DANGER: May Result in Injuries or Death

One of the great gifts I got this Christmas was a step stool.  We really need one in our kitchen, where the top shelves are beyond the grasp even of my 6’3” frame.  The gift is especially cherished because thoughtful relatives noticed at Thanksgiving that we were resorting on occasion to standing on the seats of kitchen chairs to grab stuff.  They saw a genuine need, and met it splendidly.

step stool

Our new step stool in its functioning environment

The two-step stool has a bottom step 7” off the ground and 3” wide.  The top step is 7 ½” above the bottom step and thus is about 16” off the ground, including the thickness of the step.  The top step is a comfy 7 ¾” deep; the bottom a narrower 3”.  It stores inconspicuously next to the fridge, and we use it daily.

It is easy to use; how could it not be?  You open it up in front of the cabinet you need to access; you separate the front and the rear legs.  You step up two steps to get what you need, and reverse the process to get off.

But this diminutive, convenient piece of equipment comes with seven stickers on its five members (four legs and a crossbar).  They identify, they warn, they caution, they advise.  And when they’re finished, they repeat it all in Spanish.  You can barely see the finish on the steel because the surfaces are so plastered.  Here is the complete text that comes with this device.  From the length and complexity, one could barely guess that the thing is just one notch more complex than a milking stool.

Lower left rear leg: [barcode and number] 11024PBL Unit / 2 Step Steel Step Stool

Upper left rear leg:  [red oval, white letters] Danger / Electrocution Hazard / [circle with black background, white up arrow] WATCH FOR WIRES / [lightning bolt with downward arrow] THIS LADDER CONDUCTS ELECTRICITY

Left front leg: [blue rectangle, white letters] NOTICE / Step Stool Size: 2 ft, ¼ in (67 cm) / Highest Standing Level: 17 ¼ in (43.5 cm) / Light-Duty Household Rating Working Load: 200 lb / Model 11-024-PBL  Cosco® / Home and Office Products / 2525 State Street / Columbus, IN 47201 /1-800-263-1996 / Made in China / MFG. Date 13 MAR 2018 / MANUFACTURED TO / [oval logo] TYPE III DUTY RATING PER ANSI STANDARD / ANSI SPECIFICATIONS / 10-YEAR LIMITED WARRANTY / 4360-3226B


Crossbar right: [black rectangle, yellow letters] CAUTION / KEEP BODY CENTERED BETWEEN SIDE RAILS. / DO NOT OVER-REACH. / SET ALL FOUR FEET ON FIRM LEVEL SURFACE. / WEAR SLIP-RESISTANT SHOES. / BEFORE USE, BE SURE ALL LOCKS ARE ENGAGED AND STEPS ARE COMPLETELY UNFOLDED. / [drawing of a male standing in the middle of the bottom step of a two-step ladder, reaching up]


Step stool, showing labels galore

Right front leg: [green rectangle with white letters] SAFETY FIRST / STEP STOOL – FOR YOUR SAFETY READ CAREFULLY / INSPECTION / 1. Inspect upon receipt and before each use; never climb a damaged, bent or broken step stool. / 2. Make sure all rivets and joints, nuts and bolts are tight; steps, spreaders, and braces are secure; spreaders function properly. / 3. Keep step stool clean, free from grease, oil, mud, snow, wet paint and other slippery material.  Keep your shoes clean; leather soles should not be used. / 4. Never make temporary repairs of damaged or missing parts. / 5. Destroy step stool is broken, worn, or if exposed to fire or chemical corrosion. /  PROPER SET-UP / 1.  DANGER! METAL CONDUCTS ELECTRICITY! Do not let step stools of any material come in contact with live electrical wires. / 2.  Make sure step stool is fully open and spreaders secure. / 3. Place on firm surface and a secure footing. Do not use on slippery surfaces.  Do not place on boxes, unstable bases, or scaffolds to gain additional height.  Do not place in front of door opening toward step stool. / PROPER CLIMBING AND USE / 1.  DO NOT USE STEP STOOLS if you tire easily, are subject to fainting spells, are using medicine or alcohol, or are physically impaired. / 2. To protect children do not leave step stool set up and unattended. / 3. Face step stool when climbing up or down. Keep body centered between side rails. / 4. Do not overreach, move step stool when needed. / 5. Do not “walk” or “jog” step stool when standing on it. / 6. Do not overload.  Step stools are made for one person.  Do not use as brace, platform, or plank. / 7. Keep step stool close to work; avoid pushing or pulling off to the side of step stool. / PROPER CARE AND STORAGE / 1. Store step stool in safe and dry place. / 2. Properly secure and support step stool when in transit. / 3. Never store materials on step stool. / 4. Keep step stool clean and free of all foreign materials. / MAINTENANCE / 1. Clean step surface only with soapy water. / 2. Do not use products that degrade the plastic material such as acetone and trychlorethlene.

Right rear leg: [red oval with white letters] DANGER / Failure to read and follow all instructions on this ladder, including those under the steps, may result in injuries or death.

At first I thought that these over 550 words were a perverse manifestation of the “nanny state,” a society that assumes we lack the wit to use low step stools without proper instructions.  But I think it’s instead the “litigious state,” a society in which every manufacturer knows they have to preclude any possible claim that users didn’t understand that electricity is dangerous, or that it’s better not to lean way over on one side, or that it’s not good to get on a step stool with somebody else.  I am surprised that they don’t warn ballet dancers not to assume the arabesque position on the upper step, or that newlyweds should not use it as a place to consummate their union, or that a ballplayer should not take batting practice while standing atop the device.  After all, there’s a fool born every minute, and with that comes potential corporate liability.  Because it’s a corporation’s responsibility to prevent people from doing dumb things involving their products.  Freedom from individual responsibility: isn’t that in the Bill of Rights?

I at least appreciate the advice “do not overreach.”  Keep all things within the limits of reason, indeed!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019

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