Ladder safety warning

Queensland study reveals devastating impacts of ladder falls.

The potential danger with using a ladder for basic household chores has been revealed by Queensland researchers.

A study conducted by Queensland Health, University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology looked at the long-term impacts of ladder falls on 134 of the 255 people who presented to emergency departments for ladder-related injuries at Princess Alexandra (PAH) and Nambour hospitals over a 12-month period.

The 134 admitted patients spent an average of five days in hospital with the most common injuries including spinal, rib, leg, wrist and pelvic fractures, and lung damage.

UQ Faculty of Medicine’s Dr Rob Eley, who is also Research Manager at PAH’s emergency department, said the study confirmed the importance of being more safety-conscious when using ladders.

“We just wanted to raise this as an issue because although ladder falls are often portrayed as similar to slipping on a banana peel or something that is quite funny, the consequences can be absolutely catastrophic,” Dr Eley said.

“We have had people who have not made it to the emergency department because they have died on scene but also people who have died in hospital and people who have suffered terrible injuries because of falls.”

The research also revealed those who needed hospital treatment after a fall experienced ongoing physical and mental impacts after the initial incident.

“Ladder falls go far beyond that of the physical injury; they significantly impact a person’s mental health and the whole family,” Dr Eley said.

Eight percent of those who were employed at the time of their accident required at least four weeks off work and 16 percent were unable to return or perform their normal function six months after the fall.

Dr Eley said men aged over 55 were particularly at risk when using ladders and made up more than half of reported fall cases.

“As you get a little older your balance is not as good... and our view is ‘no one is going to tell me I can’t go up a ladder anymore, I’m just as spritely as I was 30 years ago’, which is absolute rubbish, of course,” he said.

Dr Eley, 70, said anyone using a ladder should look at buying safety attachments which increase stability.

“I would like to see shops actually saying during the purchase, ‘Have you considered buying stabilising accessories with this?’” he said.

“Ladder falls are frequently preventable and our findings demonstrate the need for preventative measures to be taken.”

Dr Eley said the biggest cause of injuries was people over-reaching, causing the ladder to swivel and slide.

He said anyone using a ladder should also make sure the surrounding area was clear of items which could cause more severe injuries on impact.

“Fractures from a fall are normally not the most serious of injuries but if you get a fence post through you or you land on a pile of bricks, that will cause very serious long-term consequences,” he said.

“Don’t stop going up ladders if you are compelled to do it but take the time to think about potential risks and how you can mitigate those.

“The community can do more to educate people that it’s OK to request help or employ home service contractors to complete tasks that require a ladder.”

6 steps to safety

  1. Clean the ladder and wear appropriate attire: Make sure your ladder is clean and free from dirt and from grease. Only use ladders when wearingfully enclosed, non-slip footwear to prevent slipping.
  2. Inspect for faults: Always inspect your ladder for damage or missing components.
  3. Placement is important: Be sure to correctly place your ladder on a firm level surface. When using an extension ladder, ensure that the base of the ladder is 1m from the vertical surface for every 4m of height to where the ladder contacts the vertical surface.
  4. Don’t over-reach: Never over-reach when using a ladder.
  5. Balance: Never stand on or above the second tread from the top of the ladder.
  6. Don’t do it alone: When using an extension or straight ladder, have a second person secure the ladder.

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