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Decking the Halls? Beware of Falls

Tumbles from ladders rise in holiday season

THURSDAY, Dec. 9, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- If you're bent on hanging mistletoe, take heed: U.S. safety experts warn that serious injuries linked to falls rise during the holiday season.

Each year between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, about 5,800 Americans are treated in U.S. emergency rooms for fall-related injuries that occur while they are hanging Christmas lights and decorations.

That works out to about two to three ER visits per hour during the holiday season, according to statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"I think probably we're just not understanding the risks involved and then taking care to prevent injuries," said CDC behavioral scientist Karen Mack.

Eager to hang those boughs of holly, string up Christmas lights, or put that star at the tip of the tree, many Americans are forgetting common-sense safety, Mack added.

"I think the thing to be most careful about is our use of ladders," she said. "First, to make sure that they are secure and level and to use them appropriately."

In fact, CDC statistics show that 43 percent of all seasonal decorating-related falls were from ladders. The remainder of falls occurred from roofs, stairs, porches, and furniture.

While it's tempting to use a nearby chair or coffee table as a substitute for a well-placed ladder, Mack said it's always a risky move. Step stools or small ladders are much more stable, she said.

Serious injuries linked to falls can put a quick end to holiday cheer: According to the CDC, one-third of decorating-linked injuries resulted in bone fractures. Again, falls from ladders accounted for more than half of these fractures.

Young Americans, especially, may be overestimating their ability to balance and stay safe as they beautify their homes.

According to the CDC, 62 percent of fall-related injuries during the holidays occur involved people 20 to 49 years of age. That's more than double the rate of injuries in this age group for the rest of the year (30 percent). Men are slightly more likely to sustain fall-related injuries than women (58 percent vs. 42 percent), the CDC said.

The bottom line, according to Mack, is that too many people "are simply not taking the steps to consider beforehand what the possible problems might be."

Some helpful tips from the CDC:

  • Clear floor areas around ladders. Decorations and other objects left lying around raise the risk for slips and falls.
  • Make sure ladders are on secure footing before use, and space the ladder at least one foot away from the wall for every four feet in height.
  • Instead of overreaching, take a moment to step down and off the ladder, and then move it closer to the desired object.
  • Don't stand on the ladder's top two rungs.
  • When using ladders to reach roofs, make sure the ladder extends a full three feet beyond the edge of the roof.
  • When using a folding stepladder, open it fully and lock it into place. Never use a folding ladder in the closed position.

More information

For detailed information on ladder safety, head to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

SOURCES: Karen Mack, Ph.D., behavioral scientist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Dec. 10, 2004, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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