June 9, 2009 -- How dangerous could that laptop, desktop, or Mac sitting in front of you be?
The first report to count computer-related emergency room injuries shows that each year more and more Americans are tripping over cords, dropping monitors, banging heads and snagging limbs.
Emergency room visits from computer injuries increased sevenfold between 1994 and 2006, according to a report published June 9 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Worse, the number of injuries outpaced the number of new computers in the home. While injuries jumped 732 percent, household computer ownership increased by just 309 percent.
"The numbers look overwhelming but think about how in 2006 we had 115 million emergency room visits in the U.S., then visits from computers was 0.008 percent," said Dr. Charlene Irvin, of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Since this study was limited to only 100 hospitals, counting computers injuries from all hospitals would likely bump up that percentage. But Irvin doubts computer woes would ever make the top 10 list.
"That doesn't mean to trivialize these injuries, because if you have a child and that monitor falls on your child that one visit is important," said Irvin.
While more common causes of emergency room visits such as gunshots and motor vehicle accidental injuries of course got more media attention, she was pleased to see information from external cause of injury codes (e-codes) used to document why people came into the emergency room. Irvin said only 17 states voluntarily submit e-codes.
"Someone might write down that a person came in with a broken arm, but then there's the question of whether it was intentional, and what was the mechanism?" said Irving. "If more people coded on e-codes, we would have a better idea about why these falls, and motor vehicle accidents happen."
Indeed, the report highlighted details that are hard to come by in many emergency room statistics. For instance, computer equipment falling on a person caused more E.R. visits [21.1 percent] than did tripping or falling on the computer, [18.2 percent of visits]. Also, males were more 7 percent more likely to injure themselves on the computer than females.
The data also showed head injuries increased until 2003, and then went on a decline. The authors guessed that the move to thinner LCD screens from the heavy, boxy cathode ray tube monitors had a safety benefit.
"We read the narrative with each case," said lead author Dr. Lara B. McKenzie, assistant professor at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio. "The thing people were doing mostly was moving a computer or related component at the time of injury."
Computers Injuries Becoming More Common
Although McKenzie and her team pored over the 78,703 reports from 100 hospitals across the United States as part as a weighted survey from the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission she said her team couldn't find a single explanation for why the injury rate more than doubled the rate of new computers. Nor did the narratives pinpoint a particularly dangerous make or model of computer.
"If a person comes into the ER and says 'I dropped a computer monitor on my foot,' they're not saying 'I dropped my LCD monitor on my foot' or 'I dropped my cathode ray tube computer monitor on my foot,'" McKenzie explained.
"And even if someone actually did say that, it didn't get down into the notes of the ER staff member," she said.
Perhaps the most concerning revelation from the report was the ever-increasing number of children injured by computers. McKenzie said each year children made up a greater proportion of the already growing numbers of people heading to the emergency room with computer accidents.
"Young children under 5 had the highest overall injury rate, and they had the greatest injury rate increase over any group," said McKenzie. "There are a lot of young children, really young children, using computers these days."
Doctors' safety advice for computers matter follows basic home safety rules: keep heavy objects like computers away from edges and on secured, stable furniture, keep cords secured and out of reach, and keep an eye on the child.
"Computers are not play toys. They are made up of heavy (crushing!), often moveable (catching!) parts, all of which are strung together with wires and cords (strangulation risk!) and then plugged into an electrical source (electrocution risk!)," Dr. Lara Zibners, author of "If Your Kid Eats This Book, Everything Will Still Be Okay," wrote in an e-mail to abcnews.com.
"Children can always find a way to injure themselves and it's obvious that these pieces of equipment are not safe for young children to be around unsupervised," Zibners wrote.