ARLINGTON, Va. — When searching the internet for information about home safety, there are numerous government agencies and nonprofit organizations dedicated to reducing accidental injuries and deaths. Yet, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 167,000 people died and more than 20 million were injured in the United States in 2018 from unintentional means or accidents, many of which occurred at home.
These unintentional deaths and accidents in most instances are preventable by implementing home safety measures such as properly storing chemicals, proper use and storage of home improvement power tools, disposing of expired prescription medicine, and proper use and storage of firearms and BB guns. Now that people are spending more time at home in efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, home safety is paramount.
“It’s important we each take a look around our homes and identify chemicals and equipment that could pose a risk of injury to ourselves and our family members,” said Michael Ballard, Air Force Occupational Safety chief. “As we are all spending more time at home, there is an increased risk for accidents. Take proper steps now to secure your chemicals, equipment and firearms from unintentional use.”
One way the Department of the Air Force is contributing to home safety is by offering free cable locks for personally owned firearms, which are a first line of defense for safe storage and unintentional use. The department is shipping 150,000 cable-style gun locks to all installations across the United States for distribution to members on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Our forces and families are the most vital resource we have, and it is imperative we each do our part to keep each other safe,” said Brig. Gen. Claude Tudor, Air Force Integrated Resilience director. “Adding a cable lock to a firearm adds on average a couple minutes to a person’s ability to pull the trigger once they’ve accessed the weapon. When that’s your child who doesn’t understand the danger or a person in distress trying to access that weapon to potentially do harm, those extra minutes are precious to prevent a tragedy.”
Members can contact their installation’s violence prevention integrator for details on local distribution of the cable-style gun locks.
Accidental firearm discharges were responsible for the deaths of 458 people in 2018, 54 of whom were under the age of 14. Additionally, unintentional firearm and BB gun discharges account for approximately 18,000 and 14,000 injuries, respectively, according to data from the CDC.
But, unintentional injuries and deaths from firearms are only a small portion of the total number. The National Safety Council states more than 90% of all poisonings happen at home and drug poisoning is now the top cause of unintentional death in the United States. Its data shows in 2017, a total of 61,311 people died of drug overdoses – many from prescription opioid medicine, and some of those from unauthorized access to a family member’s prescription.
The Health Resources and Services Administration recommends storing chemicals and prescriptions in their original containers and out of reach of children and other unauthorized persons. Expired and no longer needed medications can be properly disposed of through the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Take Back Day, which occurs twice a year. Individuals needing to dispose of medications during other times can visit www.dea.gov to locate alternative solutions.
The data shows that the impact of these accidents goes far beyond the injury or death of the individual. Those who survive or witness these types of traumatic accidents can develop invisible wounds. An invisible wound is post-traumatic stress disorder; traumatic brain injury; or other cognitive, emotional, or behavioral conditions associated with trauma experienced by an individual. Anyone can develop an invisible wound and some people are more susceptible than others to developing an invisible wound. The signs and symptoms differ for every person and may not appear immediately, sometimes emerging years after an incident/traumatic event.
“An invisible wound can develop following any traumatic event, including accidents, and are as real and as severe as physical wounds,” said Col. Karen Downes, director, Department of the Air Force Invisible Wounds Initiative. “Our first line of defense against invisible wounds is to prevent traumatic events where we have the power to do so. We must each check our homes for safety to reduce the risk of avoidable accidents.”