Image: David Goldberg and Sheryl Sandberg (image via Robert Goldberg, Facebook)
On Friday night, David Goldberg — chief executive of SurveyMonkey and husband of Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg — died while holidaying in Mexico with his family.
The 47-year-old, who married Lean In author Sandberg in 2004, was using a treadmill in a Four Seasons Resort gym when he collapsed. According to a Mexican government official, it appeared Goldberg “fell off the treadmill and cracked his head open”.
The New York Times reports Goldberg was found lying on the gym floor surrounded by blood at around 7pm, three hours after he originally left his room, by his brother Robert.
The father of two was rushed to hospital with weak vital signs, but eventually died of severe head trauma and hypovolaemic shock, i.e. blood loss. A private memorial is being held for Goldberg in the Silicone Valley today.
The cause of David Goldberg's collapse is currently unknown. Yet treadmill injuries, whether in a gym or home environment, aren't a rare occurrence.
A report by the Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit (VISU) found that between January 2006 and December 2012, there were 748 treadmill-related presentations in emergency departments in Victoria. This averaged out to 107 per year, with more than half of the patients being younger than 14.
In New South Wales, 40 people — most of them children — are hospitalised every year for treadmill-related injuries, according to a 2013 statement from Fair Trading NSW.
It's not hard to see why treadmills pose injury risks; the moving conveyor belts, hard edges and adjustable speeds can be unforgiving, particularly if a user loses balance, doesn't match the speed of the belt, or is momentarily distracted. This can result in an array of injuries ranging from bruises, cuts and sprains to friction burns and broken bones. One case study in the VISU report presented with a tooth through their lip after falling from their treadmill. Ouch.
Treadmill injuries are also very common in gyms and other fitness facilities.
"[They're] among the most common of all injuries due to fitness activities, and the most common of all cardiovascular equipment," explains Shannon Gray, a PhD Scholar at Monash Injury Research Institute who has conducted research into this.
"Falls are the most common cause of [treadmill] injury, which could, for example, be due to lack of concentration or overdoing it. The surrounding environment in which a treadmill is used is important, as a fall from a treadmill could result in contact with other equipment or structures, potentially resulting in more serious injury."
It's not just the person using the treadmill who can hurt themselves — in home environments, small children are at huge risk. If a kid attempts to climb onto a moving treadmill, or reach underneath it, they can suffer crush injuries, cuts, fractures and, more commonly, burns.
"There are many instances where children have suffered more serious and long-term injuries arising from accidents associated with treadmills. Some children have needed skin grafts and have suffered the permanent loss of the normal functions of their hands and/or fingers," the Product Safety Australia website reports.
In 2008, there was an inquiry into Australian safety standards for home treadmills after a report found 49 children aged between one and four had sustained related injuries. A local study also found treadmill friction injuries accounted for 1 per cent of all paediatric burns in Australia between 1997 and 2007.
The death of boxer Mike Tyson's young daughter in a treadmill accident in 2009 also highlighted the potential danger of the machines. Four-year-old Exodus Tyson had been playing on the treadmill, which was switched off at the time, when her neck became caught in a cord hanging below the console. She died in hospital.
Reducing the risk
In general, wearing suitable shoes, understanding how to operate the various functions of a treadmill and if it's a home machine, keeping the area around it free of objects will reduce your risk of injury. If you're prone to losing balance, keeping your eyes up ahead, rather than glancing down at the belt, may help.
As for gyms, fitness instructors are advised to instruct users on safe treadmill use — for instance, making sure the machine has stopped before getting off — before they start.
There are also several recommendations for keeping children safe from treadmill injuries. The ACCC's mandatory standard for treadmills came into effect in 2009; this requires all treadmills to display labels warning users to keep young children away from the machines at all times.
The ACCC also recommends selecting machines which come with protective covers and a safety stop switch to quickly halt the conveyer belt in case of an accident. Experts advise owners to keep the door shut while using the machine, and avoid wearing headphones just in case a child manages to enter the room.
Have you ever injured yourself on a treadmill?