Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Kinds of Things Bill Bryson Writes

For example: Stairs.  (Sara, it occurs to me that you might not want to read this, since you plan to read At Home after I finish it.)

John A. Templer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, author of the definitive (and, it must be said, almost only) scholarly text on the subject, The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls, and Safer Design, suggests that all fall-injury figures are probably severely underestimated anyway. Even the on the most conservative calculations, however, stairs rank as the second most common cause of accidental death, well behind car accidents, but far ahead of drownings, burns, and other similarly grim misfortunes. When you consider how much alls cost society in lost working hours and the strains placed on health systems, it is curious that they are not studied more attentively. Huge amounts of money and bureaucratic time are invested in fire prevention, fire research, fire codes, and fire insurance, but almost non is spent on the understanding or prevention of falls.
Eighty-four percent of people who die in stair falls at home are sixty-five or older. This is not so much because the elderly are more careless on stairs, but just because they don't get up so well afterward. Children, happily, only very rarely die in falls on stairs, though households with young children in them have  by far the highest rates of injuries, partly because of high levels of stair usage and partly because of the startling things children leave on steps. Unmarried people are more likely to fall than married people, and previously married people fall more than both of those. People in good shape fall more often than people in bad shape, largely because they do a lot more bounding and don't descend as carefully and with as many rest stops as the tubby or infirm.

The best indicator of personal risk is whether you have fallen much before. Accident proneness is a slightly controversial area among stair injury epidemiologists, but it does seem to be a reality. About four persons in ten injured in a stair fall have been injured in a stair fall before.

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