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A parent probably told you as a child not to put a metal fork in the toaster to retrieve your toast. But just how high is the risk? Can you minimize it to zero? How much will that cost? Is it worth the investment?
At HSPH, decision scientists help public health experts and policy makers make such decisions in the realms of health care, safety, and environmental regulation by examining available facts and employing quantitative methods and strategies such as cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis, which assigns dollar costs to various courses of action.
Accidental injuries are a leading and eminently preventable public health problem. Thanks to laws regulating the manufacture of appliances and electrical building codes, only about 15 Americans are electrocuted annually due to misused or faulty appliances, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Thats out of 290 million people, suggesting that regulations combined with common sense have made toaster shocks exceedingly rare. But manufacturers and electricians can make mistakes, as can consumers, who may forget that the toasters heating coils conduct electricity even when the switch is off. Using a metal tool even after pulling the plug can damage the insulation on the toasters heating coils. The next user could blow a fuse--and maybe, suffer a shock--if the current passes from the bare coil to the toaster's metal frame.
But unlike mad cow disease or some of the other issues HSPH faculty address, one can take the risk of toaster shocks to near zero at almost no additional cost. Simply pull the plug, then use a nonmetallic tool to clear the crumbs. Karin Kiewra
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