According to an MU Extension expert, too many people overestimate how quickly they can react when using a ladder.

Not everyone is eager to have their holiday home compete with the Las Vegas Strip for twinkling and blinking, but adding outdoor Christmas lights is an important tradition for many families.

The problem is so many things can go wrong when you’re up on a ladder decorating your home. Soft ground, slippery roofs, electrical power lines and frustration from tangled cords and defective lights can all lead to life-threatening decisions.

“One of the things that causes a lot of spills and injuries is trying to reach too far to the side on a ladder,” said Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “If you get your center of gravity off on those ladders, it’s possible for them to twist and slide out from under you, and that can be a big problem.”

If you’re going to have to reach very far, Schultheis said, climb down the ladder, move it over and climb back up. Also, too many people overestimate how quickly they can react.

“A lot of things can happen in the blink of an eye. Most people’s reaction time is somewhere between a half and three-quarters of a second. Usually by the time they can react to something, they’re already well into the problem,” Schultheis said.



Ladder accidents happen much more often than you might think. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that every year more than 15,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorations. So ladder safety is important. Schultheis said it starts with choosing the right ladder.

“If you’re going to be around power lines or electrical wiring, a wooden or fiberglass ladder is going to be a much better choice because they don’t conduct electricity like the metal ladders do,” he said.

Stepladders and extension ladders need to be on a firm, level surface. If the ground is soft, Schultheis recommends putting a piece of plywood, or a wide board, under the legs to make the ladder steady. Once the ladder is in place, be sure to secure the pivoting arms or rung latches and never have more than one person on the ladder at a time. Also, don’t climb too high.

“On an extension ladder you don’t want to be standing on those top three rungs,” Schultheis said. “With a stepladder, you should not be standing on that second step from the top, or above.”

Because the ground at this time of year can be frozen or soft or damp, never put up electrical lights while they are are plugged in. Ask for help if you need it.

“If you need some help, particularly to steady a ladder, don’t be afraid to call in a neighbor or a family member to help to do that,” Schultheis said.

For more information, the MU Extension publication “Portable Ladder Safety” (G1932) is available online at

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