Most injuries can be avoided if you take the time to follow these common sense tips.
Prevention can save a lot of lives and money. Unintentional injuries are the fifth leading cause of deaths in the United States, and the leading cause of death in children age 18 and younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The United States spends $671 billion in lifetime medical and lost productivity costs due to injuries.
We’re all at risk for unintentional injuries, but men are more likely than women to be injured. Children and older people are especially at risk for injuries.
Injury prevention tips are described below for the eight most common injury-causing categories.
Motor vehicle injury
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 5-34. About 90 people die each day from crashes – the highest death rate among developed countries.
Buckle up, every age, every seat, every trip. Seat belt use is the single most effective way to save lives and reduce injuries in crashes. It can reduce the risk for death and serious injury by about half.
Seat belts, child car seats and booster seats are used incorrectly about half the time, reducing their effectiveness. Always follow instructions in the owner’s manual for the correct way to install the seats in your vehicle, and how to place the child according to age, height and weight.
Place babies and children up to age 12 in the back seat where it’s safest. Children from birth to age 2 should be restrained in a rear-facing car seat; ages 2 to at least 5 in a forward-facing car seat. When the child reaches the height and weight limit of their car seat, transition to a booster seat, usually from about age 5 until seat belts fit properly.
Proper seat belt fit means the belt lays across the upper thighs (not tummy) and the shoulder belt lays across the chest (not the neck). For children, this usually means when they height reaches 4 feet, 9 inches. Adults who always use seat belts help children establish this habit for life.
Impaired drivers should never be allowed to drive. If a person has consumed alcohol, taken certain medications or recreational drugs, or is emotionally upset, do whatever it takes to keep him from driving. Get a designated driver, call a taxi or hide the car keys.
Distracted drivers can be as dangerous as impaired drivers. Distracted driving means anything that takes your eyes off the road, hands off the wheel or your mind off of driving. Distracted driving includes using a cell phone, texting, eating, smoking or even talking to passengers. Texting or talking on a cell phone is so dangerous because they involve all three types of distraction: eyes, hands and brain/attention.
Watch for pedestrians whenever you are driving. A pedestrian is hit every two hours in the United States. Pedestrians always have the right of way over vehicles, motorcycles and bicycles. Children and older adults are especially at risk for pedestrian accidents.
Prescription drug overdose
Every day, 126 Americans die from a prescription drug overdose – an increase of 242 percent over the past 15 years. Opioids were involved in nearly 61 percent of all drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are involved in about 40 percent of all emergency room visits for nonmedical drug use.
The national epidemic of opioid-related deaths and overdoses is largely due to a tenfold increase in the number of opioid prescriptions. The relatively new emphasis on treating pain aggressively has changed how opioids are prescribed. They are now widely prescribed on a long-term basis for chronic conditions such as low-back pain, sciatica and muscle-bone pain. Primary care physicians are responsible for the largest increase in opioid prescriptions, prescribing far more opioids overall than pain specialists.
The most common opioids linked to overdose deaths include:
Opioids are only safe and effective for short-term pain. There is very weak evidence that opioids are effective for long-term pain treatment. In fact, their long-term use can actually increase sensitivity to pain and are associated with significant patient risk. Opioids are highly addictive, can cause depression, constipation, anxiety and other negative side effects. Opioids should never be used with alcohol and should be kept in a locked cabinet.
If you need nonsurgical pain relief, work with your doctor to treat pain with non-opioid pain meds plus exercise, physical therapy or psychotherapy. If opioids are necessary, ask for short-acting versions instead of extended release, and use the lowest dose and only for short-term use. Three or fewer days of opioids is usually sufficient to treat most nontraumatic pain not related to major surgery.
Poisonings and fatal prescription drug overdoses account for almost a third of the nation’s costs for fatal injuries. The most dangerous poisons are medicines, cleaning products, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid, carbon monoxide, pesticides, wild mushrooms, and hydrocarbons (gas, furniture polish, lighter fluid, turpentine and paint thinner.)
Never take medications prescribed for someone else. Take your meds exactly as prescribed in terms of dosage and timing. Contact your pharmacist if you have questions about taking meds or if you have unwanted side effects. Keep meds in their original containers and check the container label every time you take a medication. Keep meds out of the reach of children and monitor teenagers’ prescription med use. To be safe, lock up all medications.
Always dispose of unneeded medicines safety to avoid pollution of public drinking water or being intercepted by teenagers or others. Never throw in trash cans or flush down the toilet. Many police departments have “take-back” receptacles for public use.
Always read the label on household chemicals and cleaning products. Keep them in their original containers and never mix/use products together. Open windows and turn on a fan when using chemical products. Wear gloves and clothing that fully covers your skin when spraying pesticides or other chemicals.
After using meds or chemicals, put them away and out of sight in a cabinet where children cannot reach them.
E-cigarettes contain “E-juice,” a liquid nicotine that can harm children in very small amounts if swallowed or absorbed through the skin. It is usually flavored and/or brightly colored and attractive to children. Children often imitate adult smoking behavior so keep e-cigarettes and e-juice locked up. Wash your hands with soap after using e-cig products to prevent transferring the chemicals to children’s skin.
Add the national 24/7 poison help number to your cell phone: 800-222-1222.
Falls cost the American health care system almost $20 billion in direct medical costs every year. About 20 percent of all falls cause a serious injury. Falls are the chief cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence and injury deaths for adults over age 65.
Always tell your doctor about a fall, regardless of your age. Many of the causes of falls can be corrected. For example, falls can be a sign of a new health problem that needs attention; some medications can increase your fall risk.
An exercise program can significantly reduce the fall risk of inactive adults. Regular weight-bearing exercise and strength training can strengthen muscles and bones, and improve balance and coordination.
Remove fall hazards from your home, such as loose throw rugs, clutter on stairs or walkways, dimly lit areas, and electrical cords across walking areas. Avoid walking in smooth-soled slippers, flip-flops, socks without shoes or high heels. Clean up spills or wet surfaces immediately and be aware of pets that can trip you. Bathroom falls can be avoided by never bathing if you are impaired; installing grab bars at tub, shower and toilet; and installing nonslip surfaces in the tub/shower area.
Stairs should have a banister on both sides and non-slip treads. Use a reach-stick to get things on high shelves instead of climbing on a chair or step stool without a handrail. Other factors that can increase your fall risk include medicines that affect balance; vision and hearing deficits; drinking alcoholic beverages, lack of sleep; and poor lighting.
Child abuse and neglect
At least one in four children will be the victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect before age 18. The lifetime costs of such abuse and neglect is $124 billion each year. While abused children often suffer physical injuries, the damage can extend to their overall mental and physical health throughout adulthood. Abuse and neglect can affect mental health, social development, and risk-taking behavior into adolescence and adulthood. The chronic stress of abuse and neglect can disrupt the development of brain, nervous and immune systems. Abused children are at higher risk for alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, risky sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide and certain chronic diseases, according to the CDC.
Violence toward children is related to all forms of violence. According to the CDC they all share root causes that include cultural norms that support aggression toward others, low economic and educational opportunities, neighborhood poverty, social isolation, family conflict and gang involvement. Conflict within a child’s family is a key risk factor for encountering future violence. Children and adults are also at risk for violence if they have poor control over their behavior, a history of violent victimization, are a witness to violence or engage in substance abuse. Many risk factors for childhood violence also hold for elder abuse, sexual violence and domestic partner abuse.
Ensuring children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments is the best way to prevent abuse and neglect. To overcome the risk factors for violence, every child needs a strong connection to a caring adult and access to mental health services. Teach children the skills necessary to cooperatively and nonviolently solve problems or conflicts.
Traumatic brain injury and sports concussions
Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are the cause or contributing cause of a third of all injury deaths and a major cause of disability. Falls cause almost half of all TBIs; being hit by something (blunt trauma) and motor vehicle crashes combine to cause another third of TBIs. More than 3 million children, 18 or younger, are treated in an emergency room each year for sports and recreation-related injuries.
A TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function. Even if a person survives a TBI, they may have physical and/or mental disabilities for the rest of their life.
Create a culture of safety for youth sports by encouraging young athletes to report symptoms, and providing concussion resources to coaches and parents. Do not allow athletes to continue playing if they have symptoms. For even minor TBIs, the brain needs at least two weeks to heal.
Wear the right helmet for each activity. Be sure helmets fit correctly, are well maintained and replaced after impacts, and are worn consistently and correctly. Helmet use can reduce the risk of death by 37 percent and reduce the risk of head injury by 69 percent.
Drowning is one of the top 10 leading causes of death for children and second-leading cause of death for ages 1-4.
Teach children to swim or float. Make wearing life jackets a requirement around or in any type of water and on boats. Supervise children and adult non-swimmers near any body of water, including bathtubs for young children. Adults watching children near water should avoid distracting activities including drinking, drugs, reading or using electronic devices.
Swim or use hot tubs that are inspected and well-maintained. Avoid electrocutions around water facilities by ensuring that sump pumps, power washers, pool vacuums and underwater lighting are protected by ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs). If lifeguards are not on duty, be sure safety equipment (rescue ring or fiberglass pole) is readily available. Be sure the drain cover is visible and well secured. Clean water helps lifeguards see swimmers underwater who may need help.
To ensure safe boating, be sure all occupants wear properly fitting life jackets at all times. The pilot and occupants should not drink alcohol because it affects judgment, balance and is involved in the majority of boating accidents. Larger boats with enclosed cabins should have carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. To get a free vessel safety check by the U.S. Coast Guard, visit this site.
Fires are much easier to prevent if smoke alarms are installed on every level of your home and near all sleeping areas. Check them regularly and replace after 10 years, even if they still test correctly.
Never overload extension cords or used damaged cords. Clothes dryers are a major source of home fires. Regularly clean the vent, exhaust ducts and lint filters. Never smoke in bed. Extinguish candles when you leave a room. Keep space heaters away from anything flammable and never leave them running when you leave a room or go to sleep. Never leave the kitchen when you’re frying, grilling or broiling food.