The State of Safety Press Conference

June 27, 2017 | Washington, D.C.

Debbie A.P. Hersman

Deborah A.P. Hersman is the former president and CEO of the National Safety Council. She is currently the Chief Safety Officer at Waymo.


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Good morning and thank you for joining us as we wrap up National Safety Month. The National Safety Council has a mission of eliminating preventable deaths at work, in our homes and communities, and on the road.

We go were data tells us to go and where we can make the most impact.

We know that if we measure it, we can improve it, so today we unveil our State of Safety Report which measures safety accomplishments but shows a lot of improvement is still needed.

We know that the culture around safety has shifted for the better, but we are not even close where we need to be if we are going to prevent the most common types of accidental deaths on our roads, in our homes, and at our workplaces.

This definitive report ranks safety actions at the state level overall, and unfortunately it does not paint a favorable picture of safety in America today.

Only seven states and the District of Columbia are doing well enough to earn a “B” and NO state gets an overall “A” for safety.

So why is this important?

Unintentional deaths have risen by 27% since 1992. Imagine if we had a 27% increase in communicable diseases or airplane crashes. We would stop everything to address that kind of calamity. But in every state of the nation, people are dying from things we can prevent and we call them accidents.

Each year more than 140,000 of our fellow Americans die from things that are predictable, preventable, and avoidable.

These deaths occur in the prime of life – the average age of someone dying from an unintentional injury is just 46 years old.

To put that into perspective, that’s a lifespan 33 years shorter than the average American. That’s thirty-three years needlessly lost.

I’ll give you one last number to ponder – 58,000 more people would be alive this year if mortality rates for unintentional deaths in 2016 tracked with our growing life expectancy. Data tells us we have to act. This report tells us how we can act.

To our knowledge, this is the first time any organization has looked at unintentional deaths from a state-by-state perspective.

It’s a snapshot in time looking at a set of issues across the spaces where we work, live, and travel.

I would now like to walk you through the report in brief.

We organized the report into three sections – Road Safety, Home and Community Safety, and Workplace Safety. Rather than grading states on lagging indicators such as fatality numbers, instead the report is focused on leading indicators which states can control such as policy actions and legislation.

Each state received both an overall score, as well as a letter grade for how well they are implementing recommended indicators in each of these three safety areas.There are 62 indicators total in the report, and each also received a weight on a scale of 1-5, depending on how effective they are for preventing deaths and injuries. The 17 safety issues received a weight as well.

Our NSC subject matter experts selected the indicators and assigned those weights, in consultation with external partners and safety leaders.

We had 367 external safety experts participate in a survey tailored to their area of expertise, to help us identify what those weights should be.

All states were graded based on how close they came to having all indicators recommended by NSC. An ‘A’ grade represented having at least 70% of all indicators in place, and as you saw in the video, no state reached that threshold for an overall score.

Throughout the report, we provide a summary of pressing concerns, list the safety issues, as well as the top 5 and bottom 5 ranked states.

Each safety issue includes at least two state policy actions that can save lives and prevent injuries.

Promising practices appear throughout to showcase innovative ideas that are implemented at the local level that can make a big difference.

Now let’s take a look at our road safety section.

Last year, NSC estimates we lost 40,000 lives on our nation’s roads.

These are the 8 primary issues we identified as significant for the report. I’d like to highlight one of them.

We found that vulnerable road users, or those that are not shielded by safety features such as seatbelts and crash protection in vehicles, are particularly at risk.

In 2015, more than 11,000 fatalities occurred among pedestrians, motorcyclists, and bicyclists according to NHTSA. That’s more than the 10,000 fatalities due to drunk driving, or the thousands that lost their lives because they were unbelted.

Mandatory helmets and laws that require drivers to stop for pedestrians are actions that states can take to reduce these fatalities.

The good news is communities that have a Vision Zero plan in place, are reducing speed limits, increasing enforcement, and improving road design in urban environments where pedestrians and bicyclists are most at risk.

While 7 states received an “A” in Road Safety, 17 received either a “D” or an “F”.

So we would like to see more of these kinds of efforts nationwide.

Next, let’s turn to Home and Community:

More than 70% of preventable injury deaths occur either at home or in the community.

Poisonings, suicides, and falls are the biggest threat to our safety. However, states also missed the mark when it comes to preventing drownings and home fire deaths.

36 states received either a “D” or an “F”, and only Maryland did well enough to earn an “A”. While we think of home as a refuge, this is truly where states need to make the most improvement.

Many of you may wonder what the category of poisonings represents. It could include deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning, as well as other dangerous chemicals. However, opioids pose the greatest threat by far.

Last year, the National Safety Council released a Prescription Nation Report grading states on how well they addressed the prescription painkiller epidemic.

We still have work to do to reduce the amount of opioids prescribed, to provide access to naloxone to reverse overdoses, and provide access to treatment options, among other things.

With the presidential opioid commission meeting last week, policymakers are paying more attention. Yet the epidemic still remains largely hidden, even as we lose 60 people nearly every single day.

Sports related concussions and traumatic brain injuries among children are growing. Every three minutes a child is treated for a sports-related concussion.

I am happy to report that 28 states are on track for implementing recommended practices for keeping children safe.

Lastly, we’ll preview workplace safety.

We are nine times safer at work, than we are at home. But in 2015 almost 5000 workers were killed, and every day almost 12,000 are injured. That’s still far too many.

Regardless of how we earn our paycheck, the right to a safe workplace is something that everyone deserves.

While Federal regulations provide a starting point, states can also influence safer workplace policies. Most employers know that to truly keep their workers and families safe, they must go beyond the bare minimum.

In the context of this report, we looked at indicators such as whether states mandate drug and smoke-free workplaces, as well as how they address workplace violence, and whether they require employers to offer safety and health programs.

While Illinois and Washington State, received an “A” for Workplace Safety, more than half (29) states got either a “D” or an “F.”

We know states can’t control everything that happens in the workplace, in homes and communities, or on the road, but some states are doing much more to protect residents, and more should aspire to excellence.

We hope states take this opportunity to evaluate their policies and enact legislation that can save lives.

No state is getting an “A” but here is what we can do right now to help states improve:

The Road to Zero effort currently includes over 300 organizations focused on eliminating roadway fatalities by 2050. This year, seven grant recipients, including three Vision Zero cities, received funding from Road to Zero to reduce fatalities and injuries, and we can all learn from what these groups are doing.

  • We need to continue enforcement of speeding, distraction, and impairment on our nation’s roads.
  • We need to ban all cell phone use behind the wheel. You will hear a personal story from Tom Goetlz (GELTZ) about this issue. For all the drivers out there, slow down and buckle up.
  • Our homes pose hidden risks.
  • To combat our growing opioid epidemic, we need to get better education for doctors and improved access to treatment – Rigo Garcia will talk about this very problem in a few minutes.
  • As we are living longer, the risks of falls increase as we age. Since 1999, falls have skyrocketed 168%. One of the promising practices we identified include balance and flexibility programs that could reduce falls for older adults by more than 30%.
  • Check out NSC.org/StateofSafety to find out how your state is doing and tools to evaluate your own risks.

I’ve shared with you the numbers, but we have two speakers here today who are going to share their stories. Each story is a personal, painful, and powerful reminder for why we need to care about safety no matter which state we call home.

Tom is a Vice President of Risk Management Services with the Hays Companies in Minnesota. For over 30 years, he has been actively involved in employee safety and health, risk management, fleet safety and property and liability conservation issues. In the last year, Tom has become a tireless advocate for safety on the road, and I’d like to welcome him to podium to tell you why. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Goeltz.

Rodrigo Garcia is a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, Executive Program Director, and co-founder of the Parkdale Recovery Center in Chesterton, Indiana. Rodrigo is currently the Chief Anesthetist, providing anesthesia to countless families in rural Indiana who have limited access to healthcare. He is a tireless advocate for expanding access to substance use treatment, and I’d like to welcome him to the podium to tell you why. Ladies and gentlemen, Rodrigo Garcia.

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