Posts tagged ‘public health’

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

18 December, 2013

Have yourself a safe little Christmas

“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening…”

Never leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed.

Never leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed.

Oh yes, Christmas is nearly here! And amidst the chaos of present wrapping, food shopping and house decorating, I can see many a parent tearing their hair out over the never-ending “to do” list…

But where there’s a will, there’s a way…Good preparation is key to ensuring that your festivities are not cut short by an accident, because, let’s face it, no-one wants that! It may surprise you to know that you are 50 per cent more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. Why? Well, a combination of smoking and drinking alcohol are well-known risk factors, but candle fires also claim many lives. According to the latest Fire Statistics Great Britain, in 2011/12, there were around 1,000 candle fires in homes across Great Britain, resulting in nine deaths and 388 casualties. Christmas trees, decorations and cards were also shown to be a fire risk and responsible for 47 house fires. This is why it’s important to do the following:

  • Keep decorations and cards away from fires and other heat sources such as light fittings
  • Don’t leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed
  • Never put candles on Christmas trees
  • If you have old and dated Christmas lights, now is the time to consider buying new ones which will meet much higher safety standards
  • Don’t underestimate the danger of overloading plug sockets. Different electrical appliances use different amounts of power, which is why you should never plug into an extension lead or socket, appliances that collectively use more than 13 amps or 3,000 watts of energy. Otherwise, it may overheat and cause a fire.

And don’t forget those smoke alarms! Is yours working? Have you tested it recently? It could just save your life. But think twice before deciding to remove its batteries to kick-start that new gadget or toy you’ve just opened – find a safer alternative – buy batteries for your gifts in advance.

On the big day itself, it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and momentarily forget about the bags of opened presents left at the bottom of the stairs or the mulled wine warming on the stove. But the kitchen is a hotbed of activity, particularly on Christmas Day, which is why cooking should not be left unattended. Likewise, children should also be kept out of the kitchen and away from items such as matches and lighters. Did you know that falls remain the biggest cause of home accidents – involving all age groups? Simple things, such as keeping staircases free of clutter and making sure extension leads and cables are not strewn across the living room floor can help limit the risk of someone tripping over and injuring themselves or others.

Take a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. This will help you to spot potential hazards.

Take a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. This will help you to spot potential hazards.

It is also worth taking a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. Not only will this allow you to see potential dangers from a new perspective i.e. a hot drink balanced on the edge of the coffee table, but it is also a reminder to “think ahead” to keep little ones safe in your home this Christmas.

There have also been cases where children have swallowed bulbs from Christmas tree lights, so it is not a good idea to let them play with items on the tree. Young children are particularly at risk from choking, because they examine things around them by putting them in their mouths. Peanuts, for example, should be kept out of reach of children under six. Even a burst balloon or button cell battery could be a choking hazard to a baby or toddler, which is why you need to buy toys that are appropriate for your child’s age range.

It might be tempting to let a child play with Christmas novelties around the home, but these are not toys, even if they resemble them, and they do not have to comply with toy safety regulations. Give careful thought to where you display them; place them high up on Christmas trees where they are out of the reach of young hands.

No-one’s saying to go over the top and take the fun out of your Christmas, but these are just some of the things you can do to help ensure that your festivities are not cut short by an accident.

Be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow this winter.

Be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow this winter.

If you head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages, you can help us to share some of our top Christmas safety tips with family and friends. Each picture features some of the many members of staff which make up the RoSPA family – and one very familiar face! We are currently running a “12 days of Christmas” countdown to Christmas day, so why not take a look?

And if you’re heading outdoors this Christmas (fingers crossed that we might get some snow), take note of the driving conditions and be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow. See our winter safety hub for more details.

Have a happy time and enjoy the festive songs! “Our finest gifts we bring Pa rum pum pum pum…”

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

6 March, 2013

Are you ‘LASER Hands On?’ Annual conference brings together safety education professionals from across the UK

Equipping children with the skills and experience they need to keep themselves and others safe is of a real benefit to society as a whole.

safety education

Providing a warm welcome at the LASER Alliance Annual Conference, from left, DangerPoint staff, Isobel Smith, Julie Evans, Cat Harvey and Hazel Firth with LASER Alliance co-ordinator Cassius Francis (centre).

This was a viewpoint shared by safety education professionals who gathered recently at the LASER Alliance Annual Conference, held at DangerPoint interactive activity centre in north Wales.

The LASER Alliance, hosted by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and sponsored by the Gas Safety Trust, brings together a range of UK-based organisations and individuals that believe in children and young people “learning about safety by experiencing risk” (from where the acronym “LASER” is drawn).

DangerPoint proved to be the perfect setting for the event, which this year focused on issues relating to high quality practical safety education (HQPSE). HQPSE seeks to deepen children’s knowledge and understanding of risk competence and to develop skills appropriate to their age.

The centre presents children with a variety of safety scenarios in which they are required to actively “seek out” the best way of dealing with a situation and share their findings with their peers.

During a tour organised by centre staff on the day of the conference, delegates were given the chance to learn more about safety and risk from a child’s point of view in the following scenarios: in the home; on the bus; on the train; on the farm; in the countryside; at the beach; on the road. Areas of the centre are also dedicated to the topics of drugs, bullying, digital safety, shop safety, and electricity safety.

The beach safety learning zone during a tour of DangerPoint.

The beach safety learning zone was shown to delegates during a tour of DangerPoint.

There were plenty of engaging and interactive games to grab your attention, from learning how to cross the road at a dummy traffic crossing to remembering how to stay alert in and around water. Each zone is designed to help educate the community in essential life skills and a group of highly trained rangers are on hand to engage with visitors, some of whom are bilingual.

Also adding a splash of colour to the day were pupils from Middlewich High School, in Cheshire, who gave a lively performance on how to stay safe on the internet, with help and guidance from Konflux Theatre. Their “Click Safe” internet drama revealed the potential pitfalls of striking up online friendships with strangers and guided the audience through a checklist of what to do if they are being bullied online. Delegates were hooked by the pupils’ thought-provoking messages which they displayed through drama and the group received a round of applause at the close.

Meanwhile, young people from the Salford Foundation ran a workshop on a project they helped to organise through the National Citizen Service, aimed at delivering safety messages to older people in their community. The group revealed their reasons for joining the NCS, from building up their confidence to becoming more mature and learning how to work with other people. One 17-year-old boy said that delivering a presentation to the older community using RoSPA as a source of the safety messages had not only been beneficial, but had also helped to break the perception of teenagers having a “bad reputation”.

internet safety teenagers

Pupils from Middlewich High School perform their “Click Safe” internet drama.

A variety of workshops were held throughout the day, each of which was designed to share best practice and encourage lively discussion. Leading the workshops were safety education professionals from RoSPA, DangerPoint, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, DRS Safety and Brockenhurst College. Guest speeches were also given by RoSPA’s deputy chief executive Errol Taylor on public health and HQPSE and Marcus Bailie, head of inspection at the Adventure Activities Licensing Service (AALS), on adventure, young people and HQPSE.

Some interesting topics were raised; including RoSPA’s uncovering of fresh evidence surrounding “years of life lost” – a measure of premature mortality – and the importance of encouraging children and young people to identify hazards early on through participating in adventure activities.

The LASER Alliance aims to lead the way in practical safety education and it is through being “hands on” that we hope children and young people will be able to feel confident enough in themselves to know what is and isn’t a safe decision; think about the benefits of risk taking as well as the harms; say when they feel unsafe; and demonstrate their ability to keep themselves and others as safe as necessary no matter where they may be.

Cassius Francis, LASER Alliance co-ordinator and RoSPA’s youth liaison worker

27 November, 2012

Don’t be too relaxed around nappy sacks

Nappy sacks – flimsy plastic bags used to dispose of soiled nappies – are a relatively recent phenomena for parents.

nappy sacks dangers suffocation choking RoSPA

Parents are advised to never place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot or pram, and to keep them a safe distance away from babies’ and young children’s inquisitive hands at all times.

But these sacks have been implicated in causing the suffocation and choking of babies who are less than one year old, prompting a campaign by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) to warn parents in England and Scotland on the possible dangers.

This issue was first brought to light in September 2010 when a baby died from asphyxia due to a nappy sack. Beth Beynon, child accident prevention co-ordinator for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (NHS CIOS), heard about the case through the local Safeguarding Children Board and was part of the NHS team which immediately set about gathering information to develop an understanding of the circumstances and to identify whether similar deaths had occurred elsewhere.

This exercise highlighted that asphyxia from nappy sacks had caused up to 10 known deaths in babies across England and Wales alone.  However, none of these cases had come to the attention of national accident prevention bodies, nor had they been logged on the national Trading Standards database. Each area had assumed their incidents were one-off, isolated cases. Sadly, since then two more deaths have been added to the list bringing the total to 12.

The typical scenario associated with the deaths involves sacks which are stored within the baby’s reach, close to the baby’s cot – including under the mattress usually for convenience. In some of the cases, the nappy sacks had been left near to or in the cot for ease of changing the baby’s nappy in the night.

Babies are at particular risk because despite naturally grasping items and putting them in their mouths, they find it difficult to let go or remove them when in trouble. Once in their mouths, the nappy sack can lead to obstruction of the nose and mouth and prevent babies from inhaling fresh air. The flimsiness of nappy sacks also makes them small enough to fit into little mouths, plus they do not rustle in the same way as plastic bags and can be easily breathed in by babies without parents realising.

Informal feedback from parents and carers and professionals demonstrated that the risk to young babies is compounded by the fact that widespread usage of nappy sacks is a relatively recent phenomenon. Parents and carers are generally aware of the dangers posed by plastic bags, but do not make the same link to nappy sacks and so they are less likely to take the same safety precautions.

The risk of this potential hazard is increased by the lack of mandatory suffocation warning advice on the packaging and the product’s frequent availability as loose bags in a packet, as opposed to supplied on a roll.

Parents are advised to never place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot or pram, and to keep them a safe distance away from babies’ and young children’s inquisitive hands at all times.

Thousands of RoSPA posters and leaflets, warning families of the dangers of leaving plastic nappy sacks lying near babies, are currently being distributed to GP surgeries, parent and toddler groups and other family centres. Any organisations involved with children’s services in England and Scotland can apply for these nappy sack safety leaflets by visiting RoSPA’s nappy sack safety advice page.

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

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

2 June, 2011

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. So said former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, at a time when healthy scepticism in the rhetorical use of numbers was all the rage – as well as stovepipe top hats and brightly striped pantaloons.

But much has changed since the late 19th-century – and not just the fashion.

Nowadays, the robust analysis of data is essential if your argument is to get a toe-hold in the collective consciousness (competing as it must with the X-Factor, Pippa Middleton, and the off-field antics of celebrity footballers).

But seriously, in an age of scarce resources every organisation worth their salt must now be providing a sophisticated response to the riddle, “where do we target resources?”

Here, at RoSPA, the answer to that question is staring us full in the face.

Accidents are responsible for 14,000 deaths and millions of injuries across the UK each year, costing the country an estimated £150billion. Yet, prevention is fairly easy to implement and inexpensive to deliver.

That’s why it is one of our key campaigns to make accident prevention a public health priority.

In a nutshell, here’s what we know about this “hidden epidemic”:

  • 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
  • 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
  • Among the causes of accidental death that have been increasing in recent years are falls, and accidental choking, strangulation and suffocation, particularly among older people
  • Accidents are financially costly to Government and society
  • 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.
  • Accidents diminish the lives of nearly a third of people in England

Following a lot of hard work in recent decades, big strides have been made in bringing down the number of people accidentally killed or injured on the road and at work. Yet, despite these significant gains, mortality statistics show that the overall trend for accidental death in the UK has been generally upwards in the last few years.

Accidents do not just cause immediate pain and suffering to the victim. Grief can last a lifetime and divorce and family breakdown are recognised as potential consequences of serious accidents. Families can suffer extreme financial hardship and the stress and strain of caring for an injured loved one should not be underestimated.

Despite RoSPA’s consistent lobbying – along with the work of many other organisations – accident prevention has remained a worryingly low priority for successive governments and has still not received the level of attention it deserves.

Several times in the last two decades, accidents have been listed as a priority by the Department of Health. But when there is a change of minister, the impetus often slows and suddenly the topic is dropped. Without government leadership and vocal support, others will not keep up the momentum.

In November 2010, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the Coalition Government’s plans for public health in England, including the establishment of a new integrated service, called Public Health England.

RoSPA welcomed the opportunity to respond to the White Paper, Healthy Lives, Healthy People: our strategy for public health in England, and two associated consultations. However, the White Paper’s lack of recognition of the accidental injury problem, including its distribution, severities, costs or preventability, was of great concern. The focus instead was on other issues, such as alcohol-related ill health, diet, exercise and mental health.

In responding to the consultation, RoSPA put together the most comprehensive policy paper about accident prevention as a public health issue in its 94-year history. You can read RoSPA’s full consultation response (PDF 343kb) here.

RoSPA urges the Government and other leaders in the public health field to reflect on the many arguments which, taken together, constitute an unassailable case for developing fresh action on accident and injury prevention. Only by making such action a permanently-embedded feature of public health policy and practice in the UK will we be able to get on with our mission: which is to save lives and reduce injuries.

If you are as concerned as we are by this lack of action, please visit our public health campaign webpage and click on the big red “Support Our Campaign” button.

Your support – and the support of your friends and colleagues – would be much appreciated.

Michael Corley

RoSPA’s Campaigns Manager

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