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A Norm-Critical Perspective Perspective on Accidents

Young men cause more traffic accidents than other groups, but it is not only men who suffer from their own risk taking: more men cause women to die in traffic accidents than the other way around. In order to make a change, cooperation, validated methods and courage are required. Through an ongoing project, the Swedish Rescue Service aims to offer men and women an equivalent protection against accidents.

A norm-critical perspective on accidents is an innovation project with a focus on preventing traffic accidents that the Fire and Rescue Service in southern Sweden runs with support from Vinnova.

The project manager Lynn Ranåker works at the Fire and Rescue Service and is herself a firefighter in her home municipality Höör, in her spare time. She believes that it is necessary to mainstream gender equality in her work in order to prevent accidents.

“The law states that everyone should have an equivalent protection against accidents. That is my mantra, but we actually offer different protection for different groups. The protection differs between men and women in particular. By applying a gender equality perspective, we will reduce the number of accidents.”

Vague perceptions of gender equality

The project started off with an interview study involving several of the actors who in different ways are responsible for accidents and preventive actions: five local Fire and Rescue Services, emergency services from different parts of the country, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, the Swedish Transport Administration, the Swedish Transport Agency, a private driving school, three municipalities and some research units from Lund University.

A number of key people were involved, ranging from managers with responsibility for the preventive activities to firefighters and instructors.

The study showed that many of the responsible actors’ experience uncertainty about issues related to gender equality. Apart from the work on gender balanced recruitment to get more women to work as firefighters many seemed to perceive gender equality issues as abstract.

The interviews also showed that many questions risk falling between the chairs and that not one single actor owns. They therefore decided to work together. The Fire and Rescue Services in the South together with Lund University initiated three open meetings in the autumn of 2018.

Cooperation is innovation

There was a strong positive response from the participants, who wanted to continue to meet to discuss further how they can give citizens equal service. Every person who has shown interest or participated has received information continuously, both before each workshop on what is to be discussed, and subsequently material which summarises the discussions during the workshop.

Lynn Ranåker believes that the extended cooperation is innovative in itself and that it has resulted in consensus among the operations, not least on the need for a gender perspective in the prevention work.

It is well known that men take more risks and cause more serious traffic accidents than women. Many initiatives have addressed young men, often with the purpose of changing behaviour. But changing behaviour on an individual or group level is, in fact, among the most difficult and time consuming things you can do, according to Lynn Ranåker.

“There is a risk that those who shout the loudest get the most attention. A classic example of a traffic accident is a young man who runs down an elderly woman at a crossing. In that example who is in greatest need of such preventive measures?”

Those who suffer the most will get the least

Although older women often suffer from traffic accidents, very little action is taken to prevent them from happening. To be able to know which efforts are effective, the accident prevention work needs to be based on validated data and not preconceived notions about certain groups or risks.

“When we work with validated methods a test must have been carried out that has been analysed and where the method is revised according to the outcome. Then we have a validated method”, says Lynn Ranåker.

“With the risk of sticking my neck out, I think this way is quite innovative for a municipality, says Lynn and laughs. It can seem overwhelming with all the data we collect, but it makes it easier to see the relevance of a certain action, instead of relying on your gut feeling and targeting the same groups as usual.”

Important with validated data

Lynn Ranåker emphasises the importance of this method when trying to find out why traffic accidents occur, and she believes that one often has to make a detailed analysis to really understand the causes.

“If you break down group data we will be better at preventing similar accidents. Then we, together with the Fire and Rescue Service, the Swedish Transport Administration, the roadworks department and perhaps even the elderly care, can compile data and look at what measures can reduce the risk of accidents in a certain place, and improve safety so that Agda, age 78, can go home and to the store without the risk of being hit by a vehicle.”

“But it is of course also important that the data we use is not manipulated. We always look to have all the raw data to fall back on if anyone wants to call what we have produced.”

That the same people have been involved in all the actor-common meetings has been a winning concept, according to Lynn Ranåker. This has made it possible to establish a common level of knowledge and reach consensus on the challenges and solutions to focus on. She hopes that increased cooperation and the development of new methods will contribute to more equal protection and in the long term also be fewer serious accidents.

Edited: 27 Feb 2019
Published: 27 Feb 2019
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