Everyone had a story of suffering a fall themselves, or knowing someone injured, sometimes seriously, from one, either at home or public place.
But until residents of the Carman and surrounding municipality of Dufferin started looking at local injury statistics, no one guessed just how often or how injurious these incidents were.
Trips, slips and falls have hospitalized nearly 250 local residents and led to the deaths of nine people between 2004 and 2009, and rank as the No. 1 cause of injury in this small south-central Manitoba community.
A new initiative here plans to take action and reduce that frequency.
Carman this spring has become the third community in Manitoba and 61st in Canada to earn a “safe community” status designation through the national program Safe Communities Canada.
With a combined population of just over 5,000, this is also the first small town and municipality combination in Manitoba to pursue the designation. Brandon and Winnipeg have also formed similar leadership teams and put injury prevention strategies in place.
What this means is they’ll try to make Carman become a safer place to live, not that they’ve suddenly become one, explains Lynne Wilkinson, the co-chair of the recently struck Safe Communities Committee Carman-Dufferin.
“It means we’re a community that has put the people and processes in place to know where our injuries are occurring and to be proactive and have some clear goals to address the problems,” she said.
The initiative began here last fall and emerged from the local Healthy Communities Committee, and public meetings consulting with the community.
WHOLE COMMUNITY APPROACH
Safe Communities Canada is a Canada-wide program begun in 1996 to help communities of all sizes develop greater capacity for injury prevention. It’s accredited internationally through the World Health Organization and is organized around the idea that singular approaches to injury prevention and safety promotion aren’t as effective as those supported by a community collaboration.
So far, they’ve brought together a broad section of the community wanting to make Carman a safer place, reviewed injury data from Manitoba Health, and set some priorities on where to take action, said Wilkinson, noting that another area of concern is the high incidence of motor vehicle accidents.
Brandon, which has had the safe community designation since 2003, also made preventing falls a priority, said Nancy McPher son, a populat ion health planner analyst with the Brandon Regional Health Authority who spoke at a one-day Healthy Communities Conference here April 29.
Some might assume it’s older persons who get hurt from falling most frequently, but the injury data from Brandon and three surrounding municipalities shows all ages frequently get hurt from a fall.
“For children, it’s the nature of play,” said McPherson. “With older folks it has a lot to do with the built environment and things like the uneven sidewalks.”
The main thrust behind a safe community designation is to create a diverse network of those commited to a “whole community approach” to safety versus delegating the job to a single agency.
In Brandon, that’s led to a redesigned crosswalk, traversed daily by hundreds of senior residents, but found to be exceedingly precarious due to an island intersection impeding wheelchairs and those using walkers. The redesign involved taking out that island and increasing the duration of lights to give pedestrians more time to cross.
They’ve been careful to balance the need to keep children safe with the need for active play as they’ve looked at playgrounds, and that’s meant assessing what’s an acceptable level of risk, McPherson said. No one wanted to make a playground so safe it was boring to be in, or curb children’s active playtime.
“We want kids to run and play and climb the monkey bars, which are inherently risky,” she said. “What we’ve struggled with is what level of risk are we willing to live with. So instead of reducing injuries, we’ve focused on the type and severity. We want to see lots of skinned knees, and maybe even a sprained ankle, but not fractures.”
Brandon will be keen to learn from Carman and Dufferin’s progress, she added, noting that safety interventions can be challenging in smaller centres, which are influenced by the high-risk culture of agriculture.
President of Safe Communities Canada Paul Kells, who was moved found the charity organization after his son died in a workplace accident 15 years ago, said the approach they’re advocating is for a whole community to commit to creating a “culture of safety.”
That’s done by working together in community partnerships on interventions, he said.
Falls, or any frequently occurring event causing repeated injuries happen because “doing nothing is a deliberate choice,” said Kells, who spoke in Carman last month.
“There are so many forms of injury where doing something could have intervened,” he said. “There are things a community can do to spot these things. This is about engaging people.”
To learn more about Safe Communities Canada and the process towards becoming a designated community log on to: http://www.safecommuni ties.ca.