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Twelve people were hospitalised in separate incidents involving ladders in Victoria, Australia as they prepared their homes ahead of storms. The emergency services received the calls between 7.51am and 7.36pm, which is effectively one incident per hour.
Nearly all of the injuries were sustained while people were using ladders to clear out their gutters ahead of the expected deluge, although one person was pruning a tree in preparation for the high winds.
Although no details have been issued about the exact reasons behind the falls, it is reasonable to assume that the impending storm was a factor in making people work faster and cut corners. When people are up against the clock, safety is often the first thing to lapse as the focus is on speed. Over reaching is one of the biggest causes of ladder falls when clearing out gutters, as people do not want to spend the time climbing down the ladder to move it a couple of feet and then climb back up, especially when a storm is coming. It seems that our perception of our arm length is skewed in these situations and we all think we can reach further than we really can. When we lean over too far the balance of the ladder is compromised and it topples. One of the injured people fell from a ladder as they were climbing down, demonstrating that even when you are nearly on the ground you cannot be complacent; you can fall from any part of the ladder, even the bottom rung, and sustain life changing injuries as a result.
Nine of the twelve incidents involved the people were over 50 years of age, with one of the most serious involving an 80-year-old man, who suffered head and spinal injuries. Paramedics issued warnings to homeowners not to use a ladder unless they absolutely have to, and to exercise caution when doing so. They also advised homeowners to employ professional services to clean their gutters and to ensure this regular maintenance is done on a schedule, which removes the need to perform emergency clearances ahead of a storm. Paramedics are the first on the scene after a ladder accident, so they know all the reasons why falls occur and how devastating the injuries can be. Seeing the aftermath of ladder falls is the reason why Australian paramedic David Kay invented a ladder stabilising device (the Lacket) which stops a ladder from moving sideways or backwards. If the people involved in this spate of ladder falls had been using stabilising devices they would have been far safer and much more unlikely to fall.
In the UK we aren't subjected to storms of the same severity as in Australia, but there is still a need for homeowners to clean their gutters regularly. Using a ladder to do so is unavoidable, but if there is even the slightest suggestion that this would be dangerous for the person up the ladder then the job should be done by trained professionals. Not only do they have more experience in using ladders, but they also have specialist equipment and another pair of hands to ensure the ground is kept safe and the ladder is sturdy.
People often throw rotting leaves and moss down from the guttering but this material is very slippery and could easily cause a ladder to fall when it is moved along to the next section of guttering. It is vital that the ground surface is kept free of anything slippery and that the material excavated from the gutter is contained and disposed of properly. If you are at all unsure about your ability to safely clear your gutters then don't attempt it – get help or get the professionals in.