Everybody wants to be safe, right? But if we all want to be safe, then why do preventable accidents still happen? Because safety fades into the background, and we forget about it. We can’t all be elephants and never forget the important details. But when we forget about safety, accidents are on the way.
The National Safety Council (NSC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting personal safety in the home and workplace, has announced this June to be National Safety Month 2014. Each year, the NSC chooses different topics to focus their Safety Month efforts, but the goal is always simply to help people think about safety. This year, there are four weekly topics: prescription drug abuse; slips, trips, and falls; “struck-by” accidents; and distracted driving.
Week 1: Mother’s Little Helper is not for the Family
The misuse of prescription drugs is a huge problem in the United States. Unintentional drug overdoses killed more Americans in 2010 than motor vehicle accidents, and the biggest contributors were “prescription opioid painkillers,” a category that includes Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet. Each year, there are about twice as many fatal overdoses from prescription pain relievers as from all illegal drugs combined.
How do all of these terrible accidents happen? People don’t think about safety. “Where’s the harm in taking a few pills for a headache?” When you take the pills without reading the label, or without seeing a doctor in the first place, that’s where the opportunity for harm comes in. Most of the people who are hospitalized after misusing prescription drugs received the medication from a friend or family member — people who wanted to help, but didn’t consider the danger of their actions.
Weeks 2 and 3: It’s Raining Men and Other Heavy Objects
Slips, trips, and falls are responsible for a large portion of accidental injuries at workplaces and in homes. On the other side of the same coin, objects can fall, slide, or move to strike people. There are three basic ways to address these problems:
- Engineering Controls, which eliminate a hazard by physically preventing certain accidents. One example would be adding guardrails and edge guards to a ledge.
- Administrative Controls, which create rules and systems to prevent an accident. An example would be designating separate lanes for forklifts and foot traffic.
- Personal Protective Equipment, which mitigates or prevents injury when accidents do happen. Fall harnesses, steel-toed shoes, and hard hats are common personal protective equipment.
These three approaches are simple enough, but nearly a quarter of a million workers missed work days as a result of “struck-by” accidents in 2010 alone. That’s because these kinds of hazards aren’t necessarily obvious until the accident happens. “Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s easy to forget the problem is there when nobody’s been hurt yet, and that’s when people act without thinking.
Week 4: Something To Talk About… Later
Several states have laws that prohibit cell phone use while driving, and there’s a good reason for that. Driving while using a cell phone makes you about four times as likely to be in a car crash. Most of those state laws allow drivers to use hands-free systems to keep their conversations going — but the crash statistics are the same whether drivers use a hands-free device or not. It isn’t the hands that are the problem; it’s the head. Drivers trying to maintain a conversation with someone outside the car have even slower reaction times than drunk drivers.
If driving while using a cell phone is so dangerous, why do so many people do it? Once again, the mistake is simply overlooking the danger. When the phone rings, you aren’t thinking about crashing; you’re thinking about who might be calling you.
Don’t take safety for granted. It’s easy to forget such simple things, but these easily-prevented problems account for hundreds of lost lives and millions of dollars of lost revenue each year. This June, don’t forget about safety. Pay attention to what you’re doing, and see if you can prevent the next accident from happening!
 NSC, 2014. “The Great Multitasking Lie.” http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Pages/The-Great-Multitasking-Lie.aspx