The Dangers of July Fourth: What Sends Americans to the Emergency Room

Backyard grilling, beer, and fireworks—what could go wrong?

Partying outside on the July Fourth weekend raises the risk of injuries. Firework mishaps make headlines and remain a big enough danger that the Consumer Product Safety Commission tallies the carnage in an annual fireworks report. But people court injury on the Fourth of July in many different ways. Like going swimming or playing basketball, two activities that sent more Americans to the emergency room in the first week of July last year than pyrotechnics, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of data from the CPSC.

It’s an incomplete list of injurious activities loosely linked to the idea of a summer holiday—falling down stairs, which isn’t shown in the chart, accounts for far more hospital trips than any activity listed above. Recreational firework accidents last year killed six people and injured an estimated 11,400, with the most harm coming in the 30-day period around July 4.

Some of the injury rates have to do with the commonplace nature of these activities. Many more people get on a bicycle or play baseball than light fireworks, for instance, and if Americans set off bottle rockets and mortars at the same rate that we fire up our barbecue grills, ERs would be much more crowded this weekend.

Excessive drinking is also a concern. Alcohol-related emergency-room trips for teen boys double over the holiday, according to federal data. But it’s worth noting that by some measures, the Independence Day celebration is less dangerous than other holidays. A 2010 study ranked July Fourth behind Memorial Day and Labor Day for injuries to children and teens, and all three proved more risky than Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s.

When it comes to outdoor recreation associated with summertime, biking remains the most hazardous. Such sports as baseball and soccer also send plenty of weekend warriors to the hospital. Trampolines cause more ER trips than water skiing, amusement park rides, or chainsaws.

The good news for unathletic carnivores: You should be pretty safe. Grilling, it turns out, doesn’t account for many July Fourth injuries despite dramatic video evidence to the contrary. And one of the least risky things you can do this weekend? Install your air conditioner.

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