Injuries (unintentional due to “accidents” and intentional
due to interpersonal violence and self-harm) are the most common cause of death
in the EU Member States after cardiovascular diseases, cancer and respiratory
diseases. About 60 million people, corresponding to about 12% of the entire
European population, are medically treated for injuries each year and about
250,000 citizens of the European Union die as a result of an accident or
violence. In children, adolescents and young adults accidents and injuries are
the leading cause of death (KfV,
2007). There are large differences in the occurrence of injuries in
different EU Member Countries, although over the last ten years a reduction of
about 20% has been observed in standardized death rates for many causes except
for home and leisure accidents.
Many organisations worldwide cooperate to address this
huge health problem. The World Health Organization and the European Union have identified
injuries as one area which should rank higher on the political agenda in order
to make Europe a safer place to live in for its population. Both have taken
recent initiatives to promote forceful public health actions to enhance injury
surveillance, injury prevention and safety promotion:
In 2005 the WHO has passed a Regional Committee
Resolution on Prevention of Injuries in the WHO European Region. In 2007, the
European Council released its Recommendation on Injury Prevention and Safety
Promotion based on the conclusions of a Communication from the Commission of 2006. In order to assist national administrations and other stakeholders with the practical
implementation of these guidelines a handbook “How to make Europe a safer place
– key areas for consideration in implementing the Council Recommendation” has
been prepared (Working Group of Governmental Experts on Injury Prevention and
Safety Promotion, 2008).
This chapter provides the most recent available
information about the injury burden of health, underlining the arguments which
already had underpinned the mentioned policy documents. Figures are coming from
different data sources: HFA-DB (WHO), COD (EuroStat), CARE, IRTAD, ESAW, HDD
An injury is a bodily lesion resulting from acute exposure
to energy (mechanical, thermal, electrical, chemical or radiant) or from an
insufficiency of a vital element (drowning, strangulation or freezing). The
time between exposure and the appearance of the injury is short. Injuries are
often classified as unintentional (due to accidents) and intentional (due to
self harm or interpersonal violence) (WHO, 2001).
In addition to intent and cause, injuries can be
categorized by their settings such as the home, work place and road, and by
activities, such as sports or other leisure activities (WHO, 2005a).
In contrast to many other causes of illness or premature
death, injuries are widely preventable by addressing the external causes of
injuries such as roads, work places, homes, sport facilities, products and
services, as well as the rules of conduct.
Therefore, effective injury prevention also needs
appropriate information on these external factors. Detailed injury data make it
possible to develop targeted prevention measures, monitor injury trends, prioritise
issues, guide policies and evaluate the success of interventions designed to
reduce injuries. In order to be able to prevent injuries effectively it is
important not only to know how many fractures or head injuries have occurred,
but also where, when, how, to whom and also why.
There are countless examples of how detailed injury data
has guided the improvement of standards and regulations for products (e.g.
toys, child care articles, sport equipment, electric home appliances, safety
labels) and services (e.g. playgrounds, skiing slopes, nursing homes). Public
information through media and targeted safety education is almost impossible
without proper risk assessment based on data. However, in many Member States
this kind of data is not yet available on a routine basis.
A number of initiatives have occurred in the past to
reduce the frequency of injuries due to accidents and violence and have been
particularly successful in reducing road fatalities, workplace accidents,
chemical accidents and consumer product-related injuries. There is also ample
evidence that improvements in trauma care have led to a significant reduction
in mortality from trauma. Most of these measures have been proven to be
cost-effective whereby the benefits of prevention for health systems often
exceed the costs of intervention by a factor of several times.
Traditionally injury prevention in EU Member States is
segregated into independent sectors – traffic, employment, consumer safety,
housing, welfare, police and justice etc. Although injury prevention programmes
in the different sectors may have been quite effective within their specific
scope, the fragmentation hampers the full use of the prevention potential. In
particular the (public) health sector has not yet fully recognised the
tremendous potential of taking action within its responsibilities.
Applying the systematic public health approach helps to
assess the magnitude of health problems, to identify priority areas, reveal
gaps, allocate attention also to vulnerable groups, provide information for
targeted prevention, monitor the effectiveness of actions, and create synergies
by interdepartmental coordination. Better use of scarce resources for
prevention, greater effectiveness of investments and accordingly higher savings
in healthcare and welfare costs can be expected.
Although many safety actions are known as effective, e.g.
car seat belts, pool fencing, smoke detectors, barrier free homes; there is
still a great scope for widespread implementation to reduce the huge social
toll of accidents and injuries, in particular by addressing risk settings and
risk groups that have until now received limited attention such as the home,
leisure and sport accidents, and safety of elderly citizens.
This chapter provides a general overview of injury
mortality and morbidity in the EU, a discussion of the evidence base for the
proposed seven priority areas for public health action on injuries as proposed
by the Council Recommendation (chapter “data discussion”), and a survey on available
policy tools and guidelines for action.