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SocietyApril 30, 2020

How are we accidentally hurting ourselves under lockdown?

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Emergency departments nationwide are reporting a decrease in patients, but an increase in injuries from aspiring handyfolk.

“Please,” said Southern DHB on April 2nd, “can we remind everyone to take care when undertaking DIY tasks and using power tools.” Less than a week into lockdown, its hospitals had seen an increase in orthopaedic presentations related to home DIY.

Injuries ran the gamut from nail bed damage to broken bones and tendon lacerations. In only one week, Southland Hospital noted that at least 15 patients in its emergency department had injuries that needed surgery, and were related to DIY.

Despite an increase in people suffering from their own handiwork the DHB reported that, overall, its emergency departments were seeing a significant reduction in patients. Wellington Regional Hospital has seen the same thing; on April 16th its emergency department reported a roughly 42% decrease in patients.

Research published in the New Zealand Medical Journal showed the same numbers. The study surveyed a Waikato trauma centre for the two weeks prior to level two, and then the first two weeks of level four. The difference was stark: a 43% reduction in all injuries. The number of major injuries halved, and the majority of those were caused by falls.

Falls, according to ACC’s detailed data collection, are a blight on our locked-down nation. Over a three-week period from March 28th to April 18th, falls were more than four times as numerous as the next greatest source of injury claims (lifting things).

Image and data supplied by ACC.

“Our home is typically the place we feel safest but it’s actually the most dangerous place in New Zealand,” said ACC’s head of injury prevention, Isaac Carlson. “Our claims data shows more than 1.3 million injuries occurred in and around the home last year.”

Accidents in the home fell by 52% in the first week of lockdown, 49% in the second week, and 27% in the third. Carslon believes the slow increase in home accidents is due to more home activity in general. “A smaller drop-off is to be expected, given that most people are now staying at home,” he said.

Sprains, strains, and lacerations are still topping the injury charts, but over that three-week period there was a 74% decrease in these claims. Burns are holding out with only a 34% reduction in claims. Now that takeaways are back on the menu, it will be interesting to see how this count changes.

When it comes to DIY, the Southern DHB is right to be worried; ACC’s data shows that we are a nation of butter-fingered gumbies. While fence, hole, wall, and hammer related injuries are all down compared to this time last year, there’s actually been an increase in injuries from unpowered hand tools and handheld circular saws. More recently, plants have proved dangerous, although the data doesn’t tell us how.

Image and data supplied by ACC.

While sport-related injury claims have plummeted, cycling is a major holdout; it made up just over a third of sports-related injuries over that same three-week period. This time last year, rugby union was the biggest culprit.

ACC’s data is based on claims accepted or pending such, so some of these injuries could have taken place outside of lockdown and only been registered during this period. However, seeing how closely the reduction in injuries correlates with the lockdown period it seems likely most of these are relevant injuries.

“While these are unprecedented times, what hasn’t changed is that most injuries are preventable,” said Carlson. Slow down, use safety equipment, and wear a helmet. We still have two weeks to go.

Keep going!