When my son was in high school and had just gotten his driver’s license, I’d always throw in a “be careful!” as he went out the door. To my mind, it was a loving, caring thing to say. As a parent of a young person, it’s hard NOT to say it, as the world is full of dangers and the nights full of darkness and terror. (Sorry. Clearly I’ve spent too many hours watching Game of Thrones.) After a few rounds of eye-rolling, he finally pointed out that “be careful” was actually insulting, as if I assumed he was going to do something stupid or careless if I didn’t remind him not to. That was a fair point (and, by the way, absolutely true). He suggested that I use “be safe” instead. Less judge-y, I guess. So “be safe” became my go-to send-off and sign-off to avert potential harm. It’s worked so far, I’m happy to report.
But come to think of it, what does it mean to “be safe”? June is National Safety Month, so it’s a great time to talk about it. When I was a kid, I first learned about “safety” in terms of things. For example, that little bendy paper loop on a sucker was safer than the deadly non-bendy stick. Safety belts protected you in the car (in theory – I grew up in the survival-of-the-fittest 60’s and 70’s when it was still very common for kids to bounce around in back unrestrained).
Later I realized that “safety” is kind of relative. Safety matches could only be struck on some special paper on the side of the box — but could still start a fire. The “safety” in football might be behind the line of scrimmage — but is still going to need to tackle somebody. (Not so safe, at least not compared to being up in the stands with a beer well away from those bruisers in the helmets.) The safety on a gun makes the gun safer to handle, but it’s still, you know, a gun.
Despite the liberties taken with the meaning of safety even for things that, much of the time, are not, safety at its most elemental is the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.
Now we’re getting somewhere, and more to the point of National Safety Month. For instance, did you know that preventable injuries are the 4th leading cause of death in the US? That’s behind heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease. Let’s break it down by age group:
- For infants under 12 months, mechanical suffocation from pillows, stuffed animals, or improper sleeping position causes more than 2 preventable deaths each day;
- For ages 1 to 24, car crashes result in 21 preventable deaths per day (and are the #1 cause of teen death);
- For ages 25 to 64, poisoning, mostly from misuse of prescription drugs, causes more than 92 preventable deaths per day;
- For ages 65 and older, falls result in more than 69 preventable deaths each day. 
Each day. That adds up. Unintentional injuries account for 31 million emergency-room visits annually and over 130,000 deaths.
As bad as those statistics sound, don’t forget that magic word: preventable. We can all live more safely by learning about common risks and taking a few precautions. For instance, babies should sleep in a crib, not their parents’ bed, and without pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. On the road, passengers and drivers should wear seat belts every time. Parents should give their teen drivers extra practice even after they get their license. All of us (even if we’re over 24) should hang up and drive; research indicates that even hands-free phone use is unacceptably distracting and dangerous no matter your level of driving experience. Talk with your doctor about how to use prescription drugs, particularly opioids, sparingly and safely, and never share your prescription drugs with friends and family. Do a safety audit around your home if you’re older or otherwise at risk for falls, and use non-skid mats and grab bars as well as adequate lighting to make it safer to get around.
See? Nothing too painful or difficult about any of this. Learn more about how to be safe at home, work, and play by visiting www.nsc.org. And while you’re at it, put down that sucker; it’ll rot your teeth.
— Pam Saussy, Board Member
 National Safety Council, http://bit.ly/1tyTZ0C
 Centers for Disease Control, http://1.usa.gov/1tySKPc
 National Safety Council, http://bit.ly/1tyR8oD