InjuryJust PostedPrevention


It’s time to hang lights and decorate Christmas trees, and it’s also a time when orthopedic surgeons get busy with ladder-climbing injuries! It never fails. I’ve always said that what makes your orthopedic surgeon money, is often something you shouldn’t be doing. All of us intuitively know climbing ladders is dangerous. I climb them all the time! But every time I do it, I know I’m taking my limbs, and potentially my life into my own hands.

My first recommendation is to get someone else to do it, especially if you’re older, have poor balance or lack the proper ladder.

If you’re going to ignore that solid recommendation, coming from someone who has seen the devastating ladder-climbing injuries firsthand, then the next step is to make sure you have good health insurance, life insurance policies are up to date, and someone has your power of attorney.

Now you’re still determined to put up your own Christmas lights and decorate that 15-foot Christmas tree. Then please take the following precautions:

  • Make sure you have a solid, stable ladder. If possible, avoid ladders which rest against the wall.
  • Make sure it’s the right ladder for the job. It must be tall enough.
  • Don’t climb up to any height where you can’t hold solidly to the ladder in front of you.
  • Wear solid shoes. No slippers, flip-flops, or stocking feet.
  • Don’t drink and climb ladders…or drive.
  • Pay attention to every step going up and coming down. Many injuries occur when people miss the last rung, thinking they’ve arrived at the bottom!
  • Put ladders on solid Setting ladders in garden mulch or wet sod is madness.
  • Avoid long reaches from the top of your ladder, like putting the star on the top of your Christmas tree.
  • Have someone assist you from the ground, and be there to steady you, should you need it. They can call 911 too!

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

  1. Dave

    So true. Ladder safety is a must. My Father and law lost a lower leg from a fall off a ladder. Be patient take your time. Get another person if possible.

  2. Mike

    Great article! OSHA notes that half of all deaths from falls occur in falls of less that 10 feet!

    Ladder have weight ratings. These rating include the weight of the user and any tools or equipment they are carrying! Most of us need at least a Type 1 ladder which is rated at 250 pounds combined weight. A Type 1A, rated at 300 pounds combined weight is better. in my experience as an EMT responding to fall accidents, most people are using too light of a ladder for the work they are doing.

    For a lot more info on ladder safety go to the American Ladder Institute – https://www.americanladderinstitute.org/page/BasicLadderSafety for free info and training

    1. Barbara

      Good point Mike! I consider myself to be pretty ladder savvy, but even I haven’t considered weight ratings. All my ladders are pretty heavy duty. I really want one of the ones the construction guys have, that are adjustable on both sides, and look very heavy and complicated. Therefore they must be safer, right. Probably will tear my rotator cuff while I’m assembling it. If it’s not one thing…it’s another.

    2. Amy

      My brother-in-law (in his early 70’s), died a few days after falling from a ladder. He was trimming a tree and lost his footing and fell on top of some branches he’d already cut. Punctured his lungs and had other serious injuries. Went into a coma and never recovered.

      1. Barbara

        Im so sorry to hear this. As an orthopedic surgeon, I rarely saw the catastrophic injuries. More often…the injuries which could be fixed. My husband, a kidney specialist, often takes care of critically ill patients, and all too often sees patients in the ICU who have fallen from ladders. It’s so unfortunate, and if only…
        Thank you for sharing. Between us, we might spare someone else this pain.

  3. Michael Pritchard

    My brother in law thought it safe to stand on the round kitchen table to change a light bulb. Of course it tipped over shattering his heel bones and breaking his arm. Several surgeries and years later his one leg is an inch shorter than the other and he is in chronic pain all the time. Use common sense!
    Thanks Dr. Barbara, your blogs are ALWAYS helpful!

    1. Barbara

      Wow! Yes. So glad you commented, and I hope others see it. These are the kinds of devastating, life-altering injuries we see with ladders, and climbing on things that weren’t meant to be ladders. I should have added that to the post. I’ve done it before myself, and though I didn’t have an injury, I thought it was possible. Have a safe and happy holiday season, Michael! Good to hear from you. Thanks for following my blog!

  4. Cindy Moreland.

    All of your advice is the best. I wish more people would get someone else to put up their lights and and actually do any job up on a ladder. I too knew someone who had devastating injuries from an accident trying to put up Christmas lights. Thanks Dr. Bergin for sharing your knowledge and advice with us. Cindy

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