This communication focuses on the prevention of accidents and injuries in Europe by public health actions. It is intended to provide a strategic framework which is needed to help all Member States prioritise their actions to reduce accidents and injuries. These actions should be undertaken in the framework of the Community Public Health Programme (2003-2008)1, the Consumer Policy Strategy (2003-2006)2 and follow-up initiatives.
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 needs to be short. Injuries are often classified as unintentional (due to accidents) and intentional (due to self harm or interpersonal violence).
Injuries are a leading cause of death among the European population. The risk of death and severe injury is particularly high in such diverse areas as the home, leisure activities and sports, road transportation, the workplace, and in connection with consumer products and services. Unintentional and intentional injuries are estimated to be the main cause of chronic disability in the young, leading to an enormous loss of life years in good health. Among people over 65 years old, too, accidents and injuries are a major cause of death and disability and are often the trigger for a fatal deterioration in their health. Considering the huge impact of the injury epidemic on productivity, health and well-being in the Community, a Community response to the issue would have added value. Progress could be achieved through a co-ordinated approach with sustained leadership by the Commission, the Member States and related partner organisations.
A number of initiatives have been taken 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.
However, there is still scope for more effective action to reduce the huge social toll of accidents and injuries, in particular by addressing risk settings and risk groups that have until now received less attention. The significant differences in accident and injury rates between Member States and within their populations indicate that there is still great potential for reducing the burden of injuries in the Community and in neighbouring countries. The current injury mortality rate in the European Union ranges from 27 death per 100 000 residents in the United Kingdom and in the Netherlands to more than 120 death per 100 000 in the Baltic countries (129 in Latvia and Estonia and 143 in Lithuania).
This communication highlights the role of the health sector in injury prevention by quantifying the problems, reporting risk factors, advocating primary prevention, disseminating evidence-based strategies increasing the professional capacities for advising people at risk, leading cross-cutting action plans, and informing the public about hazards and safety precautions.
1Decision N° 1786/2002 EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 23 September 2002 adopting a programme of Community action in the field of public health (2003-2008)
2Commission’s Community Consumer Policy Strategy (2002-2006), doc 8907/02