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On the Agenda for National Council: Making Homes Safe, Sound

Prevention * The coalition teams up with the AARP on a campaign to thwart accidental injuries and deaths.

May 25, 2000|From Hartford Courant

Accidents don't just happen, says the National Safety Council.

Citing an alarming rise in deaths from preventable injuries last year, the council proposed an initiative aimed at substantially reducing injuries and loss of life.

"Most unintentional injuries are preventable," said Jerry Scanell, council president and chief executive, in a statement that accompanied the organization's "Safety Agenda for the Nation."

"In fact, for most of our lives, we Americans can substantially reduce our greatest risk of dying by taking simple steps to enhance our safety--buckling up when we drive, exercising care on steps and ladders and following instructions when taking drugs or medicine."

The council estimated that accidental injuries claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 Americans in 1999--the highest death toll since 1988. More than 20 million were seriously injured.

Most of the increase occurred in homes and public places, and the most common incidents were falls, poisoning, fires and choking.

Hardest hit? The elderly. Although people over age 65 make up just 12% of the population, they suffer almost 30% of all accidental deaths. For example, safety council statistics showed that if you're an elderly person, a fall can be your last trip. Falls are the primary cause of home injury deaths, especially among seniors, and the leading cause of hospital admissions for the elderly.

The most serious injury resulting from such falls is hip fracture. One-quarter of all people suffering a hip fracture die within a year, and half never return to their former level of mobility.

To address the problem, the council is working with the American Assn. of Retired Persons to form a national coalition on residential fall prevention among the elderly and disabled.

The coalition will launch a campaign to promote home safety improvements such as handrails, bathroom grab bars and other modifications.

The coalition offers the following suggestions for preventing common home accidents:

* To help reduce falls, increase the wattage in light bulbs throughout the house and put light switches at the top and bottom of stairs.

* Put handrails on both sides of stairways and be sure to check railings regularly for stability. With daily use, railings can get wobbly.

* Use night lights in hallways and bathrooms.

* To prevent tripping accidents, secure or remove throw rugs, remove low-to-the-ground furniture such as coffee tables, and eliminate thresholds.

If you are 65 years old, the National Fire Protection Assn. says you're twice as likely as younger individuals to be killed or injured by fires. By age 75, that risk increases to three times and by 85, four times.

To prevent burns and fires, install smoke detectors (check batteries regularly). Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Don't smoke in bed or when you're drowsy. When cooking, don't wear loose fitting or flammable clothing such as bathrobes or nightgowns. Set water heater thermostats lower to avoid scalding. Choose small appliances with automatic shut-off features.

"People change as they age, but they forget that their homes don't," says Cindy Hellyer, a corporate gerontologist with the Hartford Financial Services Group. "It's important to take a look around and do a safety assessment of your environment. Many of the changes that can help improve the safety, comfort, convenience and security of your home are simple, cost very little and can be found at the local hardware store."

Several Web sites provide the elderly and their families with information on preventing injuries. The National Resource Center on Aging and Injury at, includes a database, a discussion area and links to other Web sites. The National Safety Council's "Safety Agenda for the Nation," accident statistics and related links are online at

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