Stark reality: We're safer behind the wheel than at home

Eliza Henry-Jones, a DIY renovator, was renovating her first home in Belgrave when an old air-conditioning unit feel on her and injured her arm. 14 July 2016. The Age Sat News. Photo: Eddie Jim.
Eliza Henry-Jones, a DIY renovator, was renovating her first home in Belgrave when an old air-conditioning unit feel on her and injured her arm. 14 July 2016. The Age Sat News. Photo: Eddie Jim.

You are safer driving your car than you are at home, a statistical fact that underlines the many perils facing you every time you walk into your house.

Beware of your bed for instance. ABS death statistics show 70 people were killed falling out of them last year, and the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare records show 5787 people being hospitalised for the same reason.

Chairs aren't much safer. They were listed as the underlying cause of 42 deaths in 2016, and the institute's records for 2013 show 5200 people were injured badly enough to be admitted to hospital.

Associate professor Kirsten Valmuur, a specialist in national injury surveillance at Queensland University of Technology, says falls - not traffic accidents - are Australia's leading cause of death and injury, and that most of them occur at home.

Overall, 2666 people died in falls last year compared with 1453 road deaths. Valmuur believes it's a good idea to check your house for tripping spots, like rumpled carpets, rugs and other uneven surfaces, and for elderly people to tune up their balancing skills.

"Fall injuries in kids mostly involve play equipment," she says. "Trampolines are a leading cause and a lot of others involve babies falling out of high chairs. Older adults mostly fall on the same level, however stairs and ladders are also major causes.

"Using power tools at home is another danger and we're doing a study on that at the moment. They can cause severe injuries, yet people seem to be buying them at their local shop and using them without any training or experience.

"Grinders are an example. People not wearing the right eye protection are ending up in hospital with severe eye injuries, and power saws kicking back because they are not used the right way end up with people losing their fingers."

Statistics show even eating can be dangerous. Choking on food caused 55 deaths last year, and kitchens turned into war zones in 2013, with 2712 burn hospitalisations from stoves and cooking appliances, hot food, boiling water, steam and cooking oils.

Overall, there's not much in the ABS figures to be cheerful about. Although nobody died from venomous spider bites last year, one person was killed by lightning and another died after being bitten by a rat.

Some of the most tragic figures involved poisoning. It accounted for 1780 deaths, but of the 42,853 hospital admissions for poisoning recorded by the institute in 2010, more than half were described as intentional.

"We see a lot of overdoses in children from paracetamol products like Panadol, which can cause serious injuries and even death," Valmuur says. "We've also had a spate of toddlers poisoned from swallowing the eucalyptus and ti-tree oils used for vaporisers in bedrooms.

"I think there are a lot of unrecognised risks around the home, even things like hot water bottles can cause severe burns, or hot cups of coffee left on a bench that are knocked over by an adult or pulled over by a toddler.

"People come home to relax and don't think about dangers as rigorously as they do away from the house. Car crashes probably cause more severe injuries, but even household injuries can lead to catastrophic fractures with ongoing pain and suffering.

"There are a lot of good resources out there to help people reduce risks at home, Kid Safe is a great one for safeguarding children and there are others for different age groups, the ACCC product safety website for instance.

"Just spending 10 minutes to see where the hazards are can make a big difference."

This story Stark reality: We're safer behind the wheel than at home first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.