Dr. Larry Jecha, Special to the Herald
KENNEWICK -- It only takes a moment for an injury to occur -- a fall on a stair, a poisoning or burn, a drowning. But it also just takes a moment to prevent injuries and make our lives and homes safer places.
Injuries are not "accidents" and with simple steps we can stop them before they happen.
We are met with a real and growing public health problem. If we fail to address the issues related to injury and violence, the toll -- measured in lives lost and health care dollars spent -- is only going to get worse in the years to come.
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Every year, nearly 150,000 people die from injuries, and almost 30 million people are injured seriously enough to go to the emergency room.
Chances are good that you or someone you know are among these statistics -- a friend who suffered a fatal injury from a car crash, an elderly family member who broke a bone from a fall, a co-worker harmed on the job site or a neighbor injured in a house fire.
Injuries are the leading cause of death and disability for Washington state residents aged 1 to 44. In 2008, more than 3,880 residents died from injuries, and there were more than 78,000 injury-related hospital stays. Such injuries have a huge impact on the lives of individuals, their families and society.
Some injuries, including falls among older adults and poisonings, are increasing. In Washington, unintentional drowning rates are higher than the national rate.
Water recreation, including swimming, boating and tubing, are some of the most popular pastimes in our community. In some circumstances, these activities can prove dangerous and fatal.
Among those who drowned, 90 percent were not wearing life jackets. It is estimated that 85 percent of boating-related drowning incidents could have been prevented if the victim had been wearing a life jacket.
Fortunately, we know that virtually all injuries can be prevented. If everyone wore a seat belt, properly installed and used child safety seats, wore a helmet, stored cleaning supplies in locked cabinets and wore a life jacket, we could dramatically reduce injuries and save lives.
Of course, we can't make significant improvements unless all of us play a part in creating a safer community. That means all people need to take small steps to improve their safety.
Last week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) was encouraging all Americans to work together to make our nation safer and injury-free. From April 4-10, APHA recognizes National Public Health Week, an opportunity to empower our family, friends, neighbors, and perhaps most importantly, ourselves, to live safer lives.
Take a moment and make just one positive change a day that could prevent an injury. These seemingly small actions can have a big impact when they are spread throughout an entire family, community and nation.
-- Assess your home for potential hazards such as poor lighting and uneven surfaces to prevent falls.
-- Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
-- Establish a plan for how you would evacuate from your home in the event of an emergency.
-- Make sure all electrical outlets are covered and inaccessible to children.
-- Supervise young children whenever they're near cooking surfaces and never leave food unattended on the stove.
-- Program emergency numbers, such as the Poison Control Hotline (800-222-1222), into your phone to call in the event of a poisoning emergency.
-- Install four-sided isolation fencing at least 5 feet high and equipped with self-latching gates to prevent drownings in home swimming pools.
-- Store cleaning supplies and medicines in locked cabinets out of the reach of children.
-- Check your hot water heater periodically and adjust the thermostat to 120 degrees or lower to avoid burns.
Join the Benton-Franklin Health District in working to make Benton and Franklin Counties a healthier, safer place to live, work and raise a family. Increasing awareness on how to live safe and injury-free is the first step in helping to create a healthier community.
* Dr. Larry Jecha is the Benton-Franklin Health District's health officer.