Archive for ‘Public Health’

14 January, 2016

How safe are baby slings for a newborn? A mother shares her tragic experience.

Marianne Matthews, from Harrow, was celebrating the birth of her first child Eric when, within weeks, he had died after having been carried in a baby sling. Marianne explains what happened.

I write this blog in memory of my first child Eric, and with the hope that this message will help prevent more tragedies like ours.

Baby Sling story Eric Matthews first days with parents Marianne and Bob Matthews

Parents Marianne and Bob Matthews with Eric when he was first born.

Eric was four-weeks-old when he became unconscious while I was carrying him in a stretchy wrap baby sling – soft fabric that wraps around the chest and waist and holds baby, allowing a parent to keep their hands free as they go about their everyday tasks.

As a new parent, you get marketed at relentlessly with baby products. I wasn’t fully aware of the risks involving baby slings, and you never think these kinds of tragedies are something that will happen to you. The dangers of slings were not mentioned in the antenatal classes we attended, or in any of the baby books we read. Maybe because baby slings are newly popular, safety warnings aren’t yet part of the standard information given to expectant parents.

I bought a stretchy wrap sling online. It came with minimal instructions and had no safety label.

baby carrier baby sling

The safest method is in a carrier that keeps the baby solidly against the parent’s body, in an upright position.

It was Christmas Eve 2013 and Eric was quite unsettled so I put him in the sling and took him out for a walk to the local shop. He started to get a bit hungry and I tried to breastfeed him whilst carrying him. I then decided to go home. At the time I thought Eric was just falling asleep.

Everything happened so quickly and quietly I didn’t realise that something was very wrong. He had either choked or got into difficulties. By the time I got back, he had stopped breathing.

We called 999 and tried to resuscitate him. Sadly Eric never regained consciousness, and passed away in our arms a week later on New Year’s Day 2014.

We loved Eric so much and wonder how things went so wrong. Eric was our first child, and as new parents, we were finding out what to do for the first time. Our inexperience was to have tragic consequences, sometimes love just isn’t enough.

Eric is now a big brother, our little girl Sola Eden was born in October 2014, and she really is a miracle for me and my husband Bob, especially as we had her when we were still grieving. I have learned a lot from Eric. I’ll never use a baby sling again. Safety is an absolute priority.

Baby sling story Marianne Matthews with husband Bob and daughter Sola Eden

Marianne and Bob Matthews have celebrated the birth of daughter Sola Eden since the tragedy.

My advice is not to use a baby sling for a newborn baby – wait a few weeks until they are stronger and have more neck control. Don’t be tempted to multi-task by feeding a baby in a sling and check for safety standards and warnings before choosing a product.

The part that concerns me most is that some slings are marketed as ‘breastfeeding slings’. In my opinion, the feeding position is unsafe for baby (particularly a newborn) to be carried in, as they need to be kept upright to keep their airways clear. A baby trying to feed may make similar sounds to a baby struggling for breath, or make no sounds at all, and tragedy can occur in a minute or so. Added to this, the use of a sling while out and about may mean there are more distractions, and parents may not be fully aware of what’s happening.

I hope other parents find our story helpful, and it can in some way prevent another avoidable death like Eric’s from happening.

Marianne Matthews.

You can read more on RoSPA’s detailed advice on baby slings at the RoSPA website.

amber teething necklace baby

RoSPA is aware of risks attached to these products because a sling’s fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking the baby’s airways and causing suffocation within a minute or two.  Suffocation can also occur where the baby is cradled in a curved or “C-like” position in a sling, nestling below the parent’s chest or near their stomach.

Because babies do not have strong neck control, this means that their heads are more likely to flop forward, chin-to-chest, restricting the infant’s ability to breathe. RoSPA advocates products that keep babies upright and allow parents to see their baby and to ensure that the face isn’t restricted. Your baby is safest travelling with you in a pram or pushchair in which they are lying flat, on their back, in a parent-facing position.

13 May, 2014

Safer Streets for everyone – join the movement, make a difference!

Here at RoSPA, we want to see safer streets that encourage walking and cycling not only because it helps to prevent injuries, but also because it has a positive effect on a range of health-related issues, including heart disease, mental health and air pollution.

PrintMaking these links between safer roads and wider health issues are crucial. They can have a big impact on families too. Imagine being able to make the journey to school by bike, scooter or on foot without fear of being knocked down by speeding traffic. How would your children feel? Energised, happy, healthy…the list is endless.

Helping to make this vision a reality is Sustrans – which aims to help people choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys and enjoy better, safer spaces to live in. This week, Sustrans is launching a new campaign for Safer Streets and needs your support. The campaign is calling for:

  • 20mph default speed limits across built up areas – this will make everyone’s route safer
  • Dedicated funding for active travel – this will provide the resources needed to transform routes and invest in walking and cycling locally
  • Stronger duties and incentives on local authorities to develop routes and promote cycling and walking.

On the Sustrans website, you can find out more about getting support for making your street safer by creating a “DIY Street” – a tool to enable communities to take vital first steps to restore their streets for people and not cars.

Earlier this year, we unveiled new guidance for road safety and public health professionals to help boost the nation’s health. The report reveals that the greatest impact can be achieved when public health and road safety teams tackle shared agendas, such as working together to reduce the speed and volume of motor traffic or introducing road layouts that encourage safe walking and cycling.Sustrans_Safetoschool

And let us not underestimate the benefits of introducing 20mph speed limits in built up areas; lower speeds make crashes less likely and less severe when they do happen and are effective at protecting people, especially children, pedestrians and cyclists from being killed or injured. They also encourage more people to walk and cycle by providing a more pleasant and safer environment.

Councils are responsible for determining where 20mph limits should be introduced and they should take advantage of opportunities to implement them where they are needed. And this is where you come in! As part of the process, councils consult and engage with local communities and other stakeholders to make sure that safer roads are prioritised where needed and that residents have input into the schemes’ development. What are you waiting for? Get involved!

Duncan Vernon, RoSPA’s road safety manager

20 September, 2013

Accident prevention: we’re in it together

Through the centuries, Glasgow has been a hotbed of both enlightenment thinking and industrial activity. So where better to stage RoSPA’s 57th Occupational Health and Safety Awards?

Michael talks to a 2013 Award winner all about the accident prevention work which RoSPA undertakes in order to fulfill its mission: to save lives and reduce injuries.

Michael talks to a 2013 Award winner all about the accident prevention work which RoSPA undertakes in order to fulfill its mission: to save lives and reduce injuries.

The coming together of hundreds of the world’s best workplace safety practitioners at the city’s Hilton Hotel, yesterday (September 19), allowed RoSPA to reward much dedication and innovation – and to showcase some of the life-saving schemes that the UK’s best-known safety charity run on a regular basis.

As is now customary, RoSPA uses such get-togethers to rally support from those who are most likely to give it.

The same event last year raised enough money to help run two campaigns to stop more young children dying in window blind cord and driveway-related accidents.

This year, guests very generously donated almost £4,400. This money will go some way to ensuring that every child starting primary school in Scotland next year will receive a free book. The publication, penned by popular children’s author Linda Strachan, will help to keep tens of thousands of young ones safe from the hazards that pose the most risk to them.

But it’s a project that still needs the support of others to make it happen.

With your help, we can (and we will) make it happen. Such is the power of prevention – through the coming together of all those who are on the same mission: to save lives and reduce injuries.

Simply email FUNDRAISING@RoSPA.COM to find out more.

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s head of campaigns and fundraising

6 September, 2013

Tufty, Parliament and stuffing envelopes…

Michael, the RoSPA runner, is too worn out to blog this week. So while he puts his feet up and watches the X Factor, I’ll give you a glimpse of what a RoSPA campaigns officer gets up to from nine to five.

Campaigns officer Helen Halls with Tufty and Policeman Badger

Campaigns officer Helen Halls with Tufty and Policeman Badger

With RoSPA covering road, home, work and leisure safety and public health, there’s real variety to this job. So there’s no such thing as a typical day for me. Since I started at RoSPA a year ago, I’ve done everything from compiling databases and researching Parliamentary bills to scripting videos and overseeing a photo shoot with Tufty!

What’s great about working in a small team (there’s two of us) is that you get to be involved in all aspects of a campaign, in a way you wouldn’t do in a bigger charity. So, while this can mean stuffing multiple copies of our Big Book of Accident Prevention into envelopes, it can also involve helping to launch the publication at the Houses of Parliament.

In April, fundraising was added to my daily diet. So while my boss has been thinking big thoughts, sighing heavily and penning a strategy that will guide us through the next three years, I’ve been taking my pickaxe to the Directory of Grant Making Trusts, mining its packed pages for the trusts and foundations that may fund RoSPA’s life-saving campaigns.

And today I’ve just finished my very first funding bid – so it’s fingers crossed. Wish me luck!

To find out more about our campaigns work visit To find out more about our fundraising work visit

Helen Halls, campaigns officer at The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

23 August, 2013

Marathon man Michael is making big strides for safety

I remember the exact moment, nestled in an easy chair, dipping a custard cream into a cuppa, dreaming up ways of raising cash to tackle the UK’s biggest killer of young children…

RoSPA fundraising

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s head of campaigns and fundraising, prepares for his marathon challenge!

“I know, I’ll run a half-marathon”, I exclaimed, wiping the crumbs from my mouth. “After all, it’s only 13 and a bit miles, isn’t it?”

That was several months ago. Since then the tea and the biscuits have gone*, replaced by bottled water and fruit, the dreaming replaced with the waking realisation that 13 and a bit miles is a lot further than I’d thought**.

American author Mark Twain said the secret of getting ahead is getting started. Mercifully, the organisers of the BUPA Great Birmingham Run had made that bit simple for a flaky first-timer like me by providing a training schedule.

Printing it off and tacking it to the wall was the easy bit. Getting up at 7am on a Sunday and going out after a gruelling day at work is the not-so-easy bit.

With the main event on October 20, several more weeks of this self-inflicted punishment await me. But then when I’m wheezing through bronchial tubes and feeling twinges in my gammy knee something suddenly occurs to me: I’m doing this for a damn good reason.

If you haven’t already guessed (given the nature of this blog), the UK’s biggest killer of young children is…accidents.

Here’s another chilling thought. About 18,000 people will line up alongside me in the autumn. About the same number of people will be wiped out by an accident between the end of this year’s race and the start of next. And almost all of those deaths will be preventable…

I’m running to raise money for RoSPA – the UK’s biggest and best-known accident prevention charity. We conduct campaigns to protect people at every stage of their life. Our work is proven to be low cost and high impact and is welcomed by all those who benefit from it. You can find out more about our life-saving work by visiting our website.

To help, you can sponsor me – or join me. At the time of writing, places were still available for the Great Birmingham Run – and RoSPA would love to see other people pounding the streets on its behalf.

To support our charitable mission in other ways, please visit our fundraising webpage or email FUNDRAISING@RoSPA.COM. We’d love to hear from you.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I have no time to lose – I must get back to my training *dips another biscuit into a big mug of coffee*.

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s head of campaigns and fundraising

*This is not strictly true. NB Some dramatic licence has been used in the making of this blog.

**This bit is true.

28 June, 2013

Safety is order of the day for new Scottish parliamentary group

There are extremely exciting times ahead in terms of tackling unnecessary deaths and injuries in Scotland…

Sensible safety is the order of the day – it’s not about wrapping everyone up in cotton wool, but about parents, carers, teachers, employers and others all having a role to play in empowering people to make their own decisions about safety, based on the facts.

Safe At Home 034

Children can easily get hold of toxic cleaning products if safety catches are not put on cupboards.

Sometimes the facts have been difficult to find of late as the collection of useful data, or rather lack of it, is a frequently discussed matter. But obviously, the more we know about how an accident happened, the more we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

A new Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness has been set up in the Scottish Parliament which can delve more deeply into how and why accidents happen. This will be a fantastic opportunity to bring together politicians, practitioners and the public to discuss not only the everyday dangers we might face at home, on the roads, near water, in schools, or at work, but more importantly to offer practical solutions to avoid serious injuries that can usually be prevented.

I’ve been with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for 18 years and have worked in both the home and road safety sections. I also have my NEBOSH National Certificate in Occupational Safety as well as a Masters degree in Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion.  All of the above has led me to look at safety from a holistic point of view and not as being compartmentalised into separate silos.

If a child, for example, is injured in the home, then it is very likely that a parent will take time away from work to see to that child, take them to hospital or care for them if they need to be off school. Therefore, employers should be interested in safety in the home “off the job” as well as safety in the workplace.  Small to medium enterprises in particular will depend more on their few key members of staff and should think about helping employees to prevent accidents happening to themselves or their families at home or on the road.

Elizabeth Lumsden from RoSPA with MSP Clare Adamson

Elizabeth Lumsden from RoSPA (left) with MSP Clare Adamson

Importantly, everyone has a role to play in ensuring places are as safe as they need to be, while also recognising that we still need the freedom to do those exciting (and healthy) activities we relish in our leisure time.

Politicians and government officials have an array of policies within the respective administrations of the countries of the UK to help them make big decisions.  But dare I say that, perhaps, when policy decisions are made at these senior positions, it can be difficult to track whether they have been converted into practice at a grassroots level?

Unfortunately, well meaning, well researched guidance intended to be used at a local level might not always be translated into a practical solution suitable for the communities they were intended for.

I am, however, delighted that this new Cross Party Group has emerged and that RoSPA Scotland is providing the secretariat for it. Convened by MSP Clare Adamson, the group also includes committee members: James Dornan MSP (SNP) as vice-convener; Alison Johnstone (Green Party); Jim Hume MSP (Liberal Democrats); David Stewart MSP (Labour Party); and Liz Smith MSP (Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party).

childChild safety was the key topic at the group’s first meeting at the Scottish Parliament in June when the potential poisoning dangers of children getting their hands on toxic cleaning products, like liquitabs, were highlighted. Discussions also focussed on a new partnership between RoSPA and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde to provide education and practical solutions to families across the city on this issue, like keeping cupboard doors fitted with a catch. Discussions also looked at the wider issue of how families can prevent accidents from happening in their homes.

The inaugural meeting of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness at the Scottish Parliament

The inaugural meeting of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness at the Scottish Parliament

Minister for Children and Young People, Aileen Campbell, even joined in with this inaugural session and noted RoSPA’s recent work with the Early Years Collaborative to provide home safety education to 800 families across Scotland, along with providing, and most importantly, fitting the safety equipment they require.

The meeting room in the Scottish Parliament was full to capacity with people who had travelled the length and breadth of Scotland (and beyond) to attend this first meeting.  It was overwhelming to see so many senior people from a wide variety of disciplines – trading standards, environmental health, motoring organisations, community safety, education for example.

The lack of meaningful data came up time and time again in discussions, and particularly “why are we still not getting this right?” I have a suspicion this topic will be back on the agenda at future meetings.  Watch this space!

Further meetings will take place on October 2, November 27 and January 29 next year, and members are keen to hear from the public about topics they feel need to be raised. Anyone with suggestions, no matter how big or small, should email me at:

As I said, it’s an exciting time and we want to bring everyone along with us.

Elizabeth Lumsden, community safety manager at RoSPA Scotland and secretary of the Cross Party Group on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness.

8 August, 2012

The importance of communicating home safety messages during health visits – guest blog

Student health visitor Sally Tilley recently visited RoSPA to spend some time learning more about the charity, its work on child safety in the home and current campaigns. Here she shares her story:

For health visitors a child’s welfare is of ultimate importance; it is why we are here to do the job we do. Part of our role is to support parents to do the best for their children, promote health and safeguard. It is common for people to immediately think of us and our role in safeguarding in terms of preventing neglect, both physical and emotional. In fact, the definition of safeguarding is as follows:

  • Protecting children and young people from maltreatment
  • Preventing impairment of children and young people’s health or development
  • Ensuring that children and young people are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care
  • Undertaking that role so as to enable those children and young people to have optimum life chances to enter adulthood successfully.*
baby child safety in the home

“Health visiting is not about telling parents what to do, but more about supporting them to make changes, equipping them with the skills they need and empowering them with the information to do the best thing for their children.” – Sally Tilley.

When I visited RoSPA, I was surprised by the statistics, in particular the sheer number of accidents that happen to children in the home. It got me thinking, that as public health home visitors, we are in a prime position to offer advice on home safety and so by getting our message across, we may each be able to prevent just some of the many accidents that happen every year. For example, if we alert a family to the risks of hot drinks, medications and blind cords, we may be able to fulfil most of the above and reduce the costs both financially and emotionally to society and individual families. We already routinely give sleep safe advice to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as cot death, as part of our standard care packages, so I thought why not do the same with blind cords?

Families are busy and having a new baby to look after can be both tiring and stressful, toddlers even more so! Most parents want the best for their children, but simply may not have considered the risks their home may pose or how their children’s natural inquisitiveness and development stages could lead to an accident.

Health visiting is not about telling parents what to do, but more about supporting them to make changes, equipping them with the skills they need and empowering them with the information to do the best thing for their children. That’s not to say that we would not bring up issues of safety if asked; we would help people to understand the risks and provide them with the information on how to minimise them. For example, at an antenatal visit we might say, “Have you had any thoughts about safety in the home?” or “What do you know about making the home safer for children?” to get them to talk about what they already know. They may say, “Well we’ve thought about buying safety gates and a child car seat”. We can then compliment them on what they already know, by talking about the correct use of safety gates and child car seats, saying something along the lines of, “I can see you’ve already thought about this, although you may not have been aware that blind cords can also pose a safety risk, however I have some information on how you can manage that too”.

At postnatal visits we might also talk about development and relate that to possible safety risks. A conversation may go something along the lines of, “I see your baby is rolling now, which is great, although it does mean he will keep you busy. Make sure he doesn’t roll into or off things, in fact, changing him on the floor is a lot safer” or “It looks like he’ll be walking soon, I can give you some tips on how to get ready for that by making your home safer”.

We have guidelines as to what to cover at standard visits, although visits are never the same and the process is not a tick box approach. Each family is different and a family may have different needs at each visit or at different stages of the child’s development. Often, there may be an unexpected crisis that needs to be dealt with. However, I think health visitors are always considering whether there are any concerns; it is part of our standard assessment framework to look at a child’s developmental needs, parenting capacity and family and environmental factors. Child safety in the home is encompassed by this framework and health visitors are generally skilled at searching for health needs and recognising where prevention or promotional advice is required.

child safety in the home

“The RoSPA leaflets that I was able to take away with me have been very useful for striking up a conversation about safety with clients. If I can pass on this valuable information to a family, it may just make a difference to the health and wellbeing of a child by helping to prevent an accident” – Sally Tilley.

Most families are receptive to advice and grateful for suggestions but, of course, if a situation is considered as dangerous and families are not receptive to advice and do not put the needs of the child first (and very often there are other concerns in a case like this) we can express our concerns to social care who would look at the whole picture before deciding on any action. This would generally be discussed with the family before enabling them to understand what the concerns are. A referral may actually mean more support can be offered if a family is struggling to keep their child safe from harm.

We may not be able to cover everything in one visit, but we can develop relationships and tackle things in several visits, through leaflets and at clinics. Sometimes the team organises group sessions that cover safety issues and we promote these sessions on visits. However, we can only advise within the scope of what we know and that’s where evidence-based, standardised information and advice from an organisation such as RoSPA could come in.

I have been lucky to undertake a study day on child safety in the home with RoSPA and it has equipped me with the knowledge and skills to recognise risks and to know how to minimise them. In fact, the leaflets that I was able to take away with me have been very useful for striking up a conversation about safety with clients. If I can pass on this valuable information to a family, it may just make a difference to the health and wellbeing of a child by helping to prevent an accident. After all, that’s what we are there to do.

Do you want to find out more and to support RoSPA’s public health campaign? Visit

*Taken from The Children’s Act, HM Government, 2004.

By Sally Tilley, student health visitor

12 April, 2012

Safety and risk make a happy partnership for future development

Play time is changing. In a modern age of technology and increasing safety concerns (as often reported by the media), children and young people are shying away from natural play in the great outdoors to immerse themselves in television and computer games.

outdoor play safety riskSome say this is down to the curse of a “cotton wool culture” where children and young people are failing to learn from experience i.e. gaining bumps and scrapes from building a tree house and instead are being “robbed” of this early key development by parents concerned for their children’s well-being. It is a fact however, that there are generations of parents and grandparents who grew up having fun outdoors, so what’s gone wrong?

The LASER Alliance, hosted by RoSPA, is committed to helping children and young people learn about safety by experiencing risk. Experiencing risk is essential in order to develop the skills to cope with all that life throws at them, whether they are learning to cross the road, helping to build a den in the woods or knowing what to do in an emergency. The Alliance was officially launched earlier this year at an event bringing together safety education practitioners from across the country – and the choice of venue could not have been more fitting.

Bristol Lifeskills became the first safety centre to receive accreditation through a new RoSPA and Department of Health scheme in 2007. Based at The CREATE Centre, Hotwells, it uses realistic settings such as a house, building site and zebra crossing to help children and other members of the community learn more about home, road and leisure safety. A variety of settings, resembling snippets of real life, help to stress the importance of assessing risks and dealing with potential hazards or difficult situations. The centre provided an ideal backdrop to the LASER Alliance event that attracted around 50 delegates who were keen to network with other members from across the UK. Workshop leaders and delegates representing annual safety events, schools, colleges, universities, fire and rescue, and police services, local authorities, permanent safety centres, driving academies, private and voluntary sector organisations and utility companies, help to reinforce RoSPA’s guiding principle that life should be “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible” through varied activities.

The new Alliance includes members of two former practical safety education projects – CSEC (Child Safety Education Coalition) and LASER (Learning About Safety by Experiencing Risk). Members teach children and young people how to avoid injury by managing risk and in so doing help them to fulfil their full potential as adults.

Gas Safety Trust RoSPA

At the first LASER Alliance event, from left, ErrolTaylor, RoSPA's deputy chief executive; Dr Mary Benwell, a trustee and past chair of the Gas Safety Trust and Andy Townsend, general manager of Bristol Lifeskills.

Among the speakers at the event, where the LASER Alliance’s three-year sponsorship deal with the Gas Safety Trust was announced, were Errol Taylor, RoSPA’s deputy chief executive; Andrea Kennedy from Brockenhurst College; Dave Evans from Riskwatch: Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service; Ceri Kingston, from The Royal Life Saving Society UK (RLSS); Sophie Hepworth from Wealden District Council; Dr Elizabeth Towner from the University of the West of England; and Julie Evans from DangerPoint, North Wales. A series of workshop sessions followed covering a range of practical safety education topics, which opened up a forum for debate and discussion. Delegates also had the opportunity to share experiences and pick up tips on how best to work together.

The main messages to come out of the day were:

  • The importance of gathering evidence to better contribute to casualty reduction and to use it to drive accident prevention campaigns
  • A move towards encouraging children to become more “risk aware” as opposed to “risk averse”
  • Working to help parents support their children to take more responsibility for their safety, by letting them learn by experiencing risk
  • Helping directors of public health to realise that practical safety education is crucial in the public health arena, by encouraging directors of public health to look at local accident prevention plans.

The National Trust has recently called on grandparents to get “housebound” youngsters outside, after a report commissioned by the trust found that the “roaming radius” for children has declined by 90 per cent over the past 30 years. Hundreds of professional bodies are calling on Parliament to tackle the culture of fear and frustration that prevents young people from exploring the world around them – and the LASER Alliance is among them. To generate debate, the Alliance is calling on as many MPs as possible to put their name to Early Day Motion (EDM) 1954. More than 150 MPs have already signed-up, but the campaign needs at least 50 more to make an impact. It is part of the wider “Free Range Kids” initiative, which is being spearheaded by Sustrans, which is also a member of the Alliance. If we’re serious about future generations of independent young people getting out and about with knowledge and confidence, then constraints should be cut to allow them to walk, cycle and play outside, benefiting children’s health in the process.

LASER Alliance practial safety education

The LASER Alliance aims to lead the way in practical safety education.

 The LASER Alliance aims to lead the way in practical safety education. It has a network of regional champions based across the UK who promote the Ten Principles of Effective Safety Education, which underpin the alliance’s definition of high quality practical safety education, and contribute to the LASER Alliance’s policy making process.  

Organisations working with children and young people that are interested in joining, should email For more information on joining the LASER Alliance, visit

Cassius Francis, LASER Alliance Co-ordinator and RoSPA’s Youth Liaison Worker

10 August, 2011

Pox, swine flu, and other epidemics

Whenever I hear the words “public health” a little thought bubble automatically inflates itself just above my head.

The same Dickensian images of London come flooding through: the greeny-grey miasma over an open sewer (or could that be the Thames?), the public water pump thronged by urchins with the pox, and noble-looking ladies coughing blood into their scented hankies.

But a string of Public Health Acts and the work of people like Pasteur and John Snow mean all that’s history, right? Wrong. Let’s replace the steel-engraved images of 19th-century Britain with the 3D of today.

While we’ve done marvellously well to conquer, or contain, the likes of cholera, tuberculosis and typhus – other epidemics continue to lurk.

After all, public health doesn’t just concern itself with the quality of the air we breathe or the water we drink. Nor does it just extend to the threat of communicable diseases like “swine flu”.

The fact is that the health of our nation continues to be seriously compromised by an ongoing outbreak of accidents:

Did you know?

  • Accidents are the principal cause of death up to the age of 39 in the UK
  • Accidental injury continues to be the main cause of death for children after infancy
  • Accidents diminish the lives of nearly a third of people in England
  • In 2009, one death in 40 in England and Wales was caused by an accident. Roughly three times as many people suffer a serious, life-changing injury as are killed
  • Accident prevention is, compared to other potential public health interventions, easy to implement and inexpensive to deliver
  • The return on accident prevention investment, measured in Quality Adjusted Life Years, outstrips every other potential public health intervention.

Since we launched our public health campaign in March, we’ve worked very hard to win the ear of the UK’s top decision-makers. As part of this endeavour, we submitted a robust case to the Health Committee’s Public Health Inquiry.

If you have a minute, you can view RoSPA’s submission to the Health Committee’s Public Health Inquiry by clicking on the link.

More recently, Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health, made an amendment to his Healthy Lives Healthy People White Paper – which attempts to outline the future of UK public health. This update includes “accidental injury prevention” in its list of priorities. Hurray! The full document can be viewed online.

But it isn’t yet time to pass round the cigars. More work is needed to convince central and local government that truly effective accident prevention needs boots on the ground and strategies pinned to the board.

Though there’ve been some breathtaking advances in science since Charles Dickens’ time, there’s one piece of ancient wisdom that even the most powerful medicine will never make redundant: prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure.

If you agree, you can do your bit to aid our campaign by clicking the big, red “Support Our Campaign” button on our campaigns website.

Health and happiness to you all!

Michael Corley, RoSPA’s campaigns manager

6 June, 2011

Safe at Home: A Two-Tier Success

Following on from Michael Corley’s recent blog post – Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics – about accident prevention, it seems that the topic of today’s blog post is entirely appropriate as an illustration of how accident prevention can work.

In 2009, RoSPA launched the Safe At Home scheme (funded by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families), which had the aim of reducing accident rates among under-fives through targeted support for families in 141 areas in England with the highest accident rates.

Support included the provision of home safety information and safety equipment, such as safety gates, fireguards and window restrictors, through a network of new and existing local home safety equipment schemes. RoSPA also trained staff working at the local schemes.

The scheme has been incredibly successful, exceeding its target of supplying safety equipment to 60,196 families. The final figures show that the total number of families to receive free equipment by March 31, 2011, when the scheme came to an end, was an impressive 66,127.

This type of venture is a great example of how the Government’s “Big Society” could work at its best. It’s also a great antidote to those who wail about the “nanny state” and “busybodies” – those who have benefited from the scheme tell a very different story

You see, raising awareness of risk is NOT the same as telling people what to do in their own homes. If you’re a new parent, or are not around small children very often, it’s unlikely that you’ll know about the hazards toddlers face in the home.

Getting down on your hands and knees and looking at the world from their point of view paints a very different picture – and reveals a multitude of hazards that were not apparent before.

For instance, before I started working at RoSPA, I had no idea that blind cords could pose any risk to children (or my cats!) – and why would I, without being told? I’ll always make sure I tie cords away with a cleat in the future – which is all that is required if, like me, you like blinds that require cords.

Accident prevention is not about banning things left, right and centre and it’s not about stopping people from having fun; it’s about raising awareness of the risks and taking reasonable steps to mitigate them – as well as improving industry safety standards. Our blind cord safety campaign is a good illustration of the type of work we do.

Presenting people with good advice and information, and allowing them to make their own choices about how to protect their families, enables them to take responsibility for their own safety without having outside “experts” tell them what to do.

All accident prevention work should be based on sound data, to ensure that time, money and resources are not wasted on interventions that target the wrong people, or are simply unlikely to work.

The statistics mentioned earlier enabled us to target the Safe At Home scheme at those who needed it most. In order to qualify to receive equipment, families with children aged 0-5 must have been living in an area covered by a participating project, and must also have been in receipt of certain benefits.

The evidence shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be injured or killed in accidents. And in fact, shockingly, children of parents who are long-term unemployed or who have never worked are 13 times more likely to die as a result of unintentional injury and 37 times more likely to die from exposure to smoke, fire or flames than children of parents in higher managerial or professional occupations.

By installing a few simple safety measures such as smoke alarms, stair gates and window restrictors, the quality of life for these families could be vastly improved at no cost to themselves, and little cost to society – compared with the vast amount of money accidents and injuries cost us all.

It is hoped that the Safe At Home project has enabled local communities to run their own sustainable projects now the national scheme has come to an end.

More details about the achievements of Safe At Home will be announced when the project’s evaluation report is published in the next few weeks.

In the end, accident prevention advice and information could save the life of one of your family members. If you talked to someone who had lost a child in a home accident, you would probably find they had a very different perspective from the “elf ‘n’ safety” myths whipped up by some sections of the media.

Prevention is always better than cure. This applies to accident prevention as much as anything else. Join the debate – and support our campaign today.

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s Press Officer/Web Editor

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