Dr. Ileana Arias, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), explained CDC has broadened its role to make sure schools, workplaces, institutions, homes and travel and recreation provide healthy environments for Americans.
“An estimated 30 million Americans experience a medically treated injury each year,” she said. “A major problem is that most of the injuries are avoidable.”
Arias: Education Works
Arias explained that the two demographics primarily at risk at home are older adults and children. Falls in particular pose significant threats to both children and the elderly.
“In 2003, nearly 14,000 people over 65 died from fall-related injuries,” Arias said, and added that falls also are the most common cause of nonfatal injuries for older adults ages 65 and over. Arias explained the CDC has promoted programs to encourage older adults to obtain regular exercise, medication reviews and vision checks to prevent falls.
Children face risks at home stemming from a variety of factors. Arias said using safety seats, installing smoke alarms, preventing falls and increasing safety among teen drivers are key components to protecting children and young adults. Supervision is also crucial.
“Supervision is not only about making sure a structure is sound,” she said. “Parenting is also a significant issue.” The CDC’s Positive Parenting Program, which was designed to prevent child abuse, has reduced maltreatment, out of home placement and child hospitalizations. The goal, Arias explained, is to “create safe, stable and nurturing environments.”
CDC also created a youth violence program to reduce the amount of violence among young adults. By decentralizing public housing buildings and creating multi-service communities, a significant reduction in youth violence occurred. Changing the living environment impacted teen interaction and reduced violence.
Finally, with four out of five fire deaths occurring in homes in 2005, fires are one of the largest home threats. Arias explained that smoke alarm installation programs, coupled with fire safety education, offer a comprehensive way to prevent fire-related injury and death.
The bottom line, Arias said, is that education works and can create safer communities. “What we know is that education is effective,” she said. “We are committed to making sure people are informed and are aware of risks in the community and empowered to reduce those risks.”
Kells: It’s About People, Not Numbers
Paul Kells, founder and president of Safe Communities Canada, began promoting workplace and community safety after his 19-year-old son was killed on the job.
“Health and safety for me is not just about numbers,” Kells said. “It’s deeply, deeply personal.”
Kells’ son Sean died from third degree burns following a preventable workplace explosion. He had been on the job for three days and had received no safety training.
Kells noticed that when tragedies like this occur, people often respond as if the incident occurred in a vacuum. “We take these things that happen as if they’re not connected, as if they just happen to us, as if they couldn’t be changed,” he said. “We don’t think how we can connect the dots. It became very clear to me that here are all the pieces of a puzzle waiting to be connected.”
Kells founded Safe Communities Canada 12 years ago, and the organization has since grown to 5,000 volunteers across the country. According to Kells, 23 percent of the Canadian population now lives in a safe community, a designation awarded to communities that demonstrate leadership in promoting safety, reducing injuries and preparing their citizens for disasters. Kells said the program encourages loyalty and retention and raises morale.
“Our common cause is we don’t want injury or death to occur,” he said.
In the United States, NSC’s Safe Communities America program works with local communities to prevent needless deaths and injuries and to promote safe, healthy behavior to protect people from harm in all aspects of their lives. The newest U.S. cities to receive the Safe Communities America designation are Omaha, Neb., and Springfield, Mo.
Ekman: Change is Possible
When the World Health Organization (WHO) asked Sweden to develop a pilot Safe Communities project, they found small communities were able to affect tremendous change.
Dr. Diana Ekman, of the WHO Safe Communities Collaborating Centre, explained the pioneers in Sweden encouraged a safe communities program that is now used across the world. In Iran, for example, children were taught how to safely cross the street. Raanana, Israel created a senior safety patrol to protect the elderly population and Brampton, Canada developed a neighborhood watch program.
“Effective safe communities evaluate what they do and share what they’re doing around the world,” Ekman said.
She explained that programs targeting specific injuries tend to work very well. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is convincing the community that safety measures are comfortable, convenient or stylish to use. In Scandinavia, bicycle helmets were rather unpopular until families were educated and given prescriptions for low-cost or free helmets.
No matter where in the world a community is located, it needs to have supportive leadership and commitment in order to thrive safely. “The programs that have sustainability and long-term leadership have the most effect,” Ekman said. “In Sweden, community leaders are very willing to participate. They just need to be asked.”
“Safety is a community issue,” she added. “One of the things we learn from Safe Communities is change is possible.”