The Real Risks Are All Around Us

Some things can be both familiar and fatal.

Ken Kolosh is the manager of the Statistics Department of the National Safety Council.

‚ÄčEach year, I put together Injury Facts, the most complete volume of injury and fatality data in the United States, and that includes our annual update to the "Odds of Dying" section. Doing that this year reminded me of the fundamental intent of this section: We don't publish those pages to amuse readers with the rarity of a few deaths, but to alert them to the commonality of most other deaths.

It's important to help people stay alert to the real threats. This is something that NSC has been doing, in one form or another, for years. Injury Facts and Odds of Dying have been around for 90 years, while the NSC Safety Checkup was unveiled just this year. In both instances, the Council works to share with people the actual risks they face and how they can reduce those risks.

For instance, the lifetime odds of dying in a car crash are one in 113, of dying from a fall one in 133, and of dying from accidental poisoning one in 103. By contrast, your chances of dying from an airplane crash, a bee sting or a lightning strike are, respectively, one in 9,737, one in 64,706, and one in 174,426. So why are so many people scared to fly, while so many other people are willing to drive and text at the same time?

The reality is, people get comfortable over time with some risks. Driving is something many of us do every day, and we've grown at ease with it, despite the fact that 38,000 people a year die on our roadways. Bee hives or electrical storms, meanwhile, are far less common and therefore provoke greater stress, despite the fact that bee stings and lightning combined kill fewer people in a year than the nation's roads kill in a day. By sharing this contrast in Injury Facts, we want people to focus on the things more likely to happen to themselves and their loved ones and do what they can to prevent those incidents.

We do come across new information, of course. This year's Injury Facts report shows us that contracted employees represent 17% of all workplace fatalities, but at construction sites, contractors comprise 52% of fatalities. We attribute that to the large number of contractors in the construction industry as well as the likelihood of them being less familiar with their job site, not being fully trained on safety procedures and being uncertain as to who was the primarily safety officer for their position. We are hopeful that sharing news of this new trend will result in changes at construction sites around the country.

But this trend and its impact is minimal when compared to the year-in, year-out effects of distracted driving, opioid abuse and falls; that's why we work so hard at NSC to help people discern between the "scary but rare" and the "daily and deadly." Doing something every day doesn't mean it's not dangerous, and if you keep that in mind, you and your loved ones will be a little bit safer.

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