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Our Accident Epidemic And How To Avoid Being A Victim

Aug 17, 2007
Remember the SARS scare. The West Nile Virus makes headlines every year. And now a bird flu from Asia is causing widespread concern.

Unfortunately, we already have an epidemic, and it's called off-the-job accidents.

Even worse is the fact that this epidemic doesn't get much attention, so the deaths and injuries continue year after year.

Here are the off-the-job accident facts, based on National Safety Council statistics.

* Every year, over 100,000 Americans die in off-the-job accidents, over 30,000,000 require treatment in emergency rooms or other medical facilities, about 20,000,000 are temporarily disabled, and 200,000 are permanently disabled. By comparison, about 5,500 of us die every year in on-the-job accidents.

* Lifetime odds of dying accidentally are 1-in-30 for males, and 1-in-60 for females.

* Lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident are 1-in-100. According to the National Safety Council, one-in-eight drivers will be involved in a motor vehicle accident involving injuries or property damage in the next twelve months.

* Accidents are the leading cause of death for children, teens, and young adults, from ages 1 to 40.

*Accidents rob Americans of more years of life before age 65 than any other cause of death.

How The Odds Are Calculated

As noted above, the lifetime odds of dying in an accident are approximately 1-in-30 for males, and 1-in-60 for females. As difficult as that may be to believe, the facts support the statement. Rounding the numbers for the sake of clarity, here's how they are arrived at:

Each year, approximately 2,000,000 males and 2,000,000 females are born in the U.S., and over 60,000 males and 30,000 females die in accidents. The number of people killed in each age bracket stays relatively constant every year, i.e., the number of one-year-olds killed is about the same, as with two-year-olds, and 55-year-olds.

During a male's lifetime, over 60,000 of his peers will be killed in some type of accident. Dividing 2,000,000 by 60,000+ gives us the 1-in-30 approximation. Likewise, dividing 2,000,000 by 30,000+ gives us the 1-in-60 approximation for females.

Major causes of additional male deaths: Drunk Driving (9000); Motorcycles (3000); Pedestrians (1700); Drug Overdoses (5000); Drowning (2000); Work-related (4000).

Over 40,000 of us die every year in motor vehicle accidents, which equates to 1-in-100 lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle accident. Of the 4,000,000 born in this country every year, over 40,000 will eventually die in a motor vehicle accident.

Annual Fatality Statistics From The National Safety Council 2005-2006 Injury Facts Publication (2004 Deaths, latest available)

Motor Vehicle (46,200)
Falls (20,200)
Poisoning (13,300)
Choking (4,900)
Fires, Flames and Smoke (3,900)
Drowning (3,800)
Mechanical Suffocation (1,300)
Natural Heat or Cold (1,200)
All Other* (16,200)
Total (111,000)

* Most important types included are: firearms, struck by or against object, machinery, electric current, and air, water, and rail transport.

Why We Ignore Accidents

We misuse the term "accident." The use of the word implies that the event was unavoidable. Actually, very few "accidents" are really beyond our control or someone else's control.

In addition, as a society we tend to accept these 100,000 deaths as "normal" since they occur day after day, year after year. Only a spectacular accident draws much attention.

An argument made by some people is that "common sense" is all we need to avoid accidents. Common sense is not enough. There are thousands of accident causes, and the only way to improve your chances of avoiding accidents is more safety knowledge, and a 24-hour commitment to safety.

Finally, when many people discuss safety, the points frequently mentioned are: staying sober, using seat belts, driving a car with air bags, and installing smoke detectors. While sobriety will certainly prevent some accidents, the other items only deal with the consequences of accidents, and might not prevent a serious injury. The goal should be to prevent accidents from occurring in the first place.

How To Avoid Accidents With A Personal Safety Plan

As the numbers prove, there are gaps in our safety knowledge, and the safety information acquired through experience might not keep you safe.

Just as you would develop plans to avoid a viral epidemic, you need to develop plans to avoid accidents.

The key to avoiding accidents and keeping you and your family safe is developing customized Personal Safety Plans for every family member. And with a Personal Safety Plan, you can increase your chances of avoiding an injury when someone else fails to follow correct safety procedures.

The good news is that a planned approach to safety reduces accidents.

* The DuPont company has a comprehensive off-the-job safety program. Its employees have far fewer off-the-job accidents than the national average.

* A program by the U.S. Navy emphasizing off-duty recreational safety has reduced fatalities by about 50 percent.

* Nearly 85 percent of boating fatalities involve an operator who didn't take a boating safety class. Boating fatalities are down over 50% in the last 30 years due to an emphasis on safety.

* Additional studies by the National Safety Council prove that off-the-job safety efforts reduce accidents.

* Also, on-the-job fatalities have declined significantly over the years due to a safety emphasis and the safety training provided to employees.

How To Develop Customized Personal Safety Plans

* Make a list of the hazards each member of your family faces. Major causes of death and injury are motor vehicles, falls, poisonings, choking, drowning, and fires. However, within a major cause there are many hazards, so research is necessary to determine the specific hazards you and your family actually face.

*Learn and implement safety procedures to counteract the hazards identified. Safety tips are available on the internet, from organizations that focus on certain subjects such as state water patrols, and in publications.

*Organize the safety tips in folders or binders for later review.

* Review the safety tips periodically, before rare or new activities, and at the start of seasons. For example, before a long driving trip, review the safety tips for long-distance driving and encounters with large trucks. At the beginning of the boating season, the family should review boating safety. A disproportionate number of accidents happen at the start of seasonal or new activities.

*A Personal Safety Plan is not static. The hazards you and your family face will change through the years, so your Safety Plans will also need to change,

It's time for everyone to take safety more seriously in this country and develop Personal Safety Plans. We owe it ourselves and to others.
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