It’s the time of year to start stringing lights and hanging decorations from places often high and out of reach. While it might not seem dangerous, doctors say holiday decorating, if done wrong, can cause injury and, in extreme cases, death.

November and December are the most common months for these injuries, as people clean up their yards for winter, hang holiday decorations and then take them down later. Falls are happening both indoors and outdoors. Seton Healthcare Family’s Kevin Rix, UMC Brackenridge injury prevention coordinator, collects data from trauma injuries that come into the hospital’s emergency room, looking for trends and determining how to address them.

Rix meets with patients and their families after an injury to talk about safety. “Ladders are really great for setting up outdoor decorations or being used around the house, but only when they are used properly,”

This holiday season, Rix recommends identifying the type of ladder you’ll be using, then following these tips:

For “A frame” ladders

  • Never step all the way onto the top of a ladder; instead, stop at the appropriately marked rung
  • Make sure metal joints on the ladder are straight and locked
  • Don’t overreach
  • Keep hips within the frame of the ladder
  • Make sure the ladder is on a flat, dry and even surface
  • Always read the safety instructions on the side of the ladder

For extension ladders

  • Support the ladder at the base, either with another person holding the ladder or by driving a stake or cleat into the ground at the ladder’s base
  • Make sure the extension part of the ladder is locked in place
  • Keep the ladder on a dry and even surface with no debris below it
  • The angle of the ladder should equal ¼ the height of the ladder (Example: a 40-foot ladder should be placed 10 feet between the base of the object and the base of the ladder)
  • Don’t overreach
  • Keep your hips inside the rails
  • Read the safety instructions printed on the side of the ladder
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