Injuries sustained in everyday activities, from bone-breaking falls to motor-vehicle crashes that rip families apart, cost the Canadian economy a staggering $19.8-billion a year, according to a new report.
The human toll is as massive as the economic one, with injuries claiming 13,667 lives, leaving 5,023 other Canadians permanently disabled and an additional 62,563 with a permanent partial disability. Injuries also send more than three million people, young and old, to emergency rooms each year for treatment, the study shows.
"These are huge, shocking numbers," Phil Groff, director of research and evaluation at Smartrisk, said in an interview. "I don't think many people are aware of the magnitude of this problem."
The 124-page report, The Economic Burden of Injury in Canada, was commissioned by Smartrisk, a charitable group that promotes injury prevention.
Dr. Groff said that by producing a comprehensive catalogue of injuries and their cost, the group hopes to awaken the interest of politicians and policy-makers in the importance of the issue.
"Injuries cost Canadians almost $20-billion a year. That's the cost of inaction because most injuries are predictable and preventable," he said.
Dr. Groff said injuries need to be tackled more comprehensively - just like cancer, which is about 200 different diseases - not as disparate, unrelated matters.
The only important distinction made in the report is between non-intentional injuries, which account for 81 per cent of injuries, and intentional injuries (such as suicides and violence), which account for 19 per cent.
Suicide is the leading cause of all injury deaths, claiming 3,616 lives in 2004, according to the report. That is following by transport-related incidents - from motor-vehicle collisions to snowmobile crashes - which cost 3,067 Canadians their lives. Next is falls, which killed 2,225 people, most of them seniors.
Ned Levitt, chairman of Smartrisk, said the data cannot truly convey the breadth and depth of the losses that families experience, and he knows that all too well from personal experience.
On Aug. 30, 1995, his 16-year-old daughter, Stacey, went out for a run and never returned. She was struck by a car as she stepped off a curb and died instantly.
"I used to say Stacey died in a stupid accident. I had nothing to focus on, nothing to give her death meaning," he said.
But Mr. Levitt was invited to a Smartrisk fundraiser by a friend and there, he said, "I had an epiphany. I came away realizing that Stacey didn't die of an accident, she died of a preventable injury."
The run was not, in itself, dangerous, but his daughter was exhausted and was wearing headphones, both of which led to inattention and stepping out into traffic, he realized.
Since then, Mr. Levitt has thrown himself into the cause of injury prevention and hopes to persuade others of the importance of the issue.
The Smartrisk philosophy is that injuries will occur, but they can be mitigated and minimized through public policy measures and education.
"Instead of saying 'no, no, no' to everyone - and young people in particular, we say, 'Yes - but when you take risks, take smart risks and live a full life,'" Mr. Levitt said.
The new report calculates that injuries cost $10.7-billion in direct medical costs and $9.1-billion in indirect costs.
That is the equivalent of $621 for every woman, man and child in the country - including $337 in direct health-care costs.
But there are significant variations by region, ranging from $518 in Newfoundland and Labrador to $918 in Alberta. However, the report does not include injury data from the three northern territories, where trauma and suicide rates are astronomical. (The reason is that people with serious injuries in the North are often sent south for medical care.)