Though they might not register as one of the top causes of death like, say, heart disease or cancer, falls are responsible for at least 420,000 fatalities per year around the world. And when it comes to injury-related deaths, they are second only to car accidents!
While most of us aren’t expecting to find ourselves in a situation in which we’d fall from a serious height—we’d like to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground at all times, thank you—we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that it happens far more than we might think. That’s why it’s important to know how to survive something like a fall.
Didn’t think it was possible? Well, it is—so long as you know the proper techniques!
Though most people don’t think about this sort of thing, falling is the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths every year (the first is being involved in a car accident). Given that most of us aren’t typically jumping out of planes or standing on high ledges, you might be wondering: what’s my risk? And why do I need to care?
For Alcides and Edgar Moreno, however, there were plenty of reasons to care. As professional window washers, the Ecuadorian immigrant brothers spent every day high above the busy streets of Manhattan in order to do their jobs.
They were able to perform their job just fine… until one fateful day in December 2007. The brothers were about to work on the Solow Tower, which was a 47-story apartment building on the Upper East Side. When they stepped out onto the scaffolding, however, they felt the anchors holding it in place give way—sending the entire support structure and the brothers plummeting to the ground below. Tragically, Edgar was killed almost instantly after hitting the top of a wooden fence. Alcides, however, was discovered in a different state…
Paramedics who arrived on the scene found Alcides alive and breathing. They rushed him to a hospital four blocks away, and, amazingly, he survived. To explain his unlikely survival, Alcides credits his training: he lay flat and clung to the platform as he fell.
That was what he and his fellow window washers were told to do in the worst-case scenario. If you were to fall from a great height and didn’t have scaffolding to hold onto, what should you do? Well, there are several methods—and they could prove to be lifesavers.
Even though the majority of fall-related injuries occur inside the home and not off of skyscrapers, it’s worth it to learn how to fall in case you ever find yourself in that situation. Whether it’s from up high or just in the shower, we could all stand to have this knowledge in our back pockets. So, what’s the secret to survival?
Because they are so common, doctors have started to think of accidental falls as less of a unpredictable hazard and more of an inevitability that needs to be prepared for. There are all kinds of ways that people can fall, from slipping to losing consciousness to—as the Moreno brothers show—the ground or supports below your feet simply giving way.
“We can think of falls as having three stages: initiation, descent, and impact,” explained Dr. Stephen Robinovitch, a professor for the School of Engineering Science and the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology at Simon Fraser University.
“We have found that falls among older adults in long-term care are just as likely to occur during standing and transferring as during walking,” Dr. Robinovitch elaborated. Of the cases he studied, only three percent were due to slips and 21 percent due to trips. That’s compared to a whopping 41 percent caused by incorrect weight-shifting.
In the event of a fall, it’s important to know what actions to take. Whether the fall is from a skyscraper or not, the safety principles are similar. First, it’s essential to protect your head. After that, most experts suggest that the key is to roll and try and ensure that the fleshy parts of your body absorb the brunt of the impact.
“You want to reach back for the floor with your hands,” suggested Chuck Coyle. The fight director at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Chuck is responsible for instructing actors how to properly fall on stage. “Distribute the weight on the calf, thigh, into the glutes, rolling on the outside of your leg as opposed to falling straight back,” he said. Sure, it’s still risky, and it could result in a broken wrist—but a broken wrist sure beats a broken hip!
Beyond these techniques, those who have a high risk of falling should look into fall-proofing their homes and routines. Removing loose carpets, installing safety bars in the shower, and making sure stairs are well-lit are some important precautions to keep in mind.
Likewise, it’s important to simply pay attention. Walking while using a cell phone can lead to problems for just about anyone, but it’s especially hazardous for those with balance issues. Even something as simple as wearing shoes with good tread can make a world of difference!
Also, it’s important to take proper care of your body. This means strengthening your muscles, especially in your core and lower body, and eating a diet that promotes healthy bone density. These might seem like obvious measures, but they’re easier said than done!
Since his fall, Alcides and his family have moved to Phoenix, Arizona. He wasn’t able to return to work, but he received a sizable settlement after it was revealed that the scaffolding company hadn’t secured it properly. He and his wife just celebrated the birth of their fourth child as well. While being able to survive a fall like his is rare, it’s safe to say that, without his kind of training, he wouldn’t have had a chance at all.
In all likelihood, you’re not going to end up in a situation like Edgar and Alcides Moreno. There is a good chance that something far more common—like a fall in the shower—could happen, though. That’s why it’s smart to be prepared!
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