
But what's wrong with this picture?
Feeling the ladder start to give way, I briefly think about grabbing the branch in front of me. Just as quickly, I realize that the branch is old and probably brittle. Grabbing it would only add more debris under me, over me, beside me. The ladder is going to fall under me. I kick away from it, not knowing if I’m kicking the ladder away from me, or kicking myself away from the ladder. It doesn’t matter. We are now separated.
I’m not that far above the ground. It only looks that way. It’s a 6-foot ladder, so my feet are only 4 feet above the ground. I could probably land on my feet. I’ve landed on my feet from higher elevations than this. But the ground is sloped, and it’s covered with apples that could roll under my feet. I could easily break my ankle. I should try to land on my butt. It’s the most padded, and least likely to break.
All of this took mere seconds, surprisingly. I successfully landed mostly on my butt, but also on my back, knocking the wind out of me for a minute. But in only a few more seconds, I was sitting up, holding my left wrist tightly, as excruciating pain radiated through my consciousness. I could hardy breathe. How odd--the pain is in my wrist, but it’s so intense, that I can’t stand up or walk. I’m not sure where my husband is, and I didn’t bring my phone out with me. It takes 5 minutes or so, before I can stand.
Holding my wrist tightly seems to alleviate the pain somewhat. I find my husband, who wraps it with an elastic bandage. Two aspirin and an ice pack that I keep in the freezer also hold the pain at bay. But an hour later, I decide I should see the doctor. X-rays show that no bones are broken, but it seems that I have torn a ligament in the area between the ulna and the radius (the two major bones coming into the wrist). I will be in a cast for 6 weeks... well into winter.
All of which brings me to ladder safety. I do know better than to do what I did.The ground was sloped. The ladder was not stabilized. I was depending on shifting my weight on the ladder to compensate for the lack of stability. I stood on a step higher than was safe, and finally, rather than getting down and moving the ladder, I stretched to reach.
Just to remind everyone, here are some safety rules for harvesting fruit (do as I say not as I did):
Use the right ladder for the job
Stepladders are the kind most people think of when they think of ladders. These should only be used on flat even ground.
An ‘orchard’ ladder has a tripod design and is only for orchard and landscape maintenance, such as pruning and harvesting fruit. It is lightweight, portable and is intended for uneven ground.
An Extension ladder is a long, straight, non-self-supporting ladder, that must be supported at the top by leaning it evenly against something. This type of ladder is good for painting houses or getting up to a high place, like a roof. But it is difficult to use in an orchard setting, since trees rarely have sufficient places to evenly support the top.
A multi-purpose ladder, also called an articulating ladder, has joints that can be locked in place to create a stepladder, an extension ladder, or a step ladder that is shorter on one side. This kind of ladder is good for placement where the ground is on one side, but isn’t as good if the ground slopes in two directions.
Make sure the ladder is properly supported
- The legs of an orchard ladder should sink slightly into the ground.For uneven ground, the next best choice is an articulating ladder. If the ground slopes in two directions, place a solid piece of wood under the ‘short’ leg. Make sure the wood is large enough that the ladder won’t slip off of the wood, and make sure the legs are now even
- Do not use a stepladder if the ground is sloped or uneven. It is extremely difficult to properly support a stepladder under these conditions.Do not step on the top of the ladder. It may look like a step, but it’s not.
- As a matter of fact, standing on the step next to the top step is even questionable. The closer you get to the top of the ladder, the more unstable you will be.
- Do not reach sideways or diagonally above you. Reaching will change the point of stability. Just take the extra time to get off the ladder and re-position it correctly.
Finally, it’s a great idea to let someone know when you are going to be on a ladder. Better yet, have a household rule – no one gets on a ladder
Photos courtesy of Loretta Liefveld