As you deck the halls this holiday season, you will want to do so with caution.
Climbing the ladder to hang that blinking reindeer from your roof’s eave may seem harmless, but a 10-foot plunge to the ground can be treacherous. And combine a few cocktails with your journey to top your holiday tree and the impact of a fall can be much worse than broken ornaments.
Falls off ladders and roofs send dozens of South Floridians to hospital emergency departments each year with everything from minor injuries to broken spines and fractured hips. A three-year study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than an estimated 17,400 persons were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for holiday-decorating-related falls.
“Anything above 6 feet becomes a high-risk venture,” said Dr. Randy Katz, medical director of the emergency department at Memorial Regional Hospital. “That’s especially true as you get older. Your balance is not the same.”
This time of year, Katz knows he will see the young and old in his emergency room for injuries from falls. He has treated everything from head gashes to upper and lower spine damage to broken bones and fractures.
However, the ladder isn’t the only danger. If you are considering scrambling up to place plastic Rudolph on the roof, Katz cautions against it.
“Anyone not used to climbing on a roof has no business on a roof,” he said. “A roof is a very dangerous place; there could be loose tiles and pitches … it’s easy to fall off. When you fall off a roof, it’s usually a very bad injury.”
Over Thanksgiving weekend, Miramar Fire Rescue responded to a trauma call from a man who fell about 10 feet off a ladder and landed on his rear end and head. “He had a gash on his head and had to be taken to the ER,” said Frank Pineda of Miramar Fire Rescue. “We see this as more people are getting on ladders during the season, hanging decorations.”
Although ladder falls intensify during holiday season, they happen all year round in Florida. In January, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube sustained “several serious injuries” when he fell off a ladder while cutting trees on his property on Florida’s Gulf Coast. And in July, a man in his 50s was killed by falling off of a ladder while working on the roof of St. Stephen AME Church in Jacksonville.
The Broward Sherriff’s Office has recorded at least four falls from ladders this year in the cities where it responds to emergency calls. But Michael Kane, BSO Fire Rescue Public Information Officer, points out, “some people who fall may not call 911 but may go to ED.”
Falls, overall, are one of the most common reasons for emergency department visits in Florida, not just during the holidays.
Nearly 500,000 Floridians of every age visited hospital emergency departments for falls in 2021, more than any other source of non-fatal injuries, including car accidents and poisonings. In 2021, the most recent year for which Florida Department of Health data is available, 75- to 84-year-olds made up the largest group of those injured by falls, but nearly 31,000 people in their 20s went to hospitals for falls, too.
Along with falling from heights, holiday slip-and-fall hazards include wrapping papers and toys scattered across the floor, as wells as decorative lighting cords. Of course, alcohol consumption rises during the holidays, also presenting increased risk for topples.
Katz says parties and family gatherings present a risk for seniors who must navigate unfamiliar places. “We do see a slight uptick in falls with the elderly this time of year,” he said.
Doctors advises Florida seniors to be mindful of their surroundings and look down as they walk.
Sun Sentinel health reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.