India has the largest number of children in the world and is home to 20 per cent of world’s babies and toddlers in the age group of 0-4 years. Besides, the country also boasts the largest share of youngsters in the world. Let's consider this:
- The WHO states that burns are the 11th leading cause of death of children aged 1–9 years and are also the fifth most common cause of non-fatal childhood injuries.
- Almost 43 children below the age of 18 are killed in road crashes every single day on our roads.
- A study by doctors in Kolkata showed that 20 percent of children in the city suffer from lead poisoning, twice the national average.
- Despite the lack of large scale structured studies, any hospital or pediatrician will rate choking as the number one hazard for small children, with toys topping the list of offenders.
These statistics prove that children in India are continuously falling prey to the worst fatalities in road accidents and fire incidents, along with severely compromised public safety. While increasing population and search for prosperity are leading to increasing urbanisation in India, the existing and newer public safety challenges are crying for attention.
The Science of Safety
As India’s future is largely based on the progress of its education, industrial growth, politics and sound social dynamics, aspects such as product safety and manufacturing quality are gaining impressive relevance among industry stakeholders. Today, industry leaders are embracing safety science as part of best manufacturing practices for public utility systems and for consumer products. Experts believe that while India has the potential to become an international manufacturing hub, the safety of the consumers will depend on the standards of quality testing and public’s awareness on safety standards.
For the country’s manufacturing sector to become more reliable, experts need to mitigate risks and hazards such as road accidents, electrical fires, environmental contamination and hazards in manufacturing to name a few. The science of safety also extends to chemicals commonly found in our living and working environments. This goes on to imply that the science of safety needs to be adopted as a culture and be sustained in our practices in all walks of life. That is where the youth of the country come into the picture and play a critical role.
Taking the Science of Safety to schools
When we talk of science in schools, our minds will bring up images of the chemistry lab, circuit boards, plants and animals, chemical formulae. At the same time, the thought of a massive fire breaking out will be reduced to an unfortunate incident despite the principle of Physics, Chemistry and Biology involved. What if young minds in millions of schools across the country were ignited to understand that safety is neither luck, myth nor an accident, but a science?
By 13-14 years, most students learn about metals, minerals or chemicals and their properties. What if a learning environment additionally taught students about the presence of metals such as lead in their toys or mercury in food, their harmful effects on the body and how one can identify them to prevent a possible hazard? How conscious or aware are children and young adults about choking hazards caused by everyday things such as latex balloons, drawstrings, ribbons or shoelaces in clothes, suffocation caused by comforters or soft beddings? Are children equipped to handle emergencies such as an injury caused in a chemistry lab, a minor electric shock, and immediate response on seeing a peer in distress caused by choking on food?
Unfortunately, we continue to being a reactive society rather than a proactive one when it comes to public safety. We look at finding a solution to a hazard rather than preventing it the first place. Where are we lacking then? Education, public awareness and proper training are the cornerstone of approaches aimed at reducing vulnerabilities to hazards. Today, the FDA describes the science of safety as an emerging discipline that seeks to understand and prevent adverse events. When we talk about educating children and the youth about safety and safer living environments, it is important to create awareness about both, the hazards that everyday objects around them can cause and solutions to build a healthy, safe environment. It is an opportune time for the government, educators, safety experts to come together to create an age-appropriate learning environment for students - one that helps inculcate the value of Public Safety through science, focusing on four basic and important aspects of Fire, Electrical, Road and Product Safety in daily life.
Leading safety sciences expert such as UL are using scientific methods through live testing environments to develop and evolve newer methods to combat fire hazards in India. The youth need to be exposed to a holistic education such as this to understand the science behind creating safety standards for a safer living environment. UL, in association with Directorate of Education, Goa, launched the ‘Safer School, Safer India’ program for primary school students to make safety knowledge an interesting and experiential part of their daily learning. The aim was to help ensure increased prevention and preparedness to minimize loss of life and property from fire and non-fire emergencies in Goa. Deployed with active involvement of fire officers and primary-school teachers, the program brings UL’s expertise in fire safety and safety-awareness programs by creating the training curriculum. The company has also set up the NSSQ (National Safety Science Quiz), an annual initiative that brings together a safety science quiz and safety parliament with the objective of elevating awareness amongst young minds around critical safety aspects that affect their lives, especially with regard to electrical and fire safety.
For the nation to grow, it is imperative to help shape the minds of the children and the youth to help create a positive attitude towards public safety. For an economically and technologically sound nation, it is the collective responsibility of the citizens to create a safe society for its youth, the future. This will come from using the Science of Safety at every level and in ensuring Education and Awareness, especially with children.
The author is R.A.Venkitachalam, vice president – Public Safety, Underwriters Laboratories Inc.