Ladder-related injuries are climbing

Consumer Reports News: June 26, 2007 12:28 PM

According to one of our editors, whenever he uses a ladder his wife says a prayer. A recent study shows that appealing for a little help from above, in addition to taking all the right physical precautions, might make sense — at least until the industry can find ways to make ladders safer. 

The study, published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that ladder-related injuries have steadily increased some 27 percent per 100,000 people over 1990 figures, based on data the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) tracked through 2005. The study estimates that nearly 162,000 people were treated in emergency rooms for ladder-related injuries that year. Some 10 percent of ladder injuries required hospitalization, a rate that’s about double the average for all consumer product-related injuries.   

From CPSC reports, the study's authors determined a number of notable factors and trends among ladder-related injuries. They're worth considering the next time you prepare to climb a ladder. 

  • Men suffered 76% of the injuries.   
  • Fractures were the most common injury. 
  • Not surprisingly, severity of injury increased with age and height climbed. People age 76 or older were almost three times more likely to be hospitalized from a ladder-related injury. Climbs over six meters more than tripled the hospitalization rate.

The rise in ladder-related injuries probably results from a range of factors, among them: more DIY activity, little training on safe ladder use, more complicated designs, and more challenging ladder activities (such as reaching those high clerestory windows). Our own testing rated 13 models of taller multi-use ladders unacceptable because they posed some safety problem in their design, and several models have been recalled in recent years for manufacturing defects. 

Basic ladder design has changed little in hundreds of years, but a few new designs have created problems of their own. The telescoping model and some folding types, for example, depend on hinges and locks that can fail altogether and pinch or possibly even amputate fingers if you're not careful. Consumers Union is recommending changes to the voluntary ladder safety standards to make ladders safer. In the meantime, see our latest story on ladders for tips on safe use. 

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