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Lurking policy gap: Research on accidents are heavily biased in favour of road mishaps

By Bharat Dogra 

Many people see accidents mainly in terms of road accidents. While this is a factually incorrect notion, unfortunately this also gets reflected even at research and policy levels. Any random research on accidents is likely to give results which are heavily biased in favour of road accidents only.
Hence many people may find it surprising to know that according to a WHO data base on accident related deaths, the number of deaths caused by road accidents, while very high in itself, is still significantly less than deaths caused by other accidents. More specifically, this tells us that while deaths caused by road accidents in a single year are around 1.3 million, deaths caused by other accidents is about 2.2 million. These other sources include falls, drowning, fires, poisoning etc.
While domestic accidents get very little attention in accident research, data going back to about a decade for Britain reveals that the number of deaths in home accidents in 2013 in Britain was three times higher than the number of deaths in road accidents.
By focusing most attention only on road accidents, we do not get a comprehensive understanding of the situation needed for policy.
This becomes even clearer when we look at the number of injuries and disabilities caused by accidents. WHO data tells us that the number of injuries and disabilities caused by road accidents is about 35 million in a year, whereas ILO data tells that the number of injuries caused by occupational or workplace accidents in a year is about 395 million, about 11 times the injuries caused by road accidents.
To take this statistical analysis further in a different context, according to data provided by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, in Britain in 2013 home-place or domestic mishaps caused about 2.7 million accident and emergency (A and E) department attendances. The number of injuries in domestic accidents was about 13 times higher than the numbers injured in road accidents.
Again if we look at injuries and disabilities caused by all accidents, these are many times more than deaths caused by all accidents, and often result in long-term difficulties and complications. Yet while discussing the issue, often only the number of deaths caused by accidents is highlighted.
In fact even the classification of accident related available data is not very helpful from the point of view of developing a comprehensive strategy, and much more work on this is needed at the global level, as well in the context of various countries.
Keeping in view the importance of improved research on accidents as a means of minimizing the harm from accidents, it is important to make available much more reliable information and also to organize and present it in a much better way so that it can make the best possible contribution at both policy and implementation levels. In fact this research can contribute much to the better organization of the accident prevention effort itself with improved cooperation of various agencies involved.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include "Planet in Peril", "Protecting Earth for Children" and "A Day in 2071"

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