Stairways come in all shapes and sizes. Outdoor stairs can be simple or complicated but have to be weatherproofed.

Indoor stairs can be tricky. A day of work might end with a gap in the landing or the second story may not have even a basic safety railing installed…

Several years ago, my stepson was working with me and another carpenter on the interior transformation of a two-story house. The owners had only had the exterior shell of the house completed previously, but they were now ready to retire and wanted the house completed. This entailed everything:  walls, doorways, kitchen cabinets/appliances/lighting, bathrooms, laundry room, baseboards, flooring, second story rooms/flooring, closets, electricial, plumbing, and stairs. While the downstairs was walled into rooms, the upstairs was constructed and accessed by using a ladder and scaffolding. Once the bedrooms, bathroom, linen closet, and loft were framed and sheetrocked, the L-shaped stairway was begun.

When the basic framework and treads were nearly complete, only a gap in the landing, eight feet above the first story, remained. Everyone going up and down the stairs to tape/texture, paint, tile, trim windows/doors, etc. was very careful to avoid this hole. However, one morning a terrible accident occurred. The other carpenter had carelessly covered the hole with just plastic sheeting instead of the requested plywood, and James inadvertently stepped precisely on the plastic over the opening and fell through, hitting his head hard on the stairs and the floor.

After calling 911, I called my wife/James’ mother, who rushed over in time to get into the ambulance with him. His eyes were not equal and he could only remember his name, both indicators of a concussion. James’ wife met us at the emergency room and we spent hours in the hallway with James on a gurney in a neck and back brace, waiting until he was seen to. After x-rays and MRI determined a concussion but no cracks or fractures, he was released without having to spend the night. He had to stay home and rest for nearly a week, but he had a full recovery.

James was very lucky, but that scary incident reminded me that not every person I hired had a good sense of  responsibility and awareness. Despite his apologies, the stairway carpenter could not get over the suffering his mistake had caused. He became overly nervous and quit before the job was finished.


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