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Aussie doctors urge people to wear cycle helmets when doing DIY at home

Home improvement shows mean more people fixing up their homes - and taking risks on ladders, say medics

A doctor in Australia says people should wear cycle helmets while using ladders to carry out DIY jobs around the house to protect their heads in the event of a fall.

Addressing the annual scientific congress of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, trainee surgeon Leigh Warr said there were around 3,500 hospital admissions following ladder falls in Australia each year, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

But he said most of those related to men in their own homes, rather than on building sites where health & safety rules apply, and he believes the rise in home renovation shows on TV may be to blame, since they prompt people to carry out projects themselves instead of getting tradespeople to do them.

A study carried out by Dr Warr and colleagues at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the University of Adelaide examined hospital admissions data for the last six years.

They also carried out tests on a head-form model to assess the effect on impact injuries on falls with or without a helmet, and say that there was a significant decline in the chances of a head injury, as well as the severity, if a helmet was used.

"Head injuries were almost 10 times less likely with a helmet," said Dr Warr. "The force from a fall from 2.5 metres with a helmet was the equivalent of a fall from half a metre [without one].

"Wearing a helmet is such an easy thing to do and there's not many negatives that come with it," he added.

It’s unclear why Dr Warr and his fellow researchers are recommending the use of cycle helmets, rather than protective headgear of the type used on construction sites – but with the former compulsory for cyclists in Australia for two decades now, the thinking may be that many people already have them at home.

While standards vary around the world – the website Cycling Tips has a summary of the situation in Australia here – cycle helmets are not designed to withstand falls from the height of 2.5 metres cited by Dr Warren; in the EU, for example, they are tested at a maximum drop height of 1.5 metres.

Moreover, with an average adult male in Australia standing 1.75 metres tall, that height of 2.5 metres mentioned would put the DIY enthusiast less than 1 metre up a ladder – when in reality, often they would be working at a greater height.

An official report from the Australian government, Serious injury due to land transport accidents 2003-04, discussed in a post by Mark Treasure of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain here, found that more than a quarter of injuries sustained by car occupants, including drivers, were head injuries.

More than 4,000 such injuries were recorded last year – more than the total number of hospital admissions following injuries to any part of the body, that Dr Warr says happen in Australia due to ladder falls each year.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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