Whether pruning trees before a storm or decking the house for the holidays, most people rely on ladders to get home jobs done. But extreme caution is the watchword, especially for older people, according to orthopedic doctors who see hundreds of fall injuries in the emergency room and the clinic.
“I’ve seen falls from even short ladders and step ladders cause devastating and life-changing injuries in patients. Always think safety first,” says Palm Harbor orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon Scott Brotherton, M.D.
Adds Palm Harbor foot and ankle surgeon Brandon Taylor, M.D., “I have noticed a growing number of fractures of the calcaneus, or heel bone, resulting from ladder falls, and many of these falls are preventable.”
The feet are often the first body part to absorb the impact of a ladder fall, but other orthopedic injuries from this type of tumble include fractures of the leg, elbow, pelvis, spine, arms, ribs, and wrists.
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons reports that emergency departments treated 580,000 people for ladder-related injuries in 2018 alone. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 300 ladder falls end in death. While some of these falls are related to construction and handyman work, 97 percent occur at homes and farms.
Older American Report More Ladder Falls
During the pandemic, people spent more time tackling home improvement projects but not necessarily hitting the gym. Older people, especially, reported they were out of shape – which increases the risk of falling and leads to a greater fear of taking a tumble – a vicious cycle that keeps some people sedentary.
A University of Michigan poll taken during the height of the pandemic found that one-quarter of older adult respondents experienced a fall between March 2020 and January 2021. Forty percent of them fell more than once during this period. This poll accounted for all falls, however, and not just on ladders.
While lack of fitness for climbing can be one reason to ladder falls, experts agree that there are more compelling factors:
-A lack of proper equipment
-Using the ladder in an unsafe place
-Failing to wear protective gear
-Slacking on precautions
Ladder Safety Tips
The doctors at Orthopedic Specialists offer safety tips based on personal and professional experience. “I highly recommend you have a spotter in some situations,” says Dr. Brotherton. “If I use a ladder alone, I always carry my cell phone in my pocket. If I fall, I can call someone for help or ask Siri to call 911.” A smartwatch can also serve the same function.
Adds Palm Harbor orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Andrew Maser: “You probably should not use a ladder if you have balance issues or shoulder and neck problems.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Ladder Safety Institute offer other tips to keep you safer as you climb the rungs:
-Use a ladder that’s right-sized for the job, and inspect it for damage and slippery rungs
-Position the ladder securely
-Wear slip-resistant shoes
-Maintain a 3-point contact (two hands and a foot, or two feet and a hand) when climbing and descending
-Keep your body within the rails
-Never stand on the top two rungs
-If necessary, attach safety equipment such as a harness or rope when necessary
-Don’t try to move an unstable ladder, and don’t use it in rainy or windy conditions
If you are unsure of how to use a ladder, check out the American Ladder Institute or NIOSH website, or download CDC’s Ladder Safety smartphone app for pointers on the go.
About Orthopedic Specialists:
Founded in 1985 and at its present location since 1997, Orthopedic Specialists provides comprehensive orthopedic, sports medicine, and spine care in Palm Harbor and surrounding communities. The practice’s board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons offer general and specialized care, including surgical and nonsurgical modalities.
Located at 37026 U.S. Highway 19, Palm Harbor, 34684, Orthopedic Specialists has among the lowest appointment wait times in the area and has earned more than 1,400 5-star reviews on Google.