Introduction to Safety

Safety. Each year in the United States some 80,000 people die, and about 17,000,000 suffer disabling injuries, in various kinds of accidents. Accidents are the principal cause of death among persons aged 1 to 38 and a leading cause of death among those over 38. Accidents also cause great economic losses—in wages lost, in money spent for medical bills, in insurance costs, and in property damaged or destroyed.

Yet most accidents need not have occurred; most result from unsafe conditions or unsafe acts that could have been avoided. While accidents can never be entirely eliminated, they can be reduced in number and severity through continuing safety education, accident-prevention programs, and constant alertness to potential hazards.

Personal Safety

In the Home

More people are injured in and around the home than in any other place. About one-fourth of all fatal accidents and about one-third of all disabling injuries occur on home premises. In addition, millions of persons suffer minor, but painful and inconvenient, injuries through accidents in the home. It is important, therefore, to recognize and remove household hazards.

Special precautions should be taken in homes with young children and old people. Parents should teach children the value of safety measures and should supervise their activities. Young children should never be left alone in the home. If possible, backyard play areas should be fenced in. Youngsters also should be warned of neighborhood hazards, such as building excavations, ditches, discarded refrigerators or trunks, and water holes. Because older persons are not as agile as the young, and their vision not as good, handrails on stairways and adequate lighting for stairways, basements, porches, and the like are safety musts.

Following are some specific home safety hazards and ways to overcome them.


Two-fifths of the accidental fatalities in the home are the result of falls. To eliminate hazards that cause slipping, tripping, and stumbling:

—Arrange furniture to allow unobstructed movement through rooms.

—Keep floors, doorways, and stairs in good repair. Keep them clear of objects such as brooms, mops, and toys.

—Fasten down small rugs on waxed floors or provide them with rubber backing.

—Provide bathtubs and shower stalls with grab rails and rubber mats or stripping.

—Carry objects in such a way that vision is not obstructed.

—When reaching for objects or when cleaning or making repairs in high places, use a sturdy ladder or step stool. A folding or upholstered chair is not designed to be used as a stepladder.

—Learn the safe way to fall; you will lessen chances for injury. Relax, bend at the knees and waist, and roll sideward when hitting the floor.

Fires, Burns, and Scalds

Many people are killed or seriously burned each year in home fires caused by defective electrical equipment and wiring, by carelessly handled matches and cigarettes, or by improperly stored combustible materials. Many others receive minor but painful burns or scalds in cooking mishaps. To prevent such accidents:

—Keep all electrical wiring and appliances in good working condition. Purchase only appliances and cords that meet safety requirements specified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or a similar organization.

—Do not place electrical cords where they will be subjected to constant wear, as in a doorway or under a rug. Replace frayed or worn cords immediately.

—Use extension cords only as a temporary measure. They can overload electrical circuits.

—Keep the home free of trash and litter that could catch fire.

—Put out matches and cigarettes carefully. Never smoke in bed or around flammable material.

—Keep all flammable objects away from an open flame or burner. Make sure that burners on the stove have been turned off when not in use.

—Turn pot handles away from front and sides of stove so that they cannot be bumped or brushed against.

—Do not allow cooking oils to overheat and to spurt.

—Lift pot cover with care so that escaping steam does not hit your hands or face.

Electric Shocks

Electricity can cause severe shocks and even electrocution. To prevent electrical accidents:

—Never handle a bare wire carrying electric current

—Never touch electrical appliances or light switches when hands are damp or when any part of the body is in contact with water.

—Never break off the grounding prong of a three-prong plug; use an adapter if the outlet has only two slots. Make sure the adapter's grounding connection is securely fastened to the outlet's cover-plate screw.

—Pull plug from outlet before repairing electrical equipment.

—Do not put fingers into electrical sockets. Tape over or insert safety devices into unused outlets that might be within a child's reach.

Poisons and Gases

The wide variety of chemical products, medicines, and drugs being used in the home has led to an increase in the number of accidental poisonings. To prevent such deadly mistakes:

—Leave labels on all medicines, drugs, poisons, and other potentially harmful substances, such as insecticides and cleaners. Keep them out of the reach of children.

—Read all labels carefully before using such substances, and follow directions exactly.

Faulty gas furnaces, gas stoves, and chimneys can emit dangerous fumes. Automobile exhausts emit deadly carbon monoxide gas. Some of these gases may be detected by odor, while others (such as carbon monoxide) may not. To avoid accidental gas poisonings or explosions:

—Make sure that gas cocks on stove are completely closed when not in use.

—Have heating system inspected periodically.

—Use a flashlight, never a match, when investigating a possible gas leak.

—Never start car when garage door is closed or only partly open.


More than half of the fatal shooting accidents occur in the home. To reduce the danger:

—Keep all firearms unloaded and out of the reach of children and untrained adults

—Never point a gun, even one that is unloaded, at yourself or other persons.

On the Farm

One-third of all accidental injuries to farm residents are home accidents (already considered in the preceding section on safety in the home); one-third are work accidents. Many of these work accidents result from improper handling of machines, motor vehicles, animals, or tools. Advice on accident prevention is given by such organizations as the Future Farmers of America and the 4-H Clubs and by county agricultural agents.

Following are some specific rules:

—Permit only trained persons to operate farm machinery.

—Use special caution when operating tractors and other farm machines on public roads. Such equipment should bear some identification at the rear as a slow-moving vehicle.

—Follow directions carefully when using pesticides, fertilizers, and other agricultural chemicals.

In Sports and Recreation

Most sports and other forms of outdoor recreation have some element of hazard. Inexperience, overconfidence, and fatigue are the major causes of sports accidents. General safety practices for all sports include keeping physically fit, learning the fundamental skills of the particular sport, selecting a safe play area, using the proper equipment, and avoiding overexertion. Some activities, however, present special problems. These activities include:

Swimming and Boating. Anyone who goes in, on, or near the water should learn to swim. Two important rules to follow are never to swim alone and always to be aware of your limitations as a swimmer.

Hiking and Camping. Proper planning and adequate protection can remove most hazards encountered on hikes and camping trips. Be sure to:

—Wear shoes and clothing that fit properly and that provide protection against the weather and the environment.

—Watch for holes in the ground, poison ivy and similar plants, and unfriendly animals.

—Remain with the group or have certain areas designated as rendezvous points.

—Select a safe, sheltered campsite on level ground. Avoid areas with fire hazards, such as dead leaves, or areas near streams that might flood in heavy rains.


On Streets and Highways

In 9 out of 10 motor-vehicle accidents, driver error is a contributing factor. The most common errors are driving too fast, failing to yield the right of way, following too closely, and passing improperly. Drivers who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs or who are overtired are especially likely to commit errors. Inattentiveness, aggressiveness, and lack of courtesy are also often to blame. Accidents are also caused by mechanical defects, such as faulty tires, brakes, or lights. In some instances, darkness, rain, snow, ice, or poorly designed or maintained highways and roads are at fault.

Safe Driving Rules

—Obey the rules of the road. Each driver has both a legal and a moral obligation to learn and to observe all traffic regulations.

—Control yourself. Keep your emotions in check and your mind on the road. Never drive after drinking alcoholic beverages or if you are fighting off sleep.

—Control your speed. Observe all posted speed limits, but drive slower than the legal limit if weather, visibility, or road conditions are poor.

—Drive defensively. Expect the worst. As you drive, be alert for possible accident situations and be prepared to cope with them.

—Drive courteously. Consider the other driver. Give proper signals and warnings. Always be prepared to yield the right of way, even when it is properly yours, to avoid an accident.

—Drive skillfully. Remain constantly alert. Continually scan the road, always keeping the whole traffic scene in view.

—Drive a safe car. Keep your automobile in good working condition. Use safety equipment, such as seat belts and shoulder straps.

About one in every six persons killed in motor-vehicle accidents was a pedestrian. Many were violating traffic laws or were failing to use common sense.

Safety Rules for Pedestrians

—Obey all traffic signals.

—Exercise extreme caution when crossing the street. Look in both directions for oncoming cars. Walk across quickly, but do not run.

—Never play in the street or run suddenly into the street.

—Get in or out of autos on the curb side, if possible.

Each year thousands of bicycle riders are killed or seriously injured in collisions with motor vehicles. Many others suffer minor injuries in various kinds of bicycle accidents.

Safe Bicycling Rules

—Be sure the bicycle is equipped with a bell or horn, a headlight, and rear, wheel, and pedal reflectors.

—Wear a safety helmet.

—Ride on the right side of the street with the flow of traffic, not on the left side facing traffic.

—Observe the road directly in front, watching for potholes, cracks, bumps, sewer grating, and the like. Also be alert when passing parked cars for doors that might open.

—Obey all traffic signs and signals.

—Signal intention to turn, slow down, or stop, well in advance, using left hand. Standard hand signals are as follows: left turn—hand and arm extended horizontally; right turn—hand and arm extended upward with elbow bent; stop or decrease speed, hand and arm extended downward.

—Ride single file when traveling in a group.

—Never hold on to a moving vehicle nor in any way attach the bicycle to the vehicle.

—Stunting or trick riding is always dangerous and should never be done on the street or where there is a danger of a collision with a pedestrian.

Public Safety

Public safety generally refers to all efforts by the federal government and by state and local governments to protect persons and property. These efforts include legislation, such as traffic ordinances and building codes; services, such as police and fire protection; and regulatory activities, such as control of air pollution and supervision of public utilities. The schools and public transportation systems also play important safety roles.

Government Activities

The United States government engages in many safety activities. General transportation safety is the responsibility of the National Transportation Safety Board. Within the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard supervises safety measures at sea; the Federal Aviation Administration enforces air safety regulations; the Federal Railroad Administration regulates railroad safety; the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for highway safety programs and overseeing state bridge inspections; and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administers federal programs designed to increase motor vehicle safety.

The U.S. Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, plays an important role in preventing forest fires. Industrial safety is the responsibility of two agencies of the Department of Labor—the Mine Safety and Health Administration, which oversees safety and health in the nation's mines, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which promotes industrial safety and health standards. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Department of Commerce advances safety by testing various materials and devices used in industry, commerce, and science.

In many states, uniform safety codes recommended by agencies of the federal government or by national organizations have been adopted. Each state also has safety laws administered by its own agencies, such as departments of labor, of motor vehicles, and of health; and highway, industrial, and commerce commissions.

The safety activities of local governments include fire and police protection, sanitation, traffic control, building inspection, and street and sidewalk maintenance.

School Safety Efforts

Schools provide both safety instruction and protection. To teach boys and girls how to cope with hazards to life and property, most schools have safety-education programs that stress the “why” and “how” of safety. Driver instruction courses are given in many high schools.

School authorities also have the responsibility of providing a safe school environment. This includes proper maintenance of buildings and equipment, supervision of student playground activities, and establishment of school safety regulations and practices. In addition, most schools have student safety patrols or adult crossing guards at dangerous street corners.

The Role of Transportation Systems

Passenger safety is a constant concern of public transportation systems. Despite greater speed and increased traffic, accidental deaths, injuries, and property damage have been substantially reduced on passenger airlines, ships, and railways. To reduce further the possibility of accidents, the transportation industry (often with government aid) promotes development of safer equipment and research on traffic control and operational improvements. The safety education of passengers is also stressed.

Industrial Safety

Through joint employer-employee efforts, occupational deaths and injuries have declined over the years. However, work accidents in the United States still kill dozens and disable thousands of workers each day. The frequency and severity of such accidents vary with the type of industry—mining, quarrying, construction, and lumbering being among the more hazardous.

Most injuries result from mishandling of materials; falls; moving, falling, or flying objects; and operation of machinery. Some disabilities also result from occupational diseases—from health hazards associated with exposure to toxic chemical and biological agents and to certain physical conditions, such as constant noise or vibration.

Safety engineering plays a large part in industrial safety programs. It is concerned with the design and maintenance of safe equipment and work-places and the development of safe work procedures. Both in the design of machinery and in plant layout safety engineers stress elimination of clutter and protruding objects, shielding of moving parts, and identification of dangerous areas and objects by bright paint or flashing lights. The worker's convenience (ease of operation, accessibility of tools and materials, etc.) is also an important consideration. Proper training and supervision of employees as well as safety education campaigns have also helped to improve industrial safety.

National Organizations

The Notional Safety Council

collects and distributes information on every aspect of accident prevention. It publishes Family Safety and Health and other magazines; issues pamphlets, bulletins, and posters; and aids in developing community safety programs. It is located in Itasca, Illinois.

The American Red Cross

conducts instruction programs in first aid and in water safety. It also issues safety information Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C.

The National Fire Protection Association

conducts fire-safety education programs for the general public Headquarters arc in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Underwriters Laboratories

safety-tests various materials and equipment and sets safety standards.

The American Alliance For Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance

is the professional organization for those in the field of safety education. Headquarters are in Reston, Virginia.

History of the Safety Movement

From earliest times, individuals have faced perils to their safety. As civilization developed and living became more complex, these perils increased in number and seriousness. At first, accidents were thought to be unavoidable. Gradually, people sought ways to prevent accidents, but safety was still considered an individual responsibility.

Organized accident-prevention efforts were a result of the Industrial Revolution. The widespread mechanization of industry brought soaring increases in the number of accidental injuries and deaths among workers. Laws designed to make the operation of machinery less hazardous were then adopted. The Employers' Liability Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1880, spurred the safety movement by forcing employers to compensate employees for injuries not their own fault. In Germany in 1884, a law requiring compensation to workers for all injuries received on the job was adopted. Similar federal and state laws were enacted in the United States early in the 20th century.

At about the same time, the transportation industry in the United States, particularly the railroads, started educational campaigns to reduce accidents among patrons as well as employees. The American Museum of Safety, opened in New York in 1911, was the first of several institutions to exhibit safety devices and display graphic evidence of the need for improved safety techniques. The safety problems that stemmed from the increasing number of automobiles also helped to heighten interest in accident prevention.

In 1912, persons interested in safety met in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, under the sponsorship of the Association of Iron and Steel Electrical Engineers. Safety measures were discussed and plans were laid for the systematic spread of safety information. As a result of the conference, the National Council for Industrial Safety was organized in 1913. Its program was soon expanded to cover general public safety, and its name was changed to National Safety Council.

In various industries, employees started forming safety committees to find the causes of accidents and to recommend means of prevention. Later, labor and management worked together to remove mechanical hazards, to promote safety research and engineering, and to improve worker training. Legislation regulating industries and setting safety standards was enacted by both the federal government and state governments. Especially notable was the act, passed by Congress in 1970, that established the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Consumer product safety was promoted by a consumer-protection movement that began in the 1960's. It led to passage of auto-safety and product-safety laws and the establishment of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (1970) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (1972).

The movement to develop and to maintain interest and activity in safety has come to involve the cooperative efforts of business, industry, government, education, and various associations, safety councils, and interested citizens.