Home Injuries Rising, Often Deadly

Falls, Poisonings Pose Major Threats at Home

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 2, 2002 -- Home may be a place to escape the dangers of the outside world, but a new report shows dangers abound on the home front as well -- causing as many as 20,000 deaths, 7 million disabling injuries, and 20 million hospital trips in the U.S. each year.

Despite those staggering statistics, more than half of American adults surveyed say they can't think of anything they should or would do in the coming year to make their homes safer or to prevent unintentional injuries.

"Falls are by far the major problem, followed by poisonings," says Carol Runyan, PhD, MPH, director of the injury prevention research center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"We were surprised to find that poisonings occur not just in little children, but also in large numbers of adults -- even middle-aged adults -- who appear to die from mixtures of prescription drugs and in some cases illicit drugs as well," says Runyan in a news release.

After falls and poisonings, the most common causes of death at home were fires, inhalation and suffocation, and drowning.

Rates of home-related injuries and death also varied widely across the country. Overall, New England was the safest region, and the states with the fewest home-injury deaths per 100,000 residents were Massachusetts, Utah, Maryland, Minnesota, and New York. The most such deaths were in New Mexico, the District of Columbia, Arizona, Mississippi, and Wisconsin.

New Mexico has a home-injury death rate that was more than five times higher than Massachusetts' with more than 17 deaths reported per 100,000 people.

The Home Safety Council commissioned the report, "The State of Home Safety in America." The authors say it's the first comprehensive look at the prevalence of unintentional injuries in the home as well as what causes them.

Researchers say many Americans don't think about making their home safer because, for the most part, they don't even know the problem of home hazards exists. Statistics about home injuries are hard to compile and often incomplete.

The report found common problems in the home that lead to injuries include:

  • Inadequate railings and banisters.
  • Unsafe storage of medications and other poisons.
  • Water heaters set at too high a temperature.
  • Firearms improperly stored or locked up.

The report found that although reports of children being accidentally shot or killed often make the headlines, only 49% of gun owners with children in or visiting their homes lock up their weapons.

The good news is that the study found most American homes are now equipped with smoke detectors.

Researchers say this report may still underestimate the true gravity of the issue because the statistics do not include the 30% of non-transportation injury deaths for which the site of the injury was not recorded. The authors say many of those injuries likely happened in the home.

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among people between the ages of one and 44 and the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S.