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OP-ED: Preventing falls this holiday season

Mark Fritz
President of Bridgemoor Transitional Care

While holiday celebrations may look a little different this year, most of us will likely be spending more time at home this season. For some, that may mean putting up more holiday decorations for your family to enjoy. While this is a safe way to stay socially distanced from others, it’s important to take proper safety precautions to avoid injuries from falls—whether you’re hanging lights on the roof or decorating an 8-foot tree.

While everyone is at risk of falling from a ladder, older adults are at an increased risk. According to an analysis of trauma patients in the Journal of Surgical Research, the average age of patients who fell from ladders was 55. The analysis also revealed that while older adults fell from lower heights, they sustained more severe injuries.

Falls can cause broken bones, including hip fractures, or even traumatic head injuries.  In fact, many older adults who survive falls need post-acute care to complete their recovery. The time needed to recover from a fall can feel long and difficult, leading to a loss of independence when faced with possible prolonged hospitalization or recovery in a rehabilitation/nursing care facility before returning home.

Bridgemoor Transitional Care recommends taking these safety precautions when using a ladder to decorate this year.

Inspect your ladder prior to using it. Look for loose steps, nails, screws, bolts, nuts or locks. If you have a wooden ladder, inspect it for rot, decay or warped nails.

Read and follow all labels and instructions. This is an important one. If you have an extension ladder, make sure you understand how the locks work and how to tell if the locks are engaged.

Do not use a ladder in wet or icy weather. Ladders must be free of slippery material on the rungs, steps or feet. When the weather permits, wear boots or sneakers with good traction on the bottom.

Secure your ladder on even ground. Do not place a ladder on top of unstable bases to gain additional height. Identify a “spotter” who can hold the ladder in place while you climb it.

Maintain a 3-point contact on the ladder when climbing. This means you have two hands and a foot on the ladder, or two feet and a hand on the ladder at all times. Always face the ladder while climbing and keep your body near the middle of the step. Be careful with how much you carry up the ladder. It’s best to have a spotter hand you decorations once you’re securely on the ladder.

Do not overreach. Never use the top shelf or rungs of a ladder, and do not overextend yourself from the ladder.

If you have any doubts about hanging your own decorations this year, hire a professional. In addition to supporting a local small business or handy man during the pandemic, you can also remain safely inside your home to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

If hiring a professional is outside your budget, consider outdoor projector lights, yard ornaments or inflatable decorations instead. Staying off ladders entirely is the best way to reduce your risk of falling.

For more information on portable ladder guidelines, visit the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s website.

Mark Fritz is the president of Bridgemoor Transitional Care, a short-term care facility in Texas.

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