At long last, the safe tea cosy

The home is littered with potential perils but now there is good news for tea drinkers, says William Hartston
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The Independent Online
Just as you thought it was safe to go into the kitchen, the Consumer Safety Unit at the Department of Trade and Industry has published its report on accidents in the home.

The tables provide compelling evidence that mad cows are far from being the only hazard for today's chefs and gourmets. Every accidental death in 1994 is solemnly reported and classified along with every accident that led to a visit to any of 18 selected hospitals.

The room in which the accident occurred, the parts of the body injured and the household objects involved are all meticulously recorded, with the victim allowed to incriminate a number of different objects in a single accident.

So the four people injured by Christmas tree light sets could be exactly the same as the four injured by their Walkmans or personal stereos, and might even be included in the figure of six listed under "bidet". One can easily see the folly of listening to music while trying to install Christmas lights round your bidet. One gyration too many to the beat of the music, your hand slips, a sudden jet of water and instant electrocution.

Here are some more dangerous objects with their injury tally:

Pillow case, 2; mangle on washing machine, 3; coal scuttle, 6; hammock, 17; watering can, 21; bean bag, 48; party balloon, 56; clothes basket, 116.

In the garden, the watering can is exactly as dangerous as the trowel, though only half as dangerous as a rake. All these, however, are models of safety compared with the wheelbarrow (85), flowerpot (125) and garden fork (143).

For people aged between 15 and 64, however, the kitchen is the most dangerous room in the house, followed by the stairs, the living or dining room, and the bedroom, in that order. Food and drink alone led to 359 deaths in 1992, with kitchen utensils killing another 23. Compared with these rates of carnage, stationery and writing equipment, resulting in only four deaths, was not to be feared. Luggage killed no one at all.

The non-fatal accident rates break down the risks of everyday kitchen life into finer detail: kitchen scales, 2; weights for scales, 3; wok, 4; strainer, 5; drinking straw, 11; coffee pot, 17; toaster, 18; teapot, 66; refrigerator, 185.

The safest items were soda siphons, chopsticks, mincers and pressurised beer taps, none of which injured anybody. These figures must cast a shadow over last week's reports that tea-drinkers are less likely to suffer strokes than coffee drinkers. The risk of a stroke must now be balanced out against the risks of injury from your teapot and strainer. We ought also to be told how many of the eight accidents involving "unspecified kitchen equipment" were caused by teabags which, incomprehensibly, have no category of their own.

The problem with interpreting these figures is that they give us no true basis for comparison. Is tea-drinking more dangerous than coffee-drinking because 66 people were hurt by teapots and only 17 by coffee pots? Or are the statistics simply a reflection of the greater numbers of teapots around our homes? To make valid judgements, we need tables of figures of accidents per teapot and per coffee pot.

Such examples are frivolous, of course, but how should we view the news that 12,762 people were treated for accidents incurred while playing a ball game with no stick, while only 2,159 were hurt in ball games with sticks and only 166 at gymnastics? Should we immediately encourage our children away from the football field on to the cricket pitch and vaulting horse?

To draw any valid conclusions, we need to know how many people are involved in each of the activities concerned.

There is, however, some final good news for tea drinkers. The number of injuries associated with tea cosies has dropped from three in 1993 to zero in 1994. Since one of the main points in publishing these figures is as a guide to potential areas of improvement in product safety, the elimination of tea cosy accidents could be seen as a vindication of the procedure. Having been alerted to the danger of the tea cosy in 1993, British designers once again demonstrated their strengths and rose to the challenge. They were inspired to create the world's first perfectly safe cosy.

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