Sharp Knives Hazardous To Your Health, Experts Say

21 12 2009

Recent studies have shown that the sharp edge on most kitchen knives is capable of cutting through skin and can cause potentially serious injury.  Statistics show that 100% of instances of sharp knife edges running along skin result in injury.  That is an alarming statistic.  And yet, sharp knives abound in American households.  Safety advocates stress the need to take action in order to prevent further unnecessary injury.  They recommend a universal dulling of kitchen knives everywhere to the point that they no longer pose a threat to the vast majority of Americans who own them.  Others have suggested a recall of knives and a transition to pre-cut food where the cutting is done in a factory by trained professionals.  One thing is for sure, if something isn’t done soon, these household lacerations will only get worse.  How long are we willing to let this needless cutting go on?

Sounds ridiculous, right?  That’s because it is!  I made up that paragraph to illustrate a point.  Forget 1984‘s “Big Brother” and the scary Socialist future, I’m worried about the sterile, hyper-regulated safety world we seem to be headed towards.  I got to thinking about this after reading an article about defective window blinds in which children were getting strangled and people were getting up in arms about it.  I have also seen a recent story on faulty cribs that are killing children.  A TIME magazine article on over-parenting also got me thinking about how extreme our vigilance has become when it comes to the safety of children.

Now before you accuse me of being insensitive and cruel let me say that I think the death of a child is one of the most tragic things that can happen, ever.  I also say that if it is reasonably possible to prevent such a thing from happening in the future, then by all means, prevent it.  I just want to emphasize the word “reasonable.”  The problem is, in the passion of the moment, at the height of grief, people are seldom reasonable about such things.

As nerdy as it sounds, when it comes to issues like this I often take comfort in statistics.  The data often tell a story that our emotions don’t allow us to see.  For example, let me share with you some statistics about accidental injury (you can find more stats here).  In 2006, there were 1,610 deaths due to unintentional injury in the age group 1-4 years old.  To build on the examples I shared above, let’s focus on death due to suffocation.  Suffocation is the fourth highest cause of accidental death in the 1-4 age group with 137 (8.5%) deaths attributed to it.  For information’s sake, the leading three causes (motor vehicle related, drowning and fire/burns) account for 70% of accidental deaths.

Now let’s put these suffocation stats into perspective.  In 2006 there were approximately 20 million children between the ages of 1 and 4 in the US.  So, in 2006, 0.008% (1,610) of all children aged 1-4 died as a result of unintentional injury; 0.0007% (137) of all children aged 1-4 died of accidental suffocation.  To look at it yet another way, there were 4,631 total deaths in this age group and suffocation only accounts for 3% of all deaths, accidental or not, in this age group.  Taken together these data suggest that accidental death due to suffocation is very uncommon and a much lower risk than motor vehicles and even homicide.

Even though each death is tragic, and each life lost is irreplaceable, let’s remember that accidental deaths like the one’s caused by faulty blinds or cribs are very, very rare.  How many thousands of such products are sold and used (without ill effect) before an unforeseen defect causes such a tragedy?  And for how many years and decades have people in America been using potentially hazardous products without complaint or extreme consequences?  Today people are becoming much too concerned with eliminating all risk, especially in their childrens’ lives.  I think we’re very close to crossing the line between safe and ridiculous.

I don’t think it’s bad to encourage safety or eliminate potential dangers.  But our emphasis often tends to be areas that are statistically very rare.  Consider how people today often wait in 1/2 hour lines of cars to drop off and pick up their kids at school.  I bet if you ask them why they don’t want their kids walking to school on their own it would have something to do with “stranger danger” or the fear of abduction.  The truth is, children are much more likely to be kidnapped or harmed by family members than by strangers and they are even more likely to get injured on the drive to and from school than they are to get abducted.  But people continue to be disproportionately concerned about the less likely risks.

My point is, let’s be reasonable about the degree to which we try to control the risks in our lives.  There’s risk involved in everything and learning to deal with risk effectively is an important part of life.  We’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to insulate ourselves and our children from every risk that’s out there.  The future generation will benefit far more from experiencing risk and learning to deal with it than they will from us refusing to allow them to have risks in their lives.




6 responses

21 12 2009

So, was that paragraph about knives real or not?

21 12 2009
Peter Leavitt

It was fake. Written by yours truly. I just wanted to play around with how ludicrous our safety-mongering has become. Sorry for being unclear.

22 12 2009

can you blog about salmonella? Maurice just got that.

24 08 2010
Mosque = Muslim = Terrorism? Really, America? « “P” is for Peter

[…] months ago, I wrote a post about how overprotective Americans are becoming and that it’s getting out of hand.  I explained that people overreact to […]

14 02 2011
Henry Bowman

“Sounds ridiculous, right? That’s because it is!”

You wrote this on what, 12/21/09? Truth is stranger than fiction. (from 2005!)

No matter what you think is stupid, there is someone stupid enough to support it.

14 02 2011
Peter Leavitt

What a funny world we live in. Thanks for the comment!

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