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Accident data breakthrough

26 January 2009

Safety organisations have welcomed a significant step towards the reinstatement of injury data collection across the UK after research found a lack of information was hampering efforts to save lives and reduce injuries.

The results of a year-long study, commissioned jointly by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the Electrical Safety Council (ESC) and Intertek RAM, and supported by the Department of Health, were recently presented to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Health.

Based on the findings of the research, the Department of Health has agreed to instigate a pilot study to explore how information about people visiting hospital after an accident might best be collected.

The UK was once a world leader in injury surveillance - a process that identifies how people are being hurt in accidents, including what they were doing at the time, where they were and what products (if any) were involved. This data was analysed to establish trends, which then allowed steps to be taken to prevent such accidents happening in the future.

Until 2002, the former Department of Trade and Industry was collecting this data through the Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance Systems (HASS/LASS). Unfortunately, no fresh data has been collected since then. The most recent annual figures revealed that 2.7 million people in the UK visited hospital after a home accident and 2.9 million people following a leisure accident.

Since 2002, RoSPA has led the call for the re-establishment of injury surveillance. Following its inception in 2006, the ESC has been instrumental in driving forward the campaign and has provided a significant part ofthe necessary financial support to fund research into injury data collection.

Both safety charities have raised awareness of the problems caused by a lack of data, including the inability to spot injury trends - which in turn makes it difficult to target prevention campaigns and evaluate their effectiveness. The UK is also currently unable to provide data for the European Injury Database.

Errol Taylor, RoSPA deputy chief executive, said: "While we have information about deaths, the absence of up-to-date figures on injuries and their causes means we cannot determine the true costs of accidents, both in terms of the misery being suffered by families and the financial burden on employers and society in general. Without this information, we are unable to prioritise new injury prevention campaigns, such as raising awareness of everyday hazards or introducing new product safety regulations. It is also impossible to measure the effect of such campaigns on injury rates.

"There is a clear demand for injury data. In fact, 70,000 people from every sector of the UK economy have accessed the old HASS/LASS data via the RoSPA website in the last year - a 40 per cent rise on the year before. We are therefore thrilled that the Secretary of State has given his support to the issue of data collection in such a proactive way."

Phil Buckle, the ESC's director of charitable affairs, said: "A co-ordinated and sustainable UK-wide approach to the collection of accident and injury data is essential. In many cases accidents can be prevented by making living and working environments and products and services safer. But, only through accurate recording of the cause and effect of accidents is it possible to understand relative risk and so develop strategies for reducing preventable injuries.

“The support of the Secretary of State in instigating a pilot study represents a significant step forward and one that we greatly welcome.”

John Mason, senior vice-president at Intertek RAM, said: "Our research has confirmed that reliable and up-to-date injury data is required in order to shape local and national policy, prioritise resources, develop public awareness campaigns, understand relative risk, and design safety into new products and services. In short, it is crucial if we are to learn from experience to prevent injuries in the future.

"It is essential that injury data collection is restarted across the UK, and we are delighted that the findings of the feasibility study have met with such a favourable response from the Secretary of State."

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