Almost three million hospital visits occur in the UK each year because of accidents in the home, with a million of those due to a slip, trip, or a fall, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Unfortunately, about three thousand of those accidents are fatal.
According to a paper published in Inderscience’s International Journal of Environment and Pollution, however, it may not be the obvious things that are ultimately responsible for injury and even death in the home. David Ormandy, Principal Research Fellow in Law at the University of Warwick claims that the very design of houses could make accidents more likely. In the UK, you are twenty times more likely to have an accident in the home than to win the national lottery, he says.
The team at Warwick Law School devised a method that takes into account both the frequency of particular types of accident and the severity of their outcomes to help produce a true picture of accident rank order. Ormandy points out that, while human behaviour is a major contributing factor, dwelling design and condition could have more of an impact on accident rates than previously thought. In support of his hypothesis, Analysis of data from LARES (Large Analysis and Review of European housing and health Status) carried out by Dr Richard Moore, also suggest links between dwelling condition and accidental home injuries.
“We expect our homes to be a place of safety for us and our families,” Ormandy says, “but injuries from home accidents and even deaths are a major, but under-rated, public health problem and certainly an under-rated housing problem.”
Ormandy’s paper suggests that campaigns to promote home safety awareness, while going some way towards reducing the number and severity of injuries, do not place enough emphasis on housing action. Immediate steps could be taken to make homes safer, based on existing research on the safe design of housing features, such as stairs and windows, for instance.
Fixing secure handrails to stairs halves the likelihood of a fall, while restricting openings in stairs, balconies, and windows to 10 centimetres helps prevent small children from falling through. Hand-bars on bathtubs and showers also help prevent falls. Such modifications are relatively inexpensive and so should be incorporated into housing improvement programmes and the design of new homes.
Ormandy adds that researchers need to collect more information on the relationship between the design of houses and ongoing maintenance and condition in accidental home injuries.