Prevention can help to build personal resilience.

Taking preven­ta­tive action can avoid a lot of pain and suffe­ring. Forty thousand people in Switz­er­land are seriously inju­red in acci­dents outside of the work­place every year. This can put them out of work for three months or even longer. 2,500 of those people lose their lives. The Swiss Coun­cil for Acci­dent Preven­tion (BFU) is commit­ted to preven­ting acci­dents with serious reper­cus­sions. As a centre of exper­tise, the orga­ni­sa­tion puts safety first – without being tied to any parti­cu­lar poli­ti­cal or econo­mic inte­rests. It works closely with various stake­hol­ders, inclu­ding insu­rance compa­nies and sports associations.

Acci­dent preven­tion and response

The BFU’s work is groun­ded in scien­ti­fic rese­arch. The orga­ni­sa­tion analy­ses acci­dents and deve­lops action plans for the future. Based on those findings, it shares tips on ways to mini­mise hazards and risks. ‘The BFU’s preven­tion acti­vi­ties are focu­sed first and fore­most on the crea­tion of safer systems. Examp­les of this situa­tio­nal preven­tion include safe designs for streets and sports faci­li­ties,’ says media spokesper­son Chris­toph Leibund­gut. The BFU also runs campaigns to persuade people to change their own beha­viour. ‘For exam­ple, we could run a beha­viou­ral campaign to encou­rage people not to drink and drive. When­ever possi­ble, the BFU combi­nes tech­ni­cal, educa­tio­nal and commu­ni­ca­tion measu­res,’ he says. This is the kind of preven­ta­tive action that can improve safety in society. Taking this as the over­ri­ding prio­rity, Matthias Holen­stein from the Risk Dialo­gue Foun­da­tion sees some simi­la­ri­ties between preven­tion and resi­li­ence even though they involve diffe­rent approa­ches. ‘The aim of preven­tion is to stop acci­dents from happe­ning, while resi­li­ence is all about being in a better posi­tion to deal with an acci­dent or a crisis.’ He points out that if preven­tion is fully focu­sed on ensu­ring that some­thing doesn’t happen and buil­ding massive safety margins, this approach doesn’t neces­s­a­rily build resi­li­ence. And so he’s calling for an approach to preven­tion that also supports the risk culture. This follows the line of thin­king that it’s not possi­ble to elimi­nate every risk, so we need to be able to respond accor­din­gly. We don’t want to end up being comple­tely help­less in a crisis because we don’t know how to deal with the situa­tion. Ulti­m­ately, it’s also a ques­tion of resour­ces and an under­stan­ding of the speci­fic preven­ta­tive measu­res taken to coun­ter speci­fic risks. 

The right response

Resour­ces also need to be allo­ca­ted to new chal­lenges. Preven­ta­tive action is requi­red in rela­tion to digi­ta­li­sa­tion. It’s diffi­cult to know which approach is the right one. There are poten­tial oppor­tu­ni­ties there. For exam­ple, emer­gency brake assist can prevent car acci­dents. ‘But it’s important to reco­g­nise and respect the limits of systems like this,’ says Chris­toph Leibund­gut. The response has to be just right. ‘For now and in the near future, drivers in Switz­er­land still have to be in full control of their vehic­les at all times.’ An all-in approach to preven­tion has achie­ved impres­sive results on the roads in the past. If 10,000 people were inju­red in car acci­dents, 450 of them would have died in 1970. That number had drop­ped to 109 by 2022. Those 341 lives are saved each year thanks to speed limits, compul­sory seat­belts and drink-driving penal­ties as well as tech­no­lo­gi­cal deve­lo­p­ments and infra­struc­ture opti­mi­sa­ti­ons. But progress has been slowing down in recent years. ‘The BFU has iden­ti­fied huge poten­tial to make impro­ve­ments in town centres, where 60 per cent of all serious acci­dents take place,’ he says. That’s why it’s curr­ently campaig­ning for the speed limit to be lowe­red to 30 km/h ever­y­where that would bene­fit from this addi­tio­nal road safety measure.

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