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Although the change of seasons is a wonderful element of Canadian life, our homes often need help adapting to related shifts in temperature and weather. Seasonal home maintenance can mean accidents and injuries for homeowners who act without the right knowledge and care. It's no surprise that emergency departments see an up-swing in traffic as soon as falling leaves drive property owners up ladders to clean eaves' troughs.

In Ontario, falls from ladders send 23 people a day to hospital emergency rooms with fractured legs, ankles and arms, according to the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). Falls are the number one cause of hospitalization for injuries in Ontario and in Canada. CIHI is a nonprofit organization created by the federal, provincial and territorial governments to provide a common analysis approach for Canadian health information.

Reportedly, the lowest rate of Ontario falls was in Toronto, perhaps because more urban homeowners, especially those with high-ceiling, two-storey-and-more dwellings, use professional eaves trough cleaning services. Hopefully, the incident rate is not lower because fewer property owners clean their eaves at least once a year. Clogged eaves troughs can lead to a wet basement, rotten roofing and other water-related problems, all of which are far more expensive than the cost of a cleaning.

While we're on the subject of falls, you know winter is coming even if you hate to admit it. Snow and ice on your stairs, walkways and driveway could mean a fall for visitors as well as family members.

According to CIHI, almost 12,000 Ontarians visited an emergency room in 2002 to 2003 after falling on ice -- more than half of them in January and February. Baby boomers (those born in Canada between 1947 and 1966) represented the group most prone to falling on ice -- 30 percent of ER visits. Although their parents and grandparents may belong to the group that may sustain more serious injuries in a fall and, therefore, have longer hospital stays, hospitalized Boomers still remained in care an average of 3.6 days. A bad fall, whatever the cause, can lead to long-term back or extremity problems, chronic pain and loss of income or independence. Forty percent of admissions to nursing homes are triggered by a fall.

That's where "an ounce of prevention" comes in. Take precautions. Prepare in advance for the change of seasons. Consider hiring professionals to limit accident risks. If you decide on the "do-it-myself" approach, take an update course on equipment and techniques like those offered (usually for free) by hardware retailers. Increasing numbers of educational institutions and government agencies provide practical online courses for a small fee like The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety's C$40 e-course "Ladder Safety"-- yes, there is a lot to know before you climb a ladder. This Canadian federal government agency, based in Hamilton Ontario, knows why accidents happen and works to eliminate work-related illnesses and injuries.

Canadians have a wealth of resources at their disposal when its time to learn the safest way to approach a task at home or to understand what to look for when making a significant home-maintenance purchase:

  • Among the nonprofit organizations is the Canada Safety Council.
  • Municipal government websites post up-to-date safety and emergency information for public use. For instance, the Township of Elizabethtown-Kitley, located in South Eastern Ontario's Leeds County, covers topics from carbon monoxide warnings to seasonal dangers like snow blower operation.
  • Messages from the Office of the Fire Marshal keep citizens posted on smoke alarm updates and recent product warnings.
  • Provincial websites are also excellent resources especially for emergency preparations. Emergency Management Ontario (EMO), a branch of the provincial Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, offers advice on safety issues and details on precautions like "Learn how to assemble your own Emergency Survival Kit!."

Don't think staying inside will be enough to protect you against injury. According to the Canada Safety Council, many serious falls and injuries occur in the home.

The answer for staying safe? Ensure that your home -- inside and out -- is as safe a place to be as possible. For an in-home safety assessment, contact an occupational therapist (OT). OT services may be covered under your provincial medical plan, extended health care benefits, auto insurance plans, Workers' Compensation, long-term disability insurance or Veterans Affairs. The Canada Safety Council offers more on this topic and suggestions on many other prevention strategies for the home.

Be smart. A safe home does not happen by accident.

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