There are an estimated 37,000 consumer product-related deaths every year.[i] Almost 65% of these deaths are suffered by seniors (adults 65 and older)[ii] despite this group making up only 13% of the U.S. population.[iii] There have also been an estimated 5 million injuries to seniors each year since 2008.[iv] Unfortunately, the number, rate, and costs of serious injuries to seniors associated with consumer products rise every year and the size of the population of older adults in the United States is rising quickly as well. By 2030, older adults will comprise 20% of the U.S. population. By 2050, the senior population is expected to more than double, from 40 million in 2010 to over 88 million.[v]
The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with consumer products. In order to prioritize our work, we have always focused on what are considered particularly vulnerable populations. Children, particularly small children, are considered the most vulnerable group because they are involuntary risk takers. Yet, despite having always been acknowledged in our regulations, seniors are a group that has been overlooked for too long. Seniors are unquestionably another vulnerable group and this vulnerability and susceptibility to injury only increases as we age.[vi] And, in addition to the physical toll injuries take on this population, the societal costs are significant. CPSC estimates that the total societal costs of consumer product injuries involving older adults, including pain and suffering costs, exceed $100 billion annually.[vii]
This is why I am so pleased today to introduce the “Senior Safety Initiative”:
- Expansion of CPSC’s integrated teams to include a Mechanical & Seniors Hazards Team;
- The newly created Mechanical & Seniors Hazards Team will allow our subject matter experts to be on the lookout for hazards associated with products designed or intended specifically for seniors as well as general use products that may pose greater risks to this population than they might to other adults. Our mechanical engineering experts are an integral part of this team because the vast majority of consumer product related injuries suffered by seniors are associated with mechanical risks. The team is also comprised of compliance officers, epidemiologists, attorneys, and other subject matter experts as needed.
- Publication of a wide ranging Hazard Screening Report focused on seniors;
- It is widely known that falls are leading cause of injury fatalities for seniors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls of all kinds result in more than 21,000 fatalities for seniors every year.[viii] But, in late 2013, for the first time in almost a decade, CPSC published a report examining injuries and deaths specifically associated with consumer products and seniors. The “Hazard Screening Report: Consumer Product-Related Injuries to Persons 65 Years of Age and Older,” presents a broad review of dozens of product categories and compares older adult injury rates to those of other adults (25-64). In total, the report finds that older adults suffer consumer product-related injuries at a rate 1.5 times that of other adults and are hospitalized almost 5 times as often when experiencing a consumer product-related injury. Falls, particularly those associated with stairs, ramps, landings, or floors, accounted for almost 800,000 of the estimated 2 million emergency department-treated injuries to older adults associated with consumer products discussed in the report. The report also found 38 product groups with statistically significant increases in emergency-department treated injuries for older adults between 2002 and 2011. Of these, there were 24 product groups where the estimated rate of injuries was higher for older adults than their younger peers, including a variety of household items from electric fixtures and lamps to refrigerators and freezers. This data should assist our subject matters experts and other stakeholders to identify areas to focus on in the future.
- Joining the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics;
- The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics (AgingStats.gov) brings together Federal agencies that share a common interest in improving aging-related data.[ix] The Forum has played a key role by critically evaluating existing data resources and limitations, stimulating new database development, encouraging cooperation and data sharing among Federal agencies, and preparing collaborative statistical reports. In addition to the three original agencies (National Institute on Aging, National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau), the members of the Forum now include agencies from across the Federal government. In 2014, CPSC will join this distinguished group of Federal agencies and begin to contribute to this important data source for the study of seniors. The Forum periodically publishes a report titled, “Key Indicators of Well-Being,” which tracks trends at regular intervals to see how older people are faring as the U.S. population grows older.
- Continue to work with voluntary standard organization and the FDA on rule-making activity and educational materials relating to adult portable bed rails;
- CPSC staff received reports of 174 deaths associated with adult portable bed rails between January 2003 and December 2012. More than 80% of the decedents were 60 years of age or older. There was also an average of about 110,000 medically attended injuries involving this product during this time period. According to the agency’s Injury Cost Model, the societal costs of these injuries amounted to about $250 million annually.[x] In December 2013, CPSC, in partnership with the Food and Drug Administration, launched an adult bed rail safety website containing educational information about adult portable bed rails for consumers, manufacturers, and health care providers.[xi] Recently, the Commission considered a petition to begin mandatory rulemaking or ban adult portable bed rails due to the risk of entrapment, particularly for seniors. The Commission deferred taking action and instead directed CPSC staff to continue to work with manufacturers, the FDA, and the voluntary standards community to create a first-of-its-kind standard for this product. An update to the Commission on the progress of the voluntary standard is due in six months and again at twelve months. The Commission directed staff, in its twelve month update, to assess the progress of the voluntary standard development and to make a recommendation on whether the Commission should grant the petition and initiate mandatory rulemaking.
- Participate in Older Americans Month 2014: Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow.
- Each May, the nation celebrates Older Americans Month to recognize older Americans for their contributions and provide them with information to help them stay healthy and active.[xii] This year, the month is focused on injury prevention with the theme Safe Today. Healthy Tomorrow. CPSC has partnered with Older American’s Month lead agency, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), within the Department of Health and Human Services, to promote the many resources available to seniors on how to avoid injuries and live longer, healthier lives. Accordingly, CPSC will be a featured participant in a Twitter chat with ACL and the American Occupational Therapy Association on May 28th. We will look for other opportunities to partner with our sister agencies and non-governmental organizations in May and beyond, to educate seniors and their families about injury prevention.
Our work in this area makes clear that from a product safety perspective more attention must be paid to this population. We must continue to gather, analyze, and publish data that will help both CPSC and outside parties identify the products affecting seniors that are most in need of our attention. Just as an active 69 year old and a frail 89 year old face different challenges and risks, our agency must find different ways to work with the wide array of relevant stakeholders to find inventive ways to address consumer product-related injuries to the ever growing population of seniors. As this Senior Safety Initiative makes clear, we will avail ourselves of all possible tools, including our regulatory and compliance authority, as well as education campaigns aimed at consumers, manufacturers, and caretakers. While the CPSC will never take its focus away from protecting the public from unreasonable risks associated with consumer products at our ports and retail stores and in our homes and schools, part of that focus will now always include seniors.
[i] U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission internal report: Consumer Product-Related Injuries and Deaths in the United States: Estimated Injuries Occurring in 2012 and Estimated Deaths Occurring in 2010, August 2013.
[iii] U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2012.
[iv] U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission internal report: Consumer Product-Related Injuries and Deaths in the United States: Estimated Injuries Occurring in 2012 and Estimated Deaths Occurring in 2010, August 2013
[v] U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement, 2012.
[vi] For example, the percentage of emergency room visits caused by falls for those aged 85 and over is almost twice that of those aged 65-74. NCHS Data Brief No. 130, October 2013: Emergency Department visits by Persons Aged 65 and Over: United States 2009-10.
[vii] U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission 2012 Annual Report to the President and Congress, Estimates of the Cost of Emergency Department-Treated Consumer Product Injuries, Table 4, page 6, June 2013.