Clark Griswold and Portable Ladder Safety

As it is the time of year to begin taking down holiday decorations, the topic of portable ladder safety should be addressed. There are various ways to teach and model proper safety techniques in the use of these types of ladders. One of the best is by using humor and my personal favorite is Chevy Chase playing Clark Griswold in the National Lampoon’s movies. Chase’s use of slapstick or physical comedy often has the desired effect of teaching people the best ways to NOT do a task.

Let’s put together one of the classic scenes from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and apply OSHA’s Ladder Safety Requirements in 29 CFR 1926.1053 to it to see just how bad Clark Griswold is at safety. To view the scene, click here. To view OSHA’s Portable Ladder Safety Quick Card™, click here.

So, here is the comparison. Below is the requirement as listed on the Portable Ladder Safety Quick Card™ followed by how Clark is in violation of it.  See if you can find any I missed in my assessment.

  1. Read and follow all labels/markings on the ladder.

VIOLATION: This one is questionable, but given Clark’s way of working it is doubtful the yellow safety sticker on the side of the ladder was checked before it was removed from the garage and set into place.

  1. Avoid electrical hazards! – Look for overhead power lines before handling a ladder. Avoid using a metal ladder near power lines or exposed energized electrical equipment.

VIOLATION: Clark is using his metal ladder on his home which likely has power lines running to it.  He never looks around to see if any power lines are near him before he sets his ladder in place

  1. Always inspect the ladder prior to using it. If the ladder is damaged, it must be removed from service and tagged until repaired or discarded.

VIOLATION: This one is questionable, but given Clark’s way of working it is doubtful the ladder was checked before it was removed from the garage and set into place.

  1. Always maintain a 3-point (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) contact on the ladder when climbing. Keep your body near the middle of the step and always face the ladder while climbing (see diagram).

VIOLATION: At various points in the clip, the only points of contact on the ladder are Clark’s 2 feet.  He also stretches out past the side of the ladder which takes his body away from the middle of the ladder. This is best noticed when Clark staples his shirt to the house.

  1. Only use ladders and appropriate accessories (ladder levelers, jacks or hooks) for their designed purposes.

VIOLATION: To attach the lights to the house, Clark uses metal staples. These are not appropriate “accessories” to hang lights.  A better alternative would be plastic hooks which could be held in place by staples and found in many hardware stores.

  1. Ladders must be free of any slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet.

VIOLATION: The setting for this scene is the snowy front yard of Clark’s house. He never makes any attempt to brush the snow from his feet before starting up the ladder.

  1. Use a ladder only on a stable and level surface, unless it has been secured (top or bottom) to prevent displacement.

VIOLATION: Again, given the setting the likelihood of Clark’s ladder placement being on a level surface as he moves around his house hanging lights is minimal. Also, at no point is the ladder secured to prevent displacement. This is reinforced when Clark attempts to pull his stapled sleeve from the house and the ladder falls backwards into the tree.

  1. Do not move or shift a ladder while a person or equipment is on the ladder.

VIOLATION:  Clark actually moves the ladder himself as he is on it in an attempt to get the ladder into place.  This is hard to see as it is not done over a great distance and is only done towards the beginning of the clip.

  1. An extension or straight ladder used to access an elevated surface must extend at least 3 feet above the point of support (see diagram).

VIOLATION: As Clark makes his ascent to the roof of the house, it is clear the top of the ladder is not 3 feet above the roofline (point of support).

  1. The proper angle for setting up a ladder is to place its base a quarter of the working length of the ladder from the wall or other vertical surface (see diagram).

VIOLATION: As the ladder is set in place, Clark makes no attempt to measure the proper distance needed to use the ladder.  He simply leans it against the house.

  1. A ladder placed in any location where it can be displaced by other work activities must be secured to prevent displacement or a barricade must be erected to keep traffic away from the ladder.

VIOLATION: This was not done. What is not shown in this clip is Rusty, Clark’s son, is working to untangle the lights to be used for decorating. This means, it is possible for Rusty to bump the ladder while Clark is on it.

  1. Be sure that all locks on an extension ladder are properly engaged.

VIOLATION: This was most certainly not done as was shown by Clark’s quick descent to the ground only seconds after climbing it.

By my count, Clark manages to be in violation of almost every requirement on the safety standard. So, to avoid being called the “Clark Griswold” of your family and risking serious injury review OSHA’s Portable Ladder Safety Quick Card™.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *