Klutz Nation

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:

Adhesive tape
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
Non-electric toothbrushes
Clocks, not electrical or battery-powered
Glass alcoholic beverage bottles
Hacky sack
Baseball (excluding softball)
Computers and video games
Amusement park rides
Drinking straws



3 Responses to “Klutz Nation”

  1. Bruce, have you ever seen this one? This guy was declared the 2005 winner of the Darwin awards:

    Two local men were injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday. Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, were returning to Des Arc after a “frog gigging trip” on an overcast Sunday night when Poole’s pickup truck headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older-model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not avail able, Wallis noticed that the .22 caliber bullet from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering-wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet the headlights again began to operate properly, and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge. After traveling approximately 20 miles, and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged, and struck Poole in the testicles. The vehicle swerved sharply right, exiting the pavement, and striking a tree. Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident, but will require extensive surgery to repair the damage to his testicles, which will never operate as intended.

    Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released.. “Thank God we weren’t on that bridge when Thurston shot his balls off, or we might both be dead,” stated Wallis. “I’ve been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can’t believe that those two would admit how this accident happened,” said Snyder. Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia (Poole’s wife) asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck?

  2. Bruce says:

    Good one. For some really strange medical cases, check out http://brucegoldfarb.com/?p=10

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