It is Injury Prevention Week this week, 2–9 August, but according to a recent survey by YouGov only some 44% of adults often or always think of the safety of others when carrying out regular activities. The rest, presumably, are heedless and unaware.
What kinds of accidents are most common? For that one would have to eavesdrop on an Accident and Emergency team. There is another source of information, from the non-profit network of lawyers who undertake injury claims who are promoting Injury Prevention Week.
A look at their website reveals that most litigation is around road accidents, clinical mistreatment, and injury at work. I have a family interest in industrial accidents as an ancestor, John Lebon, was an early example of a fatality at work which was investigated and documented under the new reporting system in mid-Victorian times. He was a brewer’s labourer in Southwark who fell off a ladder in 1860 and died, leaving a pregnant wife and some five young children.
There was no possibility in those days of claiming a State benefit, or of industrial compensation from the brewery. Since then, the Welfare State has developed, and also the network of lawyers prepared to assist the injured with claims, whether these be against private persons or public bodies like Health Trusts or the NHS.
Litigation is a two-way street
But it is important to realise that litigation works on both sides. Health clinicians have to pay insurance to protect themselves from excessive claims. As the Secret Barrister has pointed out, reduction of legal aid means that it can become very expensive and difficult for an innocent ordinary person to defend themselves against what may be a groundless claim. There are plenty of instances, particularly with traffic accidents, where it is difficult to apportion blame fairly.
A type of traffic accident that is likely to occur more frequently these days is collisions of electric scooters. These are increasingly being used, illegally, on pavements in Kent to the protests of elderly pedestrians. In fact, news stories of fatalities (in Chatham, in Brighton, in Bromley) are of young teenage riders. It is time for more safety legislation around this increasingly popular mode of transport.
Concerns about product safety post Brexit
A new post-Brexit concern is product safety. There is a highly developed system of certification and labelling under the EU (red tape?) which will be replaced by GB labelling, but the trade bodies and personnel to actually do the checks have not yet been properly assembled.
Government advice for firms trading in chemicals is that they have to register both with the EU REACH body and the UK one, an enormous amount of paperwork and extra cost, although a ‘lead registrant’ can do this on behalf of a group of companies using the same chemical input. An informant who did this asserts that the UK office receiving the forms did not understand the chemistry involved, and is therefore prone to misclassify valuable exports.
Many homeware products sold across the EU come with safety booklets in several EU languages. Presumably in future these will be slimmer with just English and Welsh. They usually follow a predictable list of hazards, flames, electricity, and keeping dangerous things away from children.
The more we can predict accidents, the safer we can make our environment. The workplace, through Health and Safety regulation, has become much safer since John Lebon fell off that ladder. Most workers in skilled trades go through health and safety courses.
Although this probably prevents many accidents of the ‘falling off scaffolding’ type, I worry that there is amazing carelessness about air quality in several trades. Plasterers never seem to wear masks against the dust. The long-term damage of chemicals used in nail bars to the lungs of the workers is also a concern due for investigation.
Accidents can happen anywhere
There is a government website collecting statistics of workplace safety. The latest table shows that the riskiest sectors are agriculture, forestry and fishing; manufacturing; construction; wholesale; accommodation and food service: in other words farms and fishing boats; factories, building sites, warehouses and kitchens. All these sectors produce more than 2 000 incidents per year for every 100 000 employees.
Meanwhile, even more fatal accidents happen at home, 2.7 million people visit an Emergency Department due to home accidents, 6 000 of them die each year. There is lots of detailed advice about home activities and products, with special focus on dangers to children and to the elderly. But accidents still happen either through ignorance (not reading the safety booklet) or through heedlessness (impulsive teenagers for instance).
Accidents waiting to happen
But after an accident people may sagely pronounce, “that was an accident waiting to happen.” I can give an example, which fortunately was not fatal.
Teenagers stacked a dishwasher cutlery basket with the carving knife blade pointing upwards, the basket sitting on the bottom rack pulled out over the open door of the machine, which was awkwardly placed near a door. The mother rushing into the kitchen tripped on that open door, falling towards the carving knife, pointing like a dagger towards her heart. Fortunately she spotted it in time, and afterwards the family bought a dishwasher that stacks cutlery flat on an upper shelf.
Now during this injury prevention week, can readers suggest any “accident waiting to happen” that they have experienced, so as to warn others. Draw a cartoon of it, if you are good with pens.