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Safe holiday decorating: leave the roof to Santa

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CLEVELAND CLINIC - Holiday decorating can be one of the most joyous times of the year, but according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 17,000 people will be treated in emergency departments each year for holiday decorating-related falls.

Tom Waters, M.D., an emergency department physician at Cleveland Clinic, said the first rule for staying safe during the decorating season is to stay off of the roof.

"From an ER physician's standpoint, I wouldn't recommend getting on the roof," said Dr. Waters. "If you want to hire someone else to do it, it can be costly, but it's obviously much safer."

Dr. Waters said the biggest risk that a person can run when getting onto a roof or a tall ladder is suffering a fall.

He said when most people think of falls, they think of injuries such as foot and ankle sprains, or even broken bones, but it's important to know that falls can also result in more serious injuries to the head, brain or spinal cord, which can be life-altering or even life-threatening.

Traumatic brain injury (or TBI) is what we often think of when professional athletes suffer concussions, but Dr. Waters said the same type of injury can happen from a fall off of a ladder or a roof.

Each year, minor incidents of TBI happen to more than one million people in the U.S.
And while most minor injuries result in treatment and release from hospital emergency departments, approximately 230,000 people are hospitalized each year with TBI and about 99,000 of them end up with a lasting disability.

"If you do need to climb on a ladder, be very careful and have someone spot you," said Dr. Waters. "There is adaptive equipment available nowadays that allows you to hang things on gutters and up high. I recommend that you use those to avoid being on the ladder."

Dr. Waters also said it can be easy to overlook dangers such as electrical wires. He recommends inspecting cords for fraying and damage and not overloading electrical outlets to avoid the risk of electrocution.

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