I recently discovered an alarming resource on the web — the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). It’s a sort of almanac of ouch.
NEISS compiles every injury reported to the CPSC, including the victim’s age and gender, the body part(s) affected, the circumstances under which it happened, and the products or materials that were involved. CPSC then calculates annual incidence rates based on surveillance data gathered from a network of emergency rooms.
Delving deeper into the database, I was impressed by the ingenuity and determination Americans apply to getting hurt.
Much of the data were no no-brainers, so to speak. There were about 35,100 injuries caused by hammers in 2007, the most recent year for which complete data are available. Similarly, there were 10,066 injuries due to axes or hatchets, and 3,479 injuries caused by band saws.
And then there are products that aren’t usually considered menacing -– 15,149 injuries involving hats, handbags or clothing accessories; 17,851 injuries related to telephones or telephone accessories; 2,241 ashtray-related injuries; 1,838 injuries implicating baby bottles or nipples; 1,597 injuries from artificial Christmas trees.
For a taste of irony, there were 42,060 injuries caused by first aid equipment and 1,855 injuries linked to fire extinguishers.
One note in a NEISS document sheds light on an apparently years’ long titanic tussle within the agency over the need for ongoing surveillance of corkscrew-related injuries –- two reports of which were entered into the database in all of 2007. The corkscrew category was deleted from the NIESS database in 1983, restored in 1994, deleted again in 1995, and restored for the last time in May of 2000. No doubt the agency was lobbied intensely by the pull-tab industry. One imagines the memos that flew back and forth outlining the persuasive arguments against and in favor of monitoring corkscrew injuries.
The most innocuous object can be extraordinarily dangerous. According to the CPSC, there were 9,948 injuries caused by books, magazines, albums or scrapbooks in 2007. That’s more than double the 4,393 injuries involving archery. You’re twice as likely to be hurt while reading than by a bow and arrow!
The first book-related injury record chosen at random included these actual horrific details: “[S]ubject was reading a book and sprained right wrist.”
No wonder the print publishing industry is on the ropes. They’re killing customers! When have you ever seen a warning on a book or magazine? I can’t count the number of times I’ve flipped a page excessively vigorously, nearly risking injury to one of my more important hands. Paper cuts and staple impalements are also constant threats. Reading is not for the timid.
Until publishers start acting responsibly I’m going to stick with something safer, like cigarettes. You know the cigarette companies care for you because they’re continually providing helpful warnings. Even butane lighters have a warning label instructing you to keep the flame away from your face, ensuring that it remains a safe distance from the tip of the cigarette. Now that’s thoughtful.
Herewith for your consideration are NIESS annual incidence data for selected everyday hazards:
Business and office machines
Desk supplies (excluding pens & pencils)
Manual filing or sanding tools
Bedspreads, throws and comforters
Toothpicks or hors d’oeuvre picks
Combs or hairbrushes, unpowered
Clocks, not electrical or battery-powered
Glass alcoholic beverage bottles
Baseball (excluding softball)
Computers and video games
Amusement park rides