Look Out! Computer Injuries Spike

Computer geeks and their children are in danger. New research reveals that injuries caused by tripping over computer equipment or taking a hit in the head from a falling monitor are on the rise.

In fact, the number of acute computer-related injuries — the sort that involve accidents, not repetitive stress injuries or eye strain — increased eight-fold from 1994 through 2006, with a total of more than 78,000 individuals suffering such injuries during that time period. The data came from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database.

The researchers say the findings are significant (and should be followed up) in a world where computers are becoming essential fixtures in homes. From 1989 to 2003, the percentage of U.S. households having at least one computer rose from 15 percent to 62 percent, or an increase from 13.5 million to 70 million households with a computer.

"Future research on acute computer-related injuries is needed as this ubiquitous product becomes more intertwined in our everyday lives," said study researcher Lara McKenzie of Nationwide Children's Hospital Center for Injury Research and Policy in Ohio.

Computers are not the only dangers in the home. A recently published study revealed falling household furniture, such as televisions and desks, cause a surprisingly high number of injuries to children.

Who gets hurt

Work-from-home types should beware: About 93 percent of the injuries occurred at home. And the monitor turned out to be the riskiest element, rising from being the culprit in nearly 12 percent of computer-related injuries in 1994 to a peak of 37 percent in 2003. (By 2006, it had decreased to 25 percent.)

Children under 5 had the highest rate of injury, most commonly due to a trip or fall. Of all ages, the most common cause of injury was hitting or getting caught on a part of the computer, which was linked with 37 percent of injuries.

More than 21 percent of injuries were caused by computer equipment falling on a person, followed by 18 percent linked with a person tripping or falling on computer equipment and 17 percent involving muscle or joint strains.

Nearly 39 percent of the injuries were lacerations, mostly cuts on extremities and the head. That was followed by contusions and abrasions. While guys were more likely to suffer lacerations, women were most prone to contusions.

How they occur

In about half the computer injuries reported, patients noted what they were doing when hurt. Turns out nearly 60 percent involved a person moving the computer or a related component. Children aged 9 and younger were more likely than their elders to get hurt while playing near or climbing on computer equipment.

The results along with other computer-related information could be used to develop safety practices in the home, particularly for children. For instance, the researchers say, that while software and some computer stations are designed with children in mind, that's not the case for most computers and computer furniture in the home.

"Computer casings often have sharp corners or rough edges, wires and cords can be electrical and tripping hazards, and computer desks and chairs are too big for small children, providing ample opportunity for falls," the scientists write in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The Samuel J. Roessler Memorial Medical Scholarship Fund supported the work of one of the authors involved in the current study.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.