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B.C. man with fractured spine warns of dangers in hanging holiday lights

‘Tis the season for decorations, ladders and the inevitable falls that go with them
Oak Bay resident Michael Hardiman reminds others to play it safe while hanging holiday lights after he fell, Saturday, Nov. 12 and returned home from the hospital the next Tuesday with a fractured vertebra. (Courtesy Michael Hardiman)

Pay a professional or skip the high-up holiday lights, advises one B.C. resident after falling nearly four metres and breaking a vertebra.

Greater Victoria area resident Michael Hardiman is languishing at home while his partner Graham Bell is on a beach in Mexico. But it’s his own fault, Hardiman admits.

With an already twice-delayed trip to Haultuco on the horizon, he figured he’d rather get the Christmas lights up mid-November than deal with it upon his return. So he hauled out the ladder and started to get the eaves done, while Bell did other work inside.

“I was doing fine until we get to the highest part, of course. All I remember was doing that little bit of a stretch for that nail to hook the light on,” Hardiman said.

He doesn’t remember the fall or landing.

“All I remember is I was there, my body was contorted and I was screaming bloody murder.”

He fell Saturday, Nov. 12 and returned home from the hospital the next Tuesday with a fractured vertebra that causes severe pain and naturally impacts other parts of the body trying to compensate. While it’s painful, he’s grateful it wasn’t worse.

“It’s what really could have happened, just so innocently and you can screw up your life big time,” Hardiman said.

The compassion from friends and neighbours has been heartwarming, and while first responders and hospital staff were wonderful, Hardiman hopes others will put proper precautions in place to keep from adding to that already stretched work environment. At the very least have someone at hand, or hire someone who can do it safely, whether it’s a friend or a company.

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WorkSafe statistics show winter is a dangerous time of year for ladder use in B.C. Every year, hundreds of people are seriously injured while using a ladder.

In 2019, there were 1,077 accepted claims as a result of falls from ladders across all industries in B.C., including 325 serious injuries and four deaths.

While ‘don’t stretch for things you can’t reach’ is not expressly outlined by WorkSafe, they do offer tips for workers that apply to anyone.

Use the right ladder for the job, it should extend one metre above the upper landing. Inspect the ladder and always set it up on a firm, level surface. Maintain three points of contact and wear slip-proof footwear. Don’t carry heavy or bulky items while going up or down the ladder and avoid inclement weather.

Avoiding rain was kind of what Hardiman hoped to be doing this week, instead he took a loss on the ticket (the double-delay took a toll on insurance and ability to get a refund) and that seemed steep enough, so Bell went on the long-planned vacation.

A planned three-month jaunt starting in January – including visits to Singapore and Australia – remains in limbo.

But the house is ready for the holidays. A neighbour down the street showed up with a ladder and hung the “pain in the ass last bit of lights.”

“He came and did them and said, ‘There you go, never get on a ladder again’.”


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Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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