Nonfatal Ladder Injuries Climbing Sharply

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Ladder Injuries During Home Improvement

The popularity of home improvement in the United States might have a downside: the number of nonfatal ladder injuries treated in emergency rooms jumped by 50 percent between 1990 and 2005.

The exact reasons for the increase are unclear. Still, the findings suggest that there needs to be more education about ladder safety, said study co-author Lara Trifiletti, Ph.D., a researcher with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio.

"It's a little bit alarming that the numbers are so high and that they've increased over time," Trifiletti said. "We need to really think about some prevention strategies and interventions that would reduce these numbers."

Trifiletti and colleagues examined federal statistics on nonfatal ladder injuries that sent people to emergency rooms. They report their findings in the May issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The researchers found that 2,177,888 people suffered ladder injuries from 1990 to 2005, and their ages ranged from as young as one month to as old as 101 years. Three-quarters of the injured were male. An average of 135,000 people sustained ladder injuries each year.

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The actual number of injuries per year rose by about 50 percent over the 15 years. On the bright side, injured ladder users only required hospitalization or transfer to other hospitals 10 percent of the time.

Some reports included information about where the injuries occurred. Ninety-seven percent of those cases happened in what Trifiletti calls "non-occupational" settings like homes and farms.

"Maybe a lot of people are doing do-it-yourself home repairs," Trifiletti said. "That may be one explanation why we see such a high rate in homes."

The study did not look at fatal ladder injuries.

What to do? "Most people like to think of a ladder as a fairly benign piece of equipment, but the injuries that result are very serious," Trifiletti said. "We should treat ladders like a potentially dangerous tool, like a power saw or razor-sharp plane."

Michael Mello, M.D., director of Injury Prevention Center at Rhode Island Hospital, said the findings appear to be valid. According to him, ladder injuries should not be taken lightly.

"Many of these fractures are very complex and require extensive surgery. That's only part of the problem. These fractures of hands, wrists, ankles and feet can require future surgeries, rehab and lifelong arthritis or chronic pain," he said. "I see patients frequently who are still bothered by pain from complex fractures after falls many years ago."

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