Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Accident and Disability Prevention - Prevention is Better than Cure

The Torah instructs us in a variety of commandments, to protect our lives and wellbeing, from making a guardrail for your roof[1] to not allowing any dangerous situation to prevail in your home. In being careful and concerned for our lives, “guard rails”[2] can refer to any obstacles that might lead to danger whether to your health or to your life.

Maimonides, one of our great rabbis and a doctor, lists a variety of precautions to take when it comes to ones health and ones life.

- It is forbidden to place a coin in ones mouth. The coin is dirty and can spread diseases. It may have dry sweat on it from another which the Torah regards as a poison of death (except for the sweat of the face which is not regarded as such.)

- Should a stranger ask where you are going when traveling or journeying, Maimonides says to give a destination further than your actual destination. A story is told of a rabbi on a train who was asked where he was getting off. He gave a further destination than intended. When the train was about to close the doors at his actual stop, the rabbi jumped off the train. His following this Torah law saved his life, as it was found that the stranger was in fact a murderer who was planning to follow him home.

- Maimonides even discusses the dangers involved when being alone with a stranger and the actual prohibition of this, due to the real possibility of a life threatening situation![3]

While medical science has seemingly advanced in leaps and bounds, it is sad to see little advocated on the importance of actual accident prevention. In addition to individual problems, medical literature notes that accidents in both the home and at work create high social problems as well. Injuries and loss of life (G-d forbid) from illnesses contracted or accidents include high economic costs for compensation for lack of income and absenteeism from work amongst others. Loss of income and added costs, pose a strain on family members and affects every member of a family in some way.

With avoidable accidents reaching the alarming levels of losses encountered today, we have to ask ourselves, what can we as Jewish women do to help?

The topic of preventing illness, accidents, disability and loss of life calls for us to train ourselves and our families in habits that support life. We have to be aware of the potential effects of our every action. We have to train ourselves so well, that the appropriate habits, routines and behaviors become second nature to us.

We put up a fence or guardrail on our roof so as to prevent someone falling over the edge, G-d forbid. Let us look at how these fences can apply in other areas of our lives. A fence really is a boundary, a limit, something to prevent one from overstepping a much needed limit. Practically, when it comes to our family life this will mean:

  • Having a set of rules for your family. Specifically set in place to protect them. Rules are not made to be broken and must be adhered to at all times! Some examples include:

      • Make sure that flammable substances are stored away from gas stoves, candles, gas heaters or anything that could cause them to be exposed to heat
      • If you have gas heating, be sure to have the cylinders checked regularly
      • Make sure to check your electricity regularly. If you have an electrical short, have it repaired immediately. It is not worth risking a house fire due to the neglect of a fault
      • When using heaters, check to make sure that they are safe to anyone walking by. Always make sure to switch them off if you leave a room for a period of time, especially if there is a child around
      • If you are cooking, always have handles of pots and pans facing inwards so that they cannot be knocked off. Also, always make sure the hot plate is covered. If you take something off the stove, switch off the plate or oven and close or cover whatever is possible. Open flames can be very dangerous.
      • Make sure that electrical cables are either tacked along a wall or covered with a carpet or special tape to prevent any one from tripping over them.
      • Keep kettles of boiling water or pots of hot tea or coffee out of the reach of children

      • If you have a water leak in your apartment, home or work place, make sure to have this repaired including scraping plaster and treating the wall or ceiling to prevent mould. Mould poses many dangers to our health that can be avoided by preventing a leak and treating it correctly should it occur.

      • Always make sure that all bread knives, carving knives and any other kitchen utensils are put away so that they are out of the reach of children.
      • Careful storage of tools, cleaning products etc. This means that any substance that is a poison or potentially harmful to humans and family pets must be stored in a container that is labeled with a picture of a skull and cross bones (or the like) and stored in a locked, safe place. It must be out of the way of children or anyone who is not responsible enough to use the product safely. Tools must be stored in cupboards to ensure they are neatly put away and locked away from the reach of children. No matter how tired we are or what chores we have to do, we must put items away in their appropriate places every time.
      • Items of furniture need to always be in a state that is safe. A chair, for example, must be able to hold someone and not collapse. If your chairs are beginning to fall apart, either have them repaired or get new ones. It is not worth someone falling off a chair and injuring themselves, G-d forbid. This applies to your own as well as furniture in a rented apartment.
      • Always put your wrappers, packets, peels, broken items and other refuse in the garbage even when out and about. Dropping anything on the floor can cause another to slip, trip or cut themselves.

      • If you have a swimming pool, it must be fenced and covered when not in use. Children or anyone who is not able to walk, swim and be responsible, must be supervised when in a swimming pool area. On the topic of swimming pools, always make sure not to dive too deep, or off an object that might result in one diving too deeply. If you want to practice fancy diving, go to a swimming pool with a diving board and make sure that the depth of the pool is appropriate.
      • If you have children who are crawling, beginning to walk or who are generally inquisitive, put safety plugs in all your electrical sockets to prevent other items or even fingers being poked into them.
      • It is important that children know that if you say “No” to something it means “No” and is for a good reason. Any rules you have in your home, need to be adhered to and not bent, for the safety and protection of our precious children and loved ones. More than this is the necessity for parents to actually demand of themselves the obligation to say “No” when it is needed to be said!
      • If you have small children or elderly people around, it is useful to have protective gates at the top and bottom of a flight of stairs. Also keep toys away from the top of a flight of stairs. These can be a very nasty hazard and could cause someone to fall down the stairs.
      • If you are traveling on public transport with children, teach them to sit down quietly for the ride. Ignoring a child jumping up and down could cause them to hit their teeth on the back of a seat or to fall and hurt themselves if the driver stops suddenly.

The above are just a few suggestions regarding safety precautions. Two other important areas to consider are that of managing our time correctly, and doing what needs to be done without distraction, as well as being aware of the methods we go about in carrying out our tasks. These, I leave, for another article.

Just a few moments of extra attendance to certain things are needed, yet these small moments can save one a life-time of agony. It’s up to us to prevent accidents, and not to rely on miracles before, or treatment after things go wrong.

[1] Deuteronomy 22:8

[2] Deuteronomy 4:9

[3] See Rambam Hilchos Rotzeach U’Shmiras Nefesh 12:7-15

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