Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Injury Prevention Priority Setting With Safe Community Wood Buffalo - Or "Why We Don't Want to Be #1"

I admit it. There are days when I get up, look at my daytimer (yes, I still do it the old-fashioned way with a book, mine a little red number with the words "Keep Calm and Carry On" emblazoned on it), and wonder what I've managed to get myself into that day. This happened on Thursday of last week when I got up and saw I was scheduled to attend the Injury Prevention Priority Setting Exercise hosted by Safe Community Wood Buffalo. I was intrigued, which is why I had accepted the kind invitation from SCWB, but I also knew this was far beyond my knowledge range. My injury prevention knowledge is of the sort that screams "don't run with scissors" and not much beyond that. I also know, though, that injury prevention is a huge issue because injuries affect our health care system, our community, and our families - and for that reason I headed down to Mac Island to check out exactly what SCWB does. And in the end I walked away, as usual, knowing much more than I had when I arrived, having found people in this community who frankly amaze me with their depth of knowledge and wisdom, and with a new appreciation for what this group does in our community. But let's start at the top, shall we?

Safe Community Wood Buffalo is an initiative that works towards exactly what the name implies - a safe community. The truth is that injuries are generally preventable - there are very few real "accidents", as that implies they cannot be avoided. The reality is that we can prevent many of the injuries we see around us, and the idea is that we do so by being proactive, not reactive. And part of being proactive is studying the current data, and determining which areas are our "worst" in terms of injuries. We can then concentrate on those areas, in terms of education and resources, and try to whittle down those numbers. And that is what the Injury Prevention Priority Setting Exercise does. It brings together community members from many different organizations and groups (from the RCMP to Alberta Health Services, non-profits to the traffic safety organizations, and many more), presents them with the latest data on injuries in our zone - and then sets them to work to see if we can determine what we feel are the most significant.

People, the data itself is fascinating - and deeply, deeply troubling. The data presented on Thursday is from all of the northern zone, so not just the RMWB, but regardless the numbers are worrisome. We rank highest in everything - per capita numbers of injuries, numbers of deaths, numbers of hospitalizations, numbers of ER visits for injuries. I'd shout out "Hey, we're Number One!" - except this is one time I'd like to be at the very bottom of the rankings. The cost of these injuries in terms of our health care system, our community, our families, and our lives is enormous - and it needs to change. And the only way to do that is if we start making some changes. I will tell you now that the data shocked me, and it awakened some awareness. We have a problem, people.

As you might imagine one of our leading causes of injuries is motor vehicle accidents. I expected that. I didn't expect that Alberta is the province with the second highest rate of suicides (a statistic led by Quebec, but not including the territories). I didn't expect that our second highest leading cause of injuries is falls - and then poisoning. Now, the poisoning one is a bit of a puzzler, as most people like me would think of that as being a child who drinks bleach from under the kitchen sink, but it's a bit more complex when you realize it includes overdoses of both prescription and non-prescription drugs. The one stat that really stunned me, though, is our death rate from injury. In the north zone we see 71 deaths per 100,000 people. The provincial average is 48 deaths per 100,000. To paraphrase a famous quote : "Fort McMurray, we have a problem".

The data is a bit overwhelming, really. I've been looking at it since Thursday, puzzling through it (I'm a writer, not a statistician, and therefore it takes me some time to absorb these kinds of things). No matter how I read it, though, or which way I spin it, the data says we need to be working harder to prevent injury. The data is clear, and we need to start thinking about it - and not just the people at Safe Community Wood Buffalo. We all need to be thinking about this one, people.

And that's why the next part of the day was particularly interesting. We were divided up into working groups, assigned two causes of injury, and then asked to rank some statements about those causes. The statements were things like asking if we think the community is aware of the problem, if there is enough being done about it, if more could be done - and this is where the priority setting comes in, of course. My group was assigned two causes - suicide, and fire. And it was intriguing because our answers were vastly different for each cause.

You see, I think in terms of fire safety our community, and our fire fighters in particular, have done an outstanding job in terms of education. I suspect every kid in this city knows "stop, drop, and roll", and most have gone home from a session at school and lectured their parents on a fire evacuation plan (like the youngest Intrepid Junior Blogger did to us years ago when she even sketched it all out after a visit to her school from the fire department). So, I think in terms of awareness, prevention, and interest in the cause of injury, fire safety ranks very highly - but not so for suicide. As I told my table the problem with suicide is that it is an uncomfortable subject - it is not "sexy", not something that attracts attention. It is one of those things we rather wish would just go away so we didn't have to deal with it, really. It's not something we enjoy talking about, and it's not simple, like fire. Fire is bad, fire is something we know how to prevent, and fire makes sense to us. But not suicide. We don't understand it, we know we want to stop it but we aren't always sure how, and it hurts us to even think about it. But the most troubling thing is, of course, that we are far more likely to be directly touched at some point in our lives by suicide than by fire - because suicide deaths and injuries are far more common than those from fire.  The discussion at my table was astonishing, people, because it brought together people from this community but with very different knowledge bases, and it allowed us to talk about what we knew - and it was absolutely enlightening, probably more so for me than anyone else because I walked in knowing so little and left knowing significantly more (and with even more questions and thoughts).

So, all the tables and working groups were having these discussions, and evaluating these statements regarding these causes of injuries and deaths. While we were having lunch as a group the results were evaluated, too, and led to the top three injury priorities as ranked by the community members and the quantitative data. And the results? Well, again fascinating. Our number one concern was injuries from motor vehicle accidents, then falls (this is surprisingly high, but given workplace "slips, trips, and falls" perhaps not so surprising really), and then a tie between suicide/self-injury and poisoning. And what does this really mean? This means these are the areas we, as a community, have chosen to look at more closely, and to perhaps focus our prevention efforts on. These are the causes of deaths and injury that are statistically - and in terms of relevance to us - most troubling. These are the ones we want to see addressed, and these rankings give groups like Safe Community Wood Buffalo a starting point to focus on. But here's a thought, people. It's not just those organizations and groups that need to start thinking about this - it's all of us.

I don't want us to be number one in this. I love to win competitions, and I love to see this region rank highly - but not for this. I'd rather like us to be dead last in this "competition", and with impeccable and enviable safety statistics. We aren't going to get there without some effort - from all of us. If you consider that 95% of "accidents" are preventable then it appears we have significant room for improvement, but it's going to take all of us to achieve it. Whether it's looking at our own driving habits in terms of motor vehicle accidents, or thinking about workplace safety we can change this. We can educate ourselves, and we can start giving some thoughts to reducing those troubling injury numbers. I think we should let someone else be number one in this one, Fort Mac. I think just maybe we should aim for being the very bottom of the list, people. Let's aim low - and save some lives.

First, my apologies to the RCMP officer I accused
 of "cheating" for trying to get to the lunch buffet
 table sooner.  You see, the facilitator was selecting tables
 by asking questions like "who is wearing a blue shirt?",
 and when the RCMP officer attempted to use the argument that
 they should go next because they had guns
 at their table I couldn't stop myself and shouted out
 "cheating, totally cheating!" and the room erupted in laughter.
 I'm always a bit amazed I get invited back to these things, really.

And on that note my genuine and sincere thanks to
Safe Community Wood Buffalo
for the invitation, and for including me in the
Injury Prevention Priority Setting Exercise -
it was an absolutely enlightening experience!
I'm hoping you might consider inviting me back, too,
despite my tendency to blurt out my thoughts publicly ;)

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea our stats were so high. It is troubling especially because if you work at an oilsands site it is constantly "safety, safety, safety!!! go home safe!", then we go home and it sounds like a very dangerous place to be. Am I safer at work where I feel like I can blow up at any time? At least I can't be cut off in traffic and die a tragic traffic death. What is happening here?