Confesssions of a College Painter: Werner Ladders

Reflections on ladder safety from a college house painter: Things Werner ladders were never meant to do

Like many other starving college students, I had my job no one in their right mind would have taken. Of course, it came with the promise of more money than I had ever seen. This too-good-to-be-true dream job was managing a summer house painting business in Park City, Utah.

I started with no idea how to run a business or paint a house, but somehow I made a little money and more miraculously, no one was crippled falling off a ladder.

This experience came back to me recently while I was watching an infomercial for the Little Giant Ladder System. I almost cried to see how easily they did jobs with a Little Giant I nearly died doing with my traditional Werner ladders. This has prompted me to pass on some wisdom I have learned about ladder safety to future generations of enterprising college students.

Ladder safety tip #1: Plan ahead when traveling with Werner ladders.

The idea that an extension ladder is long and awkward didn’t occur to me as I drove up to the paint store in my little Mercury Tracer. In the future, I would also plan ahead and bring a rope. Being an industrious college student, I made do with what I had. As I drove out of the parking lot with my new Werner ladder strapped to the top of my Tracer with a garden hose, the paint store guys bet on how far I would get before my Werner ladder flew off. Luckily, they were both wrong. When I saw the Little Giant on TV shrink down to under five feet, I became an instant fan of the convenient storage position.

Ladder safety tip #2: Know your Werner ladder’s limits.

For my summer of painting I bought two Werner ladders: an extension ladder and an A-frame. Usually these were sufficient for my high school minions to get their jobs done. But there are certain jobs my Werner ladders just weren’t built to do. For example, leaning folded A-frame Werner ladders against walls is not good ladder safety. Other examples follow. Having one Little Giant would have been infinitely more time effective and conducive to ladder safety. Some high schoolers have a talent for making ladder repositioning take longer than the painting itself. Creating an extended platform using the separated sections of the Little Giant would have been ideal – much safer than my practice of jumping my Werner ladders from side to side from 15 feet up.

Ladder safety tip #3: Avoid building homemade ladder accessories.

If you’ve ever been to Park City you know it’s not the flattest terrain. That’s great for skiers, but bad for people on ladders. My Werner ladders didn’t handle slopes very well. This made for some thrilling experiences. Luckily for me, there are plenty of small rocks in Park City. Four or five of them were usually sufficient to level my 24-foot extension ladder. The Little Giant people have created a nifty little device that levels your ladder for you. I have to admit this tool has the advantage in ladder safety, but not in job satisfaction. I pity future college students who will never know the excitement of betting their lives on a stack of rocks. But many of them are already too young to remember the TV show MacGyver about the man who could defuse a missile with a paperclip. I fear with Little Giant, the art of creating world-saving devices with stuff you find lying around will become lost completely.

Ladder safety tip #4: Never use another person as a counterweight over a 40-foot drop.

Some of the things I survived during this job I’m somewhat proud of, but this was idiotic. One job I contracted for included a section of siding above a second story deck. To paint this face required one to position himself roughly 40 feet above the concrete driveway. Fortunately, the house builder had left up the scaffolding structure he had built out of 2x4s to place the siding (apparently he had become too unnerved to remove it). But the scaffolding was not high enough for us to reach the siding with a paint roller. Many would have resigned to the fact that Werner ladders are not made to handle this kind of job with proper ladder safety, but not I. We rested my extension ladder on the 2x4s and I (220 pounds) stood on the bottom rung while my much smaller high school help, whom I will call Styles (130 pounds), climbed up to the top of the ladder to paint. My 90 pound weight advantage was enough to keep Styles from teetering to his death. With the Little Giant you can have one leg fully extended and the other resting on a much higher surface. I would wholeheartedly recommend the Little Giant ladder system as an alternative to Werner ladders and human counterweights for this kind of job, (from a ladder safety perspective) especially when your lighter employees have mothers waiting for them at home.


Werner ladders are fine for many jobs, but the tall cedar houses on the slopes around Park City demanded more. These ladder safety tips may seem stifling to creativity, but just get a Little Giant and you’ll be able to do everything you need without worrying about angry mothers. I usually don’t admit to watching infomercials but I feel I have a responsibility to bear witness of the benefits of the Little Giant and to share what I have learned about ladder safety with future starving student entrepreneurs.

Mark Montie
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