Avoiding the Top Freak Accidents

avoiding freak accidents

Story at-a-glance -

  • Some of the top unintentional injuries resulting in death include drug overdoses, car accidents and falls; however, some unspecified deaths fall into a category of freak accidents, sometimes occurring in your own backyard
  • Mowing your lawn, using a ladder, cutting down a tree and using a portable generator may all result in accidents capable of taking your life
  • Other unusual accidents occur using all-terrain vehicles, hiking in the woods, electrocution in a lake or using a dishwasher
  • Understanding when and if to perform CPR, how to treat sharp force trauma, and the dos and don’ts of simple injuries is important knowledge for you and your family

By Dr. Mercola

Motor vehicle accidents once held the top spot for accidental deaths in the U.S., but in 2016 more Americans died from accidental drug overdoses than from car accidents.1 Car accidents aren't the only accidents taking lives. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 146,000 unintentional deaths due to injury. More than 33,000 fell to their death in 2014.2

The CDC ranked unintentional poisonings as the highest number of unintentional injury deaths in 2015, followed closely by falls and over 6,000 individuals who died in an unspecified accident.3 Many of these unspecified accidental deaths fall into a category of freak accidents, some of which can occur in your own backyard.

Accidental Death and Injury Rates Are Rising

The rates of accidental deaths, not including overdoses, appear to be rising each year. In a report from the National Safety Council (NSC), more than 136,000 Americans died accidentally in 2014.4 This number rose to just over 161,000 in 2016, or 18 deaths every hour.5 This NSC video is a short demonstration of the numbers of people who experience accidents and injuries at home, work, in public or in their cars. As Ken Kolosh, the National Safety Council statistical manager, points out,6 "Every accident is preventable."

Although many believe murder is a big risk in America, there are nearly eight accidental deaths for every homicide. Previously accidents ranked as low as the seventh leading killer of Americans, but a combination of slowly reducing and preventing illnesses and rising rates of overdoses has raised the rank of accidental deaths to the third leading killer, beating out stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes and suicide.7

While the death statistics are staggering, there are also nearly 46 million injuries8 and 7 million disabling injuries each year following accidents.9 Despite these statistics, more than half of surveyed American adults said they could not think of anything they should or would do to prevent an accident at home. The cost of accidental injuries are not always obvious. A series of costly accidents to an employer can reduce profits, and even less obvious are indirect costs, which are usually uninsured.

WCF Mutual Insurance10 compares the cost of accidents to an iceberg, as the costs above the surface are a far smaller, direct portion of the total cost, while what lies beneath the surface are often uncovered, indirect costs to families, employers and communities. According to the NSC,11 the average direct cost of a motor vehicle crash resulting in death is slightly above $10,000 per person and the average direct cost of a fatal or nonfatal injury at home is over $3,000 per person.

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Challenges in Your Lawn and Garden

Cutting down trees in the backyard presents a unique challenge, especially when the tree is already leaning or has a poor root system. Lumberjacks call this effect a "barber chair,"12 as demonstrated in this short video. This means when a leaning tree falls too fast the trunk does not make a clean break. Instead the tree splits and the rear half snaps backward, sometimes crushing the person cutting the tree.

The Telegraph reported 87,000 people required hospital treatment in Great Britain after being injured in their gardens.13 According to Amputee Coalition,14 lawn mower accidents cause mower-related amputations in 600 children every year. One of the most common ways this happens is when a riding mower tips as the result of mowing a hill from side to side instead of properly going up and down. In some cases, it crushes the driver while in others a foot or leg may be traumatically amputated.15

Falls are the leading cause of injury mortality nationwide, and 43 percent of those falls involve a ladder.16 In one study,17 data revealed over 258,000 annual accidents resulted in injury and 700 deaths related to ladder use.18 The majority of injuries following ladder accidents were found in middle-aged men requiring a median hospital stay of one week and disability up to six weeks.19

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries. In their guide to safe use20 they recommend avoiding electrical hazards, maintaining a three-point contact on the ladder, never using the top step or rung of a ladder, and only using appropriate accessories for their designed purposes.

Portable gas generators emit a lot of carbon monoxide, an invisible, odorless killer. A press release from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)21 revealed portable generators were involved in the majority of carbon monoxide deaths between 1999 and 2012, finding they were linked to more than 85 percent of non-fire carbon monoxide deaths associated with engine tools during the 14-year period.

After Hurricane Sandy, many left their generators running overnight to maintain refrigerators and electrical equipment. This allowed odorless carbon monoxide gas to seep into their homes, inducing dizziness, headaches, nausea and shortness of breath.22 The CPSC recommends familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, which include vomiting, loss of consciousness and mental confusion.23

Recommendations also include having your home heating system inspected and serviced annually and never using portable generators inside your home or garage, even when leaving the doors and windows open. Portable generators should be run as far away from the home as possible. Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm or an alarm with battery backup in your home outside of each sleeping area if you plan on using one.

Water Packs a Punch

You float on it, bathe in it and dive through it — but water is more dangerous than you might imagine. The No. 1 cause of death in U.S. National Parks is not an attack by wildlife, but drowning.24 According to the National Park Service,25 water is more powerful than the strongest swimmer and is also deceptively dangerous. Even wading in shallow water can pull you off your feet, and a heavy backpack can weigh you down.

When crossing a stream, first toss a stick into the current; if it's moving faster than you're walking, don't cross.26 Watch for floating debris and look for wider areas where the current is not as strong.27 Loosen your backpack before entering the stream in case you need to remove it quickly.

If you fall, your pack will get soaked and become heavy very quickly, dragging you away by the current. As you enter the stream, slide your feet in a forward direction but walk diagonally toward the flow, while moving toward the opposite bank.28 Use a trekking pole to steady yourself. If you're crossing with a group, you'll enjoy additional stability by holding arms and moving together.

Kyle Richard McGonigle was a young man of 36 who died unexpectedly in 201329 when he attempted to rescue one of his dogs who became distressed in a lake.30 Deputy coroner Howard Tomes reported, "They had been swimming in the water, the dog let out a yelp, and went under." Both McGonigle and the dog died from low-voltage electrocution according to the autopsy report.

Power cords, present on the docks for the houseboat, had been spliced and were in poor condition. One of those cords, plugged into an outlet, had slipped into the water and electrified it. While the number of annual deaths from electric shock drowning are unknown, the anecdotal evidence indicates it may be widespread.31

If you feel a tingle or numbness while swimming near a boating marina, get out of the water immediately. Learn to recognize signs someone is drowning,32 including signs of panic, head tilted back, floating face-down or arms moving downward, as someone is instinctively trying to push off against something that isn't there.

Camping and Recreational Vehicles Present Unique Hazards

Americans are camping in greater numbers every year. More than 1 million new households started camping each year since 2014.33 Kampgrounds of America (KOA) chief franchise operations officer Toby O'Rourke attributes this growth in popularity to more Americans taking more frequent trips each year and enjoying the ability to relax, spend time with family and friends, and be active while camping.

American national parks are some of the more popular places bringing families together to hike and enjoy nature. Although the National Park Services report the number of deaths from wildlife exposure are the lowest ranking number of deaths within the parks,34 attacks by grizzly bears are not unheard of. Brian Matayoshi and his wife Marylyn, of Torrance, California, were hiking in Yellowstone National Park when they accidently startled a mother grizzly and her cubs.35

Based on the account by Marylyn Matayoshi, rangers believe the grizzly was instinctively protecting her young. Matayoshi was the first fatal grizzly attack inside the park in 25 years, but the third in the Yellowstone region in just over a year. According to experts, Matayoshi's fatal mistake was in running from the bear, while his wife reported she dialed 911 from her cellphone. When the bear attacked her, she dropped to the ground. The grizzly lifted her by her day pack and then dropped her and left.

Marylyn Matayoshi escaped with scrapes and bruising, but her husband died at the scene.36 Grizzly bears are omnivorous animals, eating berries and wildlife. Park rangers routinely urge visitors to take specific precautions, including carrying bear spray, hiking in groups of three or more, staying on designated trails and making noises where grizzly bears may be lurking to ensure the bears are not taken by surprise, which increases the risk of an attack.

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs), are four-wheeled recreational vehicles whose popularity has contributed to the number of injuries and fatalities from accidents. Annual ATV related-injuries increased from 10,000 in 1982 to 150,000 in 2007.37 The number of fatalities have also increased from 29 in 1982 to 766 in 2007, declining slightly to 670 in 2014.38

States with the highest number of ATV-related deaths include Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.39 Many of these deaths are attributed to driving an ATV on paved roads. The vehicles have tires designed for uneven ground and behave unpredictably on pavement.

Bob Adler, a commissioner with CPSC, the federal agency tasked with ensuring ATV safety, commented,40 "There are just too many accidents. These things are simply not designed to be ridden on paved and public roads. They're just not maneuverable on paved roads. They're very prone to flip over."

Common Kitchen and Home Accidents Can Claim Life and Limb

Your kitchen may be the center of your home, but it is also home to a number of different pieces of equipment capable of causing significant injury. According to Consumer Reports, these are some of the scariest kitchen accidents occurring at home.41

Cooking fires

Nearly 2 out of every 5 fires reported at home involve cooking equipment. Half of these are ignited by fat, grease or oils, according to the National Fire Protection Association. You can reduce your risk by staying in the kitchen while cooking, setting a timer as a reminder and keeping anything capable of catching fire away from the stove, such as pot holders, towels or food packaging.

While cooking, it's important to keep a lid handy to smother small grease fires by sliding the lid over the top of the pan and turning off the burner. Keep a fire extinguisher with a minimum of 5:B-C rating on hand at all times. Anytime a fire gets out of hand, don't try to fight it, but leave the house and call your local emergency number.

Range tip overs

Unsupervised children are especially at risk as they may climb on an open door and cause the range to flip. Install an anti-tip bracket on the range and anchor it to the wall to keep it securely in place. Never place anything on the oven door when it's open.

Food processors and blenders

Although incredibly popular to use, food processors and blenders cause nearly 30,000 injuries combined. To prevent cuts from the blades or other accidents and injuries, don't leave the motorized appliance on for long periods as they can overheat, and never reach inside while the machine is plugged in.

Many of the parts of a food processor are dishwasher-safe, including the blades, so there's no need to subject your fingers to injury. While immersion blenders are wonderful for making soups and sauces, it is important to remember to unplug the appliance before rinsing.

Knife cuts

Lacerations and deep cuts from kitchen knives are more likely with a dull knife as they require more pressure to use. Knives pointed up in the dishwasher also present a hazard. While visiting a friend in Airdrie in Lanarkshire, England, Jane McDonald died after slipping on a wet floor and falling over the dishwasher, impaling herself with a knife pointing upright.42

In the kitchen, keep your knives sharpened, cut food away from your body with the fingers holding the food curled toward your palm and store your knives in a block, not in the drawer where they can easily slice your fingers.

Shattered cookware

Hot handles can burn your hands and glass cookware may sometimes shatter. Remember to never take a dish from the freezer and place it directly in the oven or vice versa; do not place glass cookware directly on a burner or under the broiler and don't add liquid to a hot dish or put a hot dish on a cold, damp surface.

First Aid and CPR Saves Lives

Your knowledge of first aid and CPR may save a life. Understanding when and if to perform CPR, how to treat sharp force trauma, and the dos and don'ts of simple injuries is important knowledge for you and your family. You'll discover how to perform CPR, when to perform it, how to recognize a stroke and what to do in case of sharp force trauma in my previous article, "How to Save a Life."

Learning the skills required for CPR are easily accomplished in a short community class, often available through the Red Cross or your local fire department. First aid measures you perform on the scene of an accident may make a significant difference in the lives of those in an accident. Avoid these 10 first aid mistakes.

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