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Serious Injury Toll in the Supposed Safest of Places Now Tops 12 Million: What You Need to Know to Be Safe

A major public health concern is occurring in a place you'd least expect it: our homes. Between 1992 and 1999, an average of 18,048 people died each year from unintentional home injuries, according to research from the University of North Carolina (UNC) Injury Prevention Research Center.

"In addition, for 1998 alone, more than 12 million nonfatal unintentional injuries that required medical attention occurred at home," said Dr. Carol W. Runyan, director of the center and professor of health behavior and health education and pediatrics at UNC schools of public health and medicine.

In one year, 12 million people needed medical attention because they were accidentally injured at home.

The leading causes of accidental deaths in the home?

Certain injuries were more likely to occur depending on a person's age, Runyan pointed out:

"Rates of fall deaths were highest for older adults, poisoning deaths were highest among middle-aged adults, while fire and burn death rates were highest among children and older adults. Suffocation, inhalation and drowning deaths also are serious problems, especially for infants and toddlers. For nonfatal injuries, the risks are greatest for the youngest and oldest age groups."

Injuries From Falls Prevalent

Falls are the second most common cause of death from unintentional injury (after motor vehicle crashes). And, more people rush to U.S. emergency rooms for injuries related to falling than from any other cause.

Everyone is at risk from falls, but both the elderly and children are particularly susceptible:

  • According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, they're the primary cause of accidental death in people over the age of 65.

  • Falls are the cause of 70 percent of accidental deaths in people aged 75 years and older.

  • Children aged 14 and younger make up one-third of emergency room visits for falls

"Clearly, there is ample opportunity to increase the use of protective devices and limit the presence of fall hazards in many U.S. homes," Runyan says.

Runyan and colleagues surveyed 1,003 households across the nation as part of their larger study. While 7 percent of the households reported that someone had fallen (in or around their home) and required medical attention within the last year:

Accident-Proof Your Home
with Simple Home Safety Products

Injuries are occurring at alarming rates in our own homes, but safeguards are out there to protect you and your loved ones.

Our home safety products can help prevent a wide range of potential injuries, from fingers getting caught in doorways to drowning to keeping your home's air free from radon gas. Here is just a sampling:

Check out our entire home safety section and obtain peace of mind that your home is effectively safety-proofed!

" Only one-third of homes with a child age 6 or younger and windows on upper stories reported having window guards or locks (to keep children from falling out).

(You can easily use an inexpensive window safeguard like the Window Wedge to control the height or width of your window openings. This lets fresh air in but keeps young children safe.)

" One-third of homes with stairs had at least one set with no handrail or banister.

To prevent falls in your home, try these simple tips:

  • Pick up clutter and remove tripping hazards like throw rugs and extension cords.

  • Block off stairways, windows or other dangerous areas using The Gateway® To Go. This is no ordinary gate: It uses a patented, pressure mount system rated #1 by a leading consumer reporting organization to keep infants, the elderly or pets safely away from accident-prone areas.

  • Put non-slip mats in your bathtub and on shower floors.

  • Tack carpet corners and edges securely to the floor.

  • Install handrails on both sides of your stairways, and grab bars next to your toilet and in your bathtub/shower.

  • Use corner guards to prevent serious head traumas that can occur from falling against sharp corners of furniture. You can get a 4-pack of Super Soft Gel Corner Protectors for just $2.99, and they're simple to install.

  • Make sure you have adequate lighting throughout your home, especially at night.


According to the National Academy of Poison Control Centers, 92 percent of all poison exposures occur in the home, and 52 percent of poison exposures occur in children under the age of 6. As we wrote in a past article, the most common poisons to watch out for include:

  1. Cosmetics and personal care products

  2. Cleaning substances

  3. Pain medicine and fever reducers

  4. Coins and thermometers

  5. Plants

  6. Diaper care, acne preparations, antiseptics

  7. Cough and cold preparations

  8. Pesticides

  9. Vitamins

  10. Gastrointestinal preparations

Burn Injuries

Burn injuries leave 60,000 people hospitalized each year in the United States, and over 5,000 people die from burn-related injuries, according to Roy Alson, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

The good news is that about 75 percent of all burns are preventable (as is the case with many home injuries), says eMedicine's Burn Center, particularly if you're aware of the top causes of burns that exist in your home. These include:

  • Barbecue grills (The HearthGate™ barbecue and fireplace protection gate is an excellent solution: It keeps kids (and pets) away from the grill and out of harm's way. It's also useful for the fireplace.)

  • Clothes irons

  • Curling irons

  • Fireplaces

  • Radiators

  • Ovens

  • Hot pots on the stove, coffee cups, steam from microwaved foods

A Call for Action

Many appliances, areas and tools in our homes that seem harmless can easily cause injury. Case in point, a study in the February issue of the journal Pediatrics found that toddlers are increasingly being harmed by another home object: the paper shredder.

"It's a dangerous piece of machinery and leaving it in the home unattended and accessible to young children could result in a serious hand injury," said George Foltin, MD, associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at New York University School of Medicine and director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Bellevue Hospital Center. "If you have one, it needs to be unplugged and out of children's reach."

Accidents will happen, but safeguarding your home against every foreseeable risk will go a long way toward protecting your family. Meanwhile, researchers are calling for more attention to the issue of home-based injuries from government and private organizations.

"At a time when so much attention is focused on homeland security, it is ironic that we can experience this magnitude of trauma in the home every year and have it go virtually unnoticed," Runyan said. "Federal and state government, as well as private groups, should support more work on this issue."

Recommended Reading

The Top 6 Accidents-Waiting-to-Happen in Your Home

How Not to Lose Your Hand, Fingers or Toes: The Top 9 Most Common Mistakes People Make When Mowing their Lawn


Science Daily: Injury Toll in U.S. Homes Tops 12 Million Yearly

Science Daily: Homes Need More Protection Against Falls

Science Daily: Home Paper Shredders Pose Serious Injury Risk to Toddlers

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