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.