Category Archives: Safety
HealthCare.gov: After Fixes, More Enroll in First Two Days of December than Did in All of October
The five weeks spent working on many of the problems of the HealthCare.gov website seem to have been time well spent, with more people signing up for the new health insurance in the first two days of December than were able to enroll in all of October. About 29,000 signed up for the insurance, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, on Sunday and Monday; only about 27,000 people signed up in October when the site first went live. While the final numbers have not been released, about 100,000 are estimated to have signed up via the site in November. The website is used in 36 states, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. running their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Boston Adds Rentable Bicycle Helmets to Bikeshare System
Boston is working to improve the safety of people who use Hubway, the city’s popular bikeshare system, by installing the first vending machine for renting bicycle helmets. The HelmetHub street kiosk will be located at the Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue Hubway Station. Riders will be able to rent a helmet for 24 hours for $2, or purchase one to keep for $20; they will be sanitized and inspected after each use. The city intends for this test kiosk to be the first of many throughout Boston. Read more on safety.
Study: Social Ties, More than Biology, Responsible for Changes in Teen Sleep Times
Social ties—especially with parents and friends—may be more responsible than biology for whether a teenager gets enough sleep. While past studies have linked biological development factors to why children tend to sleep less as they age into teenagers, a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior ties the trend more closely to the quality of the teen’s social ties. In an analysis of data on almost 1,000 kids ages 12 to 15—during with the average sleep time drops from 9 hours per school night to 8 hours—researchers concluded that teens who felt that they were a part of school, who were close to their friends and especially who had parents who were active in their life were more likely to get more sleep. "Research shows that parents who keep tabs on their kids are less likely to see them get into trouble or use drugs and alcohol," said David Maume, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati. "My findings suggest a similar dynamic with sleep. Parents who monitor their children's behavior are more likely to have kids that get adequate rest. Given that children generally get less sleep as they become teenagers, parents should be ever more vigilant at this stage.” Read more on pediatrics.
>>NewPublicHealth continues a new series to highlight some of the best public health education and outreach campaigns every month. Submit your ideas for Public Health Campaign of the Month to info@newPublichealth.org.
Glass thermometers. Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Medical equipment. Gauges and other science equipment. Thermostats, switches and other electrical devices.
Mercury lives in all of these devices—and all can be found in schools. While it may be common, mercury is also incredibly dangerous. Mercury poisoning can negatively impact the nervous system, lungs and kidneys. It can even lead to brain damage or death.
Often mercury poisoning is the result of a kid thinking it’s “cool”— taking it, playing with, passing it around to friends. Metallic mercury easily vaporizes into a colorless, odorless, hazardous gas.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has released a new website that brings together a suite of tools to educate kids, teachers, school administrators and parents about the dangers of mercury poisoning. They include an interactive human body illustration and facts sheets, as well as a 30-second “Don’t Mess With Mercury” animated video to raise awareness about the dangers of mercury.
Six Killed, Dozens Injured as Tornados Sweep Across the U.S. Midwest
At least six people were killed and dozens left injured after a flurry of tornados swept through the American Midwest yesterday. Tornado watches were announced for Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin; by the end of the day, an estimated 77 had touched down, mostly in Illinois, according to the National Weather Service. The severe weather left thousands without power (approximately 89,000 in Northern Illinois alone) and leveled entire neighborhoods. “I went over there immediately after the tornado, walking through the neighborhoods, and I couldn’t even tell what street I was on,” said Tyler Gee, an alderman on the Chicago City Council, to radio station WBBM in Chicago. “It just completely flattened some of the neighborhoods here in town, hundreds of homes.” Read more on disasters.
NHTSA: 2012 Highway Fatalities Up for the First Time Since 2005
While highway traffic fatalities continue to hover around historic lows, the total number of deaths increased by 1,082 from 2011 to 2012, to a total of 33,561, the first increase since 2005. The findings are part of the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2012 Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data. "Highway deaths claim more than 30,000 lives each year and while we've made substantial progress over the past 50 years, it's clear that we have much more work to do," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "As we look to the future, we must focus our efforts to tackle persistent and emerging issues that threaten the safety of motorists, cyclists and pedestrians across the nation." Read more on safety.
Heart Groups’ New Risk Guidelines, Calculator Apparently Flawed
The risk guidelines and calculator released last week by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, meant to improve the assessment of potential cardiovascular disease, could possibly instead greatly overestimate the risk and as built could lead to millions of unnecessary statin prescriptions. The potential problems, first identified by two Harvard Medical School professors, will be published today in The Lancet. One possible explanation for the problem is that the system relies on old data, while populations and their behaviors have changed. Steven Nissen, MD, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and a past president of the American College of Cardiology, called the findings “stunning,” adding “We need a pause to further evaluate this approach before it is implemented on a widespread basis.” However, after emergency meetings at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting this weekend in Dallas, both organizations said despite the apparent flaws the guidelines are still a major step forward, noting that patients are also advised to speak with their doctors, and not simply follow the results of the calculator. Read more on heart health.
CDC: Emerging Tobacco Products Gaining Popularity among Middle and High School Students
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and hookahs are quickly gaining popularity among middle- and high-school students, but with no significant decline in students’ cigarette smoking or overall tobacco use. The new report was culled from data in the 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which shows that electronic cigarette use rose among middle school students from 0.6 percent in 2011 to 1.1 percent in 2012 and among high school students from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent. Hookah use among high school students rose from 4.1 percent to 5.4 percent from 2011 to 2012.
The study authors say the increase in the use of electronic cigarettes and hookahs could be due to an increase in marketing, availability and visibility of the products, as well as the perception that they may be safer alternatives to cigarettes. While electronic cigarettes, hookahs, cigars and certain other new types of tobacco products are not currently subject to regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency has said recently that it plans to issue a proposed rule that would deem products meeting the statutory definition of a "tobacco product" to be subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—as cigarettes are.
The researchers say cigar use in young adults is of particular concern. During 2011-2012, cigar use increased dramatically among non-Hispanic black high school students from 11.7 percent to 16.7 percent, and has more than doubled since 2009, and similar to the rate of cigarette use among high school males (16.3 percent). Read more on tobacco.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a new campaign that challenges parents to discuss with their teen drivers five practices that can prevent serious injuries and even deaths in the event of a crash:
- No cell phone use or texting while driving
- No extra passengers
- No speeding
- No alcohol
- No driving or riding without a seat belt
NHTSA data show motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers 14-18 years-old in the United States. In 2011, 2,105 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes. Of those teens involved in fatal crashes, 1,163 (55 percent) survived and 942 (45 percent) died in the crash.
"Safety is our highest priority, especially when it comes to teens, who are often our least experienced drivers," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The ‘5 to Drive’ campaign gives parents and teens a simple, straightforward checklist that can help them talk about good driving skills and most importantly, prevent a tragedy before it happens."
The list of precautions matches the top causes of death in teen crashes:
- In 2011, over half of the teen occupants of passenger vehicles who died in crashes were unrestrained
- Speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal crashes involving a teen driver
- Twelve percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time
- In 2011, 505 people nationwide died in crashes in which drivers ages 14-18 years had alcohol in their systems, despite the fact that all states have Zero Tolerance Laws for drinking under age 21
NHTSA research also finds that peer pressure is a contributing factor in teen crash deaths. When the teen driver in a fatal crash was not wearing a seat belt, almost four-fifths of that driver’s teen passengers were also unrestrained. And a teenage driver was 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when driving with one teenage passenger, but three times more likely when driving with multiple teenager passengers.
Additional NHTSA research found that poor decisions among teen drivers can lead to crashes and fatalities at any time of the day, but that they were most frequent between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and remained high until midnight.
>>Bonus Link: NHTSA provides a wealth of resources on safe driving for teens.
Home fires account for 85 percent of fire deaths in the United States, yet the majority of family homes lack fire sprinklers. Since the late 1970s, a grassroots movement has successfully promoted close to 400 local ordinances that mandate fire sprinklers in all new residential construction. In response, the homebuilding industry has sought out state preemption of local authority, a strategy used by other industries as well, in an effort to reduce costs and shield profits. A new study just published in the American Journal of Public Health looks at grassroots public health movements, including the one mobilized to push back against preempting residential fire sprinklers.
To learn more about how preemption can have a negative impact on public health, NewPublicHealth spoke with Marjorie Paloma, MPH, senior policy adviser and senior program officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Group, and a co-author of the new AJPH article on preemption, grassroots efforts and public health.
NewPublicHealth: How does the effort to increase installed sprinklers in the U.S. add to the conversation on the grassroots public health movement?
Marjorie Paloma: The residential fire sprinkler story illustrates the power of grassroots movements and the chilling effect preemption can have. I use power very explicitly because when you look at the residential sprinklers movement, over time, you see how much power people have when they come together and act. Families who lost someone to fire, fire officials and others came together first in local communities and then across the nation to advocate sprinklers and save lives. The new article in the American Journal of Public Health shows that over three decades, 34 states passed legislation on this — over 350 local ordinances — and I think that this example shows you the arc of a grassroots movement. This example also shows how powerful preemptive legislation is on a grassroots movement. In those two years between 2009 and 2011, 13 states passed preemptive legislation and that essentially pulled the wind out of the sails of advocates who had been working on this issue. And, it shows you how that tactic, that strategy of preemption can really deflate, thwart, and potentially kill a movement.
NPH: How does the grassroots movement intervene and explain what the impact of preemption is on movements that promote health?
For some kids, getting ready to head back to school takes more than a new backpack and a sharpened pencil. In an effort to reduce the deaths and harassment that some Chicago kids faced on their way to and from school, the city has enhanced a program called “Safe Passage,” which trains city workers to help children get to school safely. Last year there were 600 workers in the program, and this year that number has been doubled.
“The whole city is with you, shoulder to shoulder, doing our part to make sure every child in every neighborhood is safe on the way to and from school and has academic success once they get there,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a meeting with Safe Passage workers late last month.
The program currently serves 91 schools. Over the last two years crime on Safe Passage routes was down 20 percent and incidents among students were down 27 percent the schools.
Training for Safe Passage workers includes work on how to build relationships, anticipate issues before they occur and strategies for de-escalating situations. Training continues throughout the school year.
Stationing workers is actually part of a much larger strategy in Chicago for improving school safety, which has included trimming trees and removing weeds to make areas easier to see and safer; installing safe passage signs; removing graffiti; and repairing broken sidewalks and street lights. The city has also conducted community education training about the Safe Passage program. Parents along the Safe Passage routes got school specific information before the term began. See safe passage routes here.
Despite decades of outreach around car seat safety, car crashes remain the number one cause of death for children under the age of 12, according to the U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also stark and troubling: more than 1,200 U.S. children ages 14 years and younger died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010, and approximately 171,000 were injured.
What makes these statistics even more tragic is the fact that many of these deaths and injuries are preventable by following these simple edicts—put kids in the right seat and use it the right way. In fact, NHTSA has identified child seat safety restraints as the most effective way to protect young children in motor vehicle crashes.
Child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for kids ages 1 to 4, according to the CDC. For children ages 4 to 8, booster seats cut the risk of serious injury by 45 percent.
This week is Child Passenger Safety Week. It also marks the launch of the new BuckleUpForLife.org, Cincinnati Children’s and Toyota’s community-based safety program designed to educate families on critical safety behaviors and provide child car seats to families in need.
The website features the “Making Safety a Snap” online tool—a series of quick questions and videos that demonstrate exactly how parents and caregivers can make sure their child has the right safety seat and is using it properly.
You can follow a live Buckle Up for Life Twitter Q&A starting at 2 p.m. today. Use the hashtag #BuckleUpforLife to join the discussion and have your child car seats questions answered by their experts.
Antibiotic-resistant Infections on the Rise; Threat Called "Urgent"
Antibiotic-resistant infections sicken more than two million Americans each year, killing more than 23,000 in the process, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report ranked the threats according to seven factors, including health impact, economic impact, how common the infection is and how easily it is spread. It classified carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile as “urgent." C. difficile alone causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths each year. Excessive antibiotic use is the number one cause of the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections, with as many as 50 percent of prescriptions either not needed or prescribed inappropriately. “Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance. This process can happen with alarming speed,” said Steve Solomon, MD, director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. “These drugs are a precious, limited resource—the more we use antibiotics today, the less likely we are to have effective antibiotics tomorrow.” Antibiotic-resistant infections also add as much as $20 billion in excess direct health care costs and account for as much as $35 billion in lost economic productivity. Read more on prescription drugs.
Survey: Nearly 80 Percent of College Students Oppose Concealed Handguns on Campus
Nearly 80 percent of the students in 15 Midwestern colleges and universities oppose allowing concealed handguns on their campuses, according to a new study in the Journal of American College Health. Ball State University researchers surveyed 1,649 undergraduate students, finding 78 percent were against the handguns and would not apply for a permit if they were legal. “Firearm morbidity and mortality are major public health problems that significantly impact our society,” said study co-author Jagdish Khubchandani, a member of Ball State’s Global Health Institute and a community health education professor in the university's Department of Physiology and Health Science. “The issue of allowing people to carry concealed weapons at universities and colleges around the U.S. has been raised several times in recent years. This is in spite of the fact that almost four of every five students are not in favor of allowing guns on campus.”
The study also found that:
- About 16 percent of undergraduate students own a firearm and 20 percent witnessed a crime on their campus that involved firearms
- About 79 percent of students would not feel safe if faculty, students and visitors carried concealed handguns on campus
- About 66 percent did not feel that carrying a gun would make them less likely to be troubled by others
- Most students also believed that allowing concealed carry guns would increase the rate of fatal suicides and homicides on campus
Read more on violence.
‘Bath Salts’ Drugs Led to 23,000 ER Visits in 2011
The use of “bath salts” drugs accounted for almost 23,000 emergency department visits in the United States in 2011, according to a new report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report is the first national study to analyze the link between the street drugs and emergency department visits. "Although bath salts drugs are sometimes claimed to be 'legal highs' or are promoted with labels to mask their real purpose, they can be extremely dangerous when used," said Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, SAMHSA's chief medical officer. The drugs can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures, addiction, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and even death. About two-thirds of the visits also involved at least one other drug, with 15 percent of the visits also being linked to marijuana or synthetic forms of marijuana. There were approximately 2.5 million U.S. emergency department visits linked to drug misuse or abuse in 2011. Read more on substance abuse.
NHTSA: Free VIN Searches Will Let Drivers Check for Safety Recalls
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will next year require that automakers and motorcycle manufactures provide free online search services for Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) so that consumers can search for information on uncompleted recalls. Consumers will also be able to use a central government site (SaferCar.gov) to determine whether a recall has been issued on a vehicle and whether the remedy has been performed. "Every day NHTSA is working for the American consumer to ensure that automakers and motorcycle manufacturers address safety defects and non-compliances, and that they also recall affected vehicles in a timely manner," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "By making individual VIN searches readily available, we're providing another service to car, light truck and motorcycle owners and potential owners—the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying, is safe." Read more on transportation.
Quick Change to Mellow Music Reduces the Risk of Road Rage
Smooth jazz could save your life—or at least keep you from doing something impulsive behind the wheel. According to a new report in the journal Ergonomics, switching to mellow music in a car can help drivers stay calm during stressful situations that could lead to road rage. Studies have already linked “upbeat” music to more aggressive driver behavior and “downbeat” music with more relaxed, safer behavior. However, the question before the researchers was whether a quick change or a gradual change to calmer music was more effective; they determined that drivers in both conditions would reach the same calm state, but drivers who changed the music abruptly would become calmer—and driver safer—sooner. The results show that "during high-demand driving, abrupt changes in music led to more physiological calmness and improved driving performance and were thus safer and more effective," concluded researcher Marjolein van der Zwaag, of Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, and colleagues in the Netherlands and at Stanford University in California. Read more on safety.
HUD: $12.8M in ‘Sweat Equity’ Grants to Create Affordable Homes
Through its Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded approximately $12.8 million in “sweat equity” grants to create at least 718 affordable homes. The four non-profit, self-help housing organizations that received the funds will work to reduce the cost of the homes for working families. “Sweat equity” is the increased value of a property due to restoration and upkeep efforts by the owners. “Today, we make another investment in the American Dream for hundreds of working families,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Using their own labor, along with sweat equity from armies of volunteers, these families will construct their own homes and become stakeholders in their own neighborhoods.” To qualify, a minimum of 50 sweat equity hours is required from a household of one person and a minimum of 100 sweat equity hours is required from a household of at least two people. The work can include landscaping, foundation work, painting, carpentry, trim work, drywall, roofing and siding for the housing. Read more on housing.
Kids and their parents aren’t the only ones who need to do some back-to-school prep as the fall term starts. A new survey of U.S. school bus drivers released by the National Association of Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NADPTS) last week found that more than 80,000 vehicles illegally passed a stopped school bus on a single day this past year. That translates to nearly 15 million violations during the 180-day school year, according to the association.
Laws and regulations can vary somewhat by state, but generally drivers must come to a full stop when they are behind or across the street from a school bus when it has its stop sign out and its lights are flashing. The NADPTS maintains a list of state laws regarding what cars must do when they see a stopped school bus.
No one organization keeps tabs on all children injured and killed by drivers who didn’t stop for a school bus, but three children were killed in such accidents in North Carolina alone last year, bringing that state’s total of children killed in such accidents to a dozen since 1998.
“There are nearly a half million school buses on the road each day in the United States,” said Max Christensen, NADPTS president, and, “any driver who passes a stopped school bus illegally is gambling with a child’s life.” According to the association, some states are adopting more stringent safety measures, such as improved motorist education, increased fines, and more law enforcement, including the use of photo evidence in court cases from cameras mounted on the sides of school buses.
>>Recommended Reading: To help reduce the number of injuries and fatalities related to school bus accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a school bus safety website stocked with information.