Taking inspiration from a home renovations telly show and attempting a DIY gutter fix or hedge trim is landing many of us in the hospital.
A fresh review of medical data has shown that each year roughly 5,000 people are hospitalised for injuries acquired after falling off a ladder - and the trend is on the rise. The study was published this week in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
The researchers, lead by Associate Professor Kirsten Vallmuur, analysed data on a decade of hospitalisations from 2002 to 2012, and found that hospital admissions caused by ladder accidents in that time have increased by nearly 47% (from 3,374 in 2002 to 4,945 in 2012).
Overall, the time period saw 41,092 people hospitalised, mostly with arm and leg fractures, and injuries to the head. Only 20% of these hospitalisations were due to workplace injuries, which means that most people who fall off a ladder encounter accidents at home - sometimes with serious consequences and long recovery times.
While the study doesn’t cover the reasons for such injuries, the researchers have been following up with interviews at emergency departments.
"We've been talking to people about what they were doing, and what prompted the fall," says Vallmuur. “We're still analysing that data, but some of the trends that are starting to show are overreaching, inappropriate footwear when they're climbing ladders, carrying things up on ladders, using the top rung which is not recommended to do, unstable ground - all of those kinds of reasons for falling have shown up in the data.”
With research on the causes still to be published, the authors of the study do speculate that a rise in DIY home renovations could be contributing to the increased rate of these types of injuries. Part of that could be hobbying, but it’s also a reflection on an ageing population needing to maintain homes.
"There might be financial reasons why people need to do maintenance at home, rather than getting a services person to do these things," says Vallmuur.
According to the review, the most at-risk group are older men, aged 60 and over. During the ten-year period analysed, there were 226 deaths due to ladder-related falls, and of these 82% were past the age of 60. The most serious injuries with longer recovery times were also in the same age group.
"At that age people start to have not as much balance, they might be taking medications which affect balance, or have poorer eyesight,” Vallmuur explains how these aspects can affect older people’s ability to safely use a ladder.
Researchers have been looking into such data with an outlook to inform product safety regulators on trends and practices amongst the general public. Ladder safety is not an entirely fresh topic on the agenda - earlier this year Product Safety Australia started a national campaign informing older Australians of the dangers of improper ladder use.
Their tips include choosing the right ladder for the job, having another person hold it, not working in wet or windy conditions, and knowing your limits - that last point especially relevant to older people.
"In the older age group they should contemplate whether they're physically fit to climb the ladder," says Vallmuur.