The Accident Prone Zone

3 Jan

            

 

            I’ve never considered myself to be accident prone, but whenever I work with tools or sharp objects,  I seldom escape unscathed. Just the other day I had my fingers slammed by a car door. I don’t have a lot of major accidents, mostly just small mishaps related to carelessness and lack of attention.  

            Recently, I came home from a trip and sat my overnight bag  by  the kitchen door. It immediately fell over,  knocking  over the kitchen trash, spilling garbage  all over the floor.  It seems like I do these kind of things all the time.

             Of course it certainly could be much worse. According to the National Safety Council, there are about 120,000 accidental deaths every year. Unintentional injury is the fifth leading cause of  death.  Every year a bout 35 million Americans (approximately one  out of nine)  receive  medical care for nonfatal accidental injuries.

            In the 1920s  a British researcher coined the  term “accident proneness” and defined it as  “a personal idiosyncrasy predisposing the individual…  to a relatively high accident rate.” The concept has long been controversial. Interest in the concept originally peaked in the 1950’s, so that by the 1960’s, emphasis had shifted to human factors research, ergonomics,  and product safety measures,  which proved  more a more useful approach to accident prevention.   

            However, in a  recent resurgence,  Dutch researcher Ellen Visser, from Groningen University, analyzed the accident  patterns of  almost 150,000  people  from 15 countries. Data revealed that one person in 29 can be considered “accident prone”. While the majority of repeated accidents are due to  bad luck,  accident prone individuals have  a  50% greater probability of  being in  an accident than the general population.   

            It’s been said that fatigue is the primary cause of injuries in sports and physical activities. Fatigue decreases muscular control, while reducing the ability to focus attention. My wife, Diane says that she gets clumsy, when she’s tired.  When fatigued I’m even more careless than usual. My hand just healed from when I  raked a handsaw  across a couple fingers, while I was cutting wood. I especially worry about using the chainsaw when I’m tired,  since there’s  little margin  for error when it comes to a 20 inch Stihl Farm Boss.     

            Being accident-prone can be a symptom of deeper issues according to Samantha Dunn, the accident-prone author of   Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life. According to Dunn, factors such as stress, depression, and anxiety also make us more vulnerable to mishaps.    

            Visser believes that accident proneness  is a manifestation of self-destructive urges. Accident prone people engage in more  high-risk behavior such as aggression, substance use,  and also have a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders than  the general population. They fall on a self-destruction continuum, between normals and people who intentionally injure or even kill themselves, according to Visser.

            In 1949, Canadian psychiatrists W. A. Tillmann and  G. E. Hobbsfound that a small subgroup accounted for the vast majority of accidents that  occurred among professional drivers. As children these individuals had  unstable childhoods,   behavior  problems,   court involvement, and a disregard for authority.   As adults they had spotty employment histories,  were frequently fired from jobs, and often had   police records, apart from traffic offenses. They were described as being inordinately materialistic and consistently  sought immediate gratification, with little concern for the future.  As drivers, they were described as aggressive, impulsive, and lacked respect for rules and authority,    characteristic of  their lives in general. 

            In 1989 researchers  studied school-related injuries among more than 50,000  children in theTucsonSchool District. They  found that 17%  of   injuries occurred  to   1 % of the children.  Junior high boys, athletes, and pupils in alternative programs, were most likely to be accident prone.

            Many years ago our children played with a neighborhood boy and his little sister. These children were often unsupervised and the girl was constantly getting hurt. She would routinely get bit by a dog, smash her fingers in the car door, or fall off a sliding board and injure herself.    At first I thought she was accident prone, but after a while, my wife Diane and I decided that  it was  attention-seeking behavior. Ironically it was her older brother who lost an eye, when a nail he was hammering, flew back and struck him.

            I had a similar close call when I was about ten years old.  I was in our garage straightening out the old rusty nails my father insisted on saving. I struck the nail with my hammer, saw a spark, and the point hit me squarely in the throat. It didn’t hurt,  but it did bleed profusely.  I must have scared my mother to death.  Everyone thought I’d hit  my jugular vein. Actually I just missed it, and the bleeding stopped by the time we arrived at the emergency room.

            My pediatrician looked at the X-ray, of a bullet-shaped projectile lodged in my throat and asked my mother, “Who shot Terry?”  They never were able to remove the nail fragment. When metal detectors were introduced at airports, I worried that my shrapnel might set them off.

            Usually self-esteem is thought to be a good thing, but excessive confidence can put  you at risk,   if you put themselves in situations far beyond your capacity.  A 1995UniversityofIowastudy found that accident prone children habitually overestimate their physical abilities. Believing they can run faster, jump higher, or climb farther than they actually can,  they constantly put themselves in jeopardy.   They also typically fail to stop and consider the possible dangers associated with their actions. A case in point is the broken arm, my brotherNormanreceived, when he jumped off our garage roof.  

             Of all my mishaps I suppose I hate stubbing my toe the most. Toes contain a lot of nerve endings making them extremely sensitive and there’s nothing to cushion the blow.  In our house we have a wrought iron railing by the staircase, that’s ideal for stubbing. If you manage to do it just right, the metal piece that braces the railing, jams the tender area between your toes. It seems like some medieval torture device. Instead of ‘The Iron Maiden’, you might call it the “The Iron Flip-Flop”. I’d confess to anything if threaten with that.

 

 

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