“What is it that you do?”
If I had a dollar for each time I have answered that question in the month since we launched The Safety Institute, we’d be well on our way to meeting our first-year fundraising goals.
Many of those asking were my colleagues in attendance at the recent CDC/SafeStates national conference on injury prevention in Atlanta, some of whom are longtime friends and associates who could not wrap their heads around the idea of injury prevention work being done successfully outside of the realm of government.
There are, of course, businesses and non-profits that do outstanding injury prevention work, like the Drowning Prevention Foundation, and Concerned Families for ATV Safety. But for the most part, these are single-cause or single-issue organizations, devoted toward educating the public and influencing policymakers to prevent harm from coming to people from a specific injury event.
TSI has the immodest goal of wedding these groups, with a common goal of bringing the abstract notion of “injury prevention” out of the dark corners of the CDC and state health departments, and plopping it squarely in the center of the public’s consciousness.
We would not be so bold to attempt this if we had not already successfully accomplished this very aim in certain areas. In our President, Sean Kane, we have a tireless professional activist, and our Executive Board boasts professionals who are incredibly accomplished in the areas injury prevention, advocacy and health care.
As for myself, I give full credit to the CDC and its partners for teaching me the science and theory behind this country’s injury prevention movement. During the nearly six years I served as the CDC’s core injury grantee for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I learned from some of the greatest teachers and mentors in the field–One of whom, Cynthia Rodgers, we are fortunate to have as coordinator of our TSI Survivors Network.
And so, dear reader, this is what we will do: As a brand-new non-profit entity (we can officially call ourselves a public charity once the IRS approves our pending 501c3 application) we design to make the world safer by publishing, promoting, funding and advocating for product safety and injury prevention interventions, policies, and research. Our emphasis shall be on areas that are underserved by other organizations and individuals; as well as the effects of new and emerging technologies on safety.
And finally, we will provide help and support to survivors of catastrophic injuries through our Survivors Network. The Network consists of those whose lives have been touched by injury, and the work these fine volunteers have signed on for will mean anything from referrals to health care services to personal mentoring by someone who has “been there.” .
Our Survivors are really the key to our mission. Only someone who has lived with the consequences of injury, or whose life has been spared thanks to a safety intervention, can fully appreciate the need to change the mindset of Americans, so they can embrace safety as something it is “okay” or even “cool” to like.
I firmly believe that we are at this stage in our culture, and that TSI and our partners will play a role in this transformation. The CDC conference I referenced above had as its central theme the need to have safety professionals engage in “storytelling,” or making prevention a meaningful, emotional experience, for the populace. The CDC told the nearly 350 attendees (the majority of whom depend on NCIPC for funding of state or local level intervention projects) that data presentations alone will no longer be considered a good use of CDC injury prevention dollars. We must make prevention meaningful, the presenters stressed, and put a human face on the fine prevention work being done.
Since TSI’s founders had already come to the table with this notion, we heartily endorse the CDC’s hypothesis that we don’t just have to change the minds of others, we have to change the way we present ourselves.
When I came to the safety field in 2006, I saw tremendous work being done by researchers, scientists, epidemiologists and community organizers around the country. But we suffered from the image of the injury prevention advocate as one of a killjoy, a worrywart, a latter-day Carrie Nation with gray hair in a tight bun, lecturing the rest of us on how having fun would cause us to lose an eye.
It occurred to me that, while people engaging in foolish pastimes such as riding motorcycles without helmets; setting sail without life vests on board; or driving while watching a mobile device needed to change their behavior, so did those of us who were devoting our life’s work to halting said dangerous activity.
And so, we begin our campaign to bring safety out of the meeting rooms of the state medical society and into the real world. You know, the one populated by those who have never heard of the Haddon Matrix, and who have never used a powerpoint slide stating that “unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1-44.”
The goal is not to ridicule or leave behind science, but to make it palatable for the non-scientists who vastly outnumber the educated few. Until we make safety a viscerally desirable option, and conversely make stupidity an untenable option, we will continue to bang our collective heads against the padded walls and wonder why “no one listens to us.”
Martin Luther spoke of the merger of faith and reason as key to a life well lived. By having research and intervention strategies evolve into a multi-faceted effort that emphasize the human element, we can make safety acceptable, and not “nerdy,” for everyone. TSI has a lot of ideas on that, and in the months ahead we will begin sharing them.
In our upcoming blog posts, we will spotlight and explore trends and issues in the world of safety and prevention that reflect our mission. We invite your ideas on how to best serve the professional safety community, while bringing our messages to the masses. We look forward to working with you to make the world safer.