Almost every decision a public leader decides touches on safety. While we have made tremendous strides reducing some types of accidents in the past four decades, the overall rate of accidental fatalities in the United States has actually increased since 2000.
An informative video, Community Safety Leadership, discusses the role of local elected officials in safety programs. Any governmental entity may download and use this video.
Employee Accidents: One of the success stories has been the long term reduction of employee accidents. This reflects the great emphasis that has been placed on job safety programs over the last 50 years. However, governmental work is still dangerous. In every state including New Jersey, government has the highest accident rate of any employer classification. It is sobering to realize that the typical law enforcement officer, fire fighter or DPW worker has a higher accident frequency than either construction or underground mining.
Auto Accidents: Another success story is the continuing reduction in fatal auto accidents. In the past 40 years, the per capita death rate has dropped over 50%. This is a direct result of improvements in vehicle design and better enforcement of DWI laws. Unfortunately, the auto fatality rate has started to increase again as a direct result of distracted driving is emerging as a serious threat on the highway. At any given time, 11% of drivers are on the phone. We now know that the use of a phone, even a hands free phone, quadruples the risk of a crash. Further, here in New Jersey we have a particularly serious problem with pedestrian accidents.
Home and Community Accidents: Unfortunately, the overall accident rate has increased because of the dramatic jump in accidents at home and in the community. In fact, over the last 20 years the home and community fatality rate has increased 77%. This explains the significant increase in calls to emergency responders.
Since the year 2000, poisonings have increased 174%. Almost 30% of all accidental deaths are now poisonings. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers have increased proportional to sales and now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. In 1998, 11.5 tons of oxycodone were manufactured worldwide. By 2007, this figure had grown to 75.2 tons with the United States accounting for 82% of consumption.
During the same period, fatalities due to falls more than doubled, due in part to the increase in number of senior citizens, but also because of their increased use of prescription medication.
The solutions to these problems must involve cooperation between all levels of government. In particular, support of local municipal and board of education officials is critical because they are often in the best position to implement real change. They need the consistent support of officials at the county and state level who must adopt legislation and provide resources.