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The other type of computer health hazard

The physical health hazards posed by computers include more than such chronic ailments as carpal tunnel injuries, back pain and blurred vision.

The physical health hazards posed by computers include more than such chronic ailments as carpal tunnel injuries, back pain and blurred vision.

According to a new study to be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, computers also increase the risk of acute injuries — things like bruises and lacerations on the arms and legs, and even computer-related head injuries.

In fact, the study, which was conducted by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, found that acute computer-related injuries increased by 732 percent from 1994 to 2006.

Ouch.

A rerun?
A similar rise in acute injuries was seen in the late 1940s and 1950s when TVs became a ubiquitous element of the American home, the study notes. But computers have added hazards. Their wires are generally more exposed than those of TV sets. They’re more portable and, thus, more likely to be moved about the home, causing more opportunities for injuries. And people fiddle with them more — adding or removing internal parts, hooking them up to printers or other equipment — actions that again increase the odds of injury.

Julie Philbrook, a registered nurse and trauma prevention specialist at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, isn’t surprised by the study’s findings. Although her hospital doesn’t specifically track acute computer-related injuries, she’s sure such injuries are occurring, particularly among children.

“Parents are giving kids the old monitors, those big heavy ones, and putting them on a dresser or a desk that’s not meant for them” — a mistake that can lead to monitor tip-over accidents, she says.

Such tip-overs are no small matter. Another CIRP study published earlier this year found that tip-over injuries from falling TV sets and other furniture sends 15,000 children to hospital emergency rooms each year in the United States. Tragically, an average of 17 children die annually from those injuries.

The study’s findings
CIRP gathered its data for this latest study from hospital emergency departments in 100 hospitals across the United States. Here are some of the study’s findings:

• Most computer-related injuries occurred in the home (93 percent).
• Most patients were treated and released. Less than 1 percent of the people injured had to be admitted to the hospital or transferred to another hospital.
• The most common injuries were lacerations (39 percent), followed by contusions (bruising) and abrasions (23 percent). Adults were most likely to injure their arms and legs, but for children, head injuries were more common.
• The most common cause of the injuries was hitting or getting caught on part of the computer (37 percent), followed by having a monitor or piece of computer equipment falling on the person (21 percent). In addition, a large number of injuries (18 percent) resulted from people falling on or tripping over the computer.
• More than half (59 percent) of the injuries occurred when people were trying to move the computer.
• Kids were more likely to be playing near or climbing on the computer equipment when they got injured.
• The computer part most commonly cited as the culprit in these injuries was the monitor (44 percent), although the study also found that monitor injuries have fallen off drastically since 2003, most likely due to the development of lighter liquid crystal display (LCD) screens.

Use common sense
Philbrook recommends using common sense when you’re around a computer — or any other large household item.

Before you decide where to put a computer, she says, “stop and ask yourself, is this a stable place for this big a piece of equipment? Even if it’s a piece of furniture that says it’s for computers, if it doesn’t feel safe and stable, then you shouldn’t really use it.”

And keep those cords out from underfoot. “Computer electrical cords are a problem,” Philbrook says. “A lot of time, people will throw a rug over electrical cords. It then becomes a tripping hazard.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a helpful tipsheet on preventing tip-over injuries.