Treadmill Safety Tips in the Wake of Dave Goldberg’s Tragic Death

The tragic accidental death of Dave Goldberg, the chief executive of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has people talking about safety when using treadmills. News reports indicate that Goldberg died of head trauma and blood loss after falling off a treadmill while exercising alone in a hotel gym.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC) reports that in 2014, there were approximately 62,700 injuries from gym equipment in general, with 24,400 of those from treadmills alone. Injuries from treadmills can be relatively minor, resulting in bumps or bruises, or they can be serious and even fatal, as we saw in Goldberg’s case. The USCPSC reported 30 deaths from treadmill accidents from 2003 to 2012. Some injuries were the result of fluke accidents, but many accidents occurred when someone wasn’t paying attention or ignored the safety rules.

Every year, over 48 million Americans use treadmills at home or at the gym. The rolling mat on these machines can move as fast as 25 miles per hour for the higher end professional models; the average at-home or gym machine has a maximum speed of about 10 to 15 miles per hour. But even at slower speeds, a moving mat can cause injury to an arm or leg, or fingers if they become trapped beside or underneath.

Common injuries

Losing balance and falling is a frequent cause of treadmill injuries. There have been many stories of people losing their concentration, slipping, or forgetting to turn off their machines as they step off, resulting in a tumble. In most cases, the worst injury is a bruised ego – a quick search on YouTube shows how easily this can happen can be and how comical looking it may be. But as amusing as such falls can seem, they should be taken seriously. Even an aparently minor fall can cause physical damage. The most common treadmill injuries are:

  • Friction burns from the rolling mat
  • Sprains and strains
  • Fractures
  • Head trauma

There have also been reports of skin being torn away and finger amputations, caused by the rolling mat.


Staying safe

Since many injuries are caused by human error, it’s important to stay vigilant when working with any type of gym or exercise equipment, particularly if it has moving parts.

  • Read the instructions if using the treadmill at home or seek instruction at the gym.
  • Know how to use the emergency stop or auto shutoff feature.
  • Use the emergency cord every time you use the treadmill. Clip the cord to your clothing, so if you do fall, the cord will detach from the machine and the mat will stop moving.
  • When you are finished using the treadmill, decrease the speed gradually rather than jumping off or stopping suddenly.
  • Do not use the treadmill if you are feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
  • Do not place the treadmill close to a wall or any other object that will prevent you from clearing the machine if you do fall.
  • Consider painting brightly colored lines across the mat at regular intervals so you can see that it is moving.
  • Use proper footwear such as sneakers.
  • Limit distractions. Most people listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks while running on a treadmill, but stay mindful of your surroundings so you don’t get distracted and misstep on the rolling mat.

Special consideration for children

Treadmills can be especially dangerous for children as they explore their surroundings and test their boundaries. The machine may seem fascinating to them as they watch the mat roll along. If you have a treadmill and children visit your home, these precautions may help keep them safe:

  • Close off or block off access to the room with the treadmill.
  • Do not leave a running treadmill unattended.
  • To prevent choking, keep cords out of the way by looping them around handles or cord keepers.
  • Keep the safety stop key easily accessible, but not within reach of a small child who may swallow it.
  • If your model has a lockout passcode, use it.
  • Teach children that treadmills are not toys and should only be used under supervision.

Overall, considering the popularity of treadmills, they are fairly safe machines if they are used properly and are kept in good working order, but injuries can occur. Being careful and mindful will help lower your risk of injury or experiencing a tragic loss as Sandberg did.

Marijke Vroomen Durning RN has written articles, promotional material, and continuing medical education (CME) for health care professionals, as well as patient information sheets and articles for the general public. She has also co-authored several books. Her blog was chosen as one of the Top 10 Canadian Health and Fitness Blogs by SheKnows Canada. She is the author of Just the Right Dose: Your Smart Guide to Prescription Drugs & How to Take Them Safely. To learn more about the book, please visit JustTheRightDose.com. You can also go directly to Amazon or Kobo to purchase it. Please also visit http://medhealthwriter.blogspot.ca/ and http://medhealthwriter.com/.


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