Skip to content

Safe Communities

Personal tools
You are here: Home » Rationale » How big is the injury burden in New Zealand?

How big is the injury burden in New Zealand?

Injuries in New Zealand currently result in about 1,700 deaths, 50,000 hospitalisations, 250,000 emergency department visits and 1.7 million claims to ACC each year.
Injury Burden
Injury Burden

Injury is a major threat to health in every country of the world.  Injuries due to accidents and violence are responsible for nine percent of global mortality and 12% of the total burden of disease world wide.  This proportion is predicted to rise over the coming years.  Seven of the 15 leading causes of death for people between the ages of 15-44 years are injury-related.  For all societies the burden of injury is immense in terms of resulting disabilities, health expenditures, lost productivity, personal suffering and loss of quality of life.

In New Zealand, injury (unintentional and intentional) is the leading cause of death for ages 1 to 34 years, and the second leading cause of hospitalisation.  Injuries account for more potential years of life lost than cancer and heart disease combined.  In childhood, injury accounts for approximately 60% of all deaths and by adolescence and young adulthood, injury (including suicides) accounts for approximately 80% of deaths.  Each week in New Zealand three children die as the result of an injury.

Injury is also an important cause of disability and costs New Zealand taxpayers, employers, insurers and individuals billions of dollars each year.  In 2001 the social and economic costs of injury was estimated to be at least $6 to $7 billion per year, yet many injuries and their consequences are preventable.   Not only do we lose 5% of GDP as a result of injury, we suffer the cost of healthcare treating the large numbers involved.  More importantly the cost of a life taken, of lost potential, emotional stress and opportunities forgone are immeasurable. 

Injuries (intentional and unintentional) take lives, destroy families and ruins futures.  The effects of injuries are traumatic, debilitating and expensive, as they impact on the wider community, employers, families, the health and justice systems, the individual and society. 

What is a Safe Community?

Safe Communities is a World Health Organisation (WHO) concept that recognises  safety as a universal concern and a responsibility for all.  The Safe Communities model creates an infrastructure in local communities to increase action on injury prevention and safety promotion through the building of local partnerships.  World wide the International Safe Communities model is the best example of the importance of partnerships between injury prevention specialists and community groups.  One of the strengths of the International Safe Communities model is that the model is based on a community development approach and consequently able to be adapted to the diverse cultural and socio-economic circumstances of communities. 

Since 1989, over 140 communities have been formally designated as International Safe Communities, with populations ranging from 2,000 to 2 million. Currently there are also a further 50 projected Safe Community designations.  Nine New Zealand communities have been accredited as International Safe Communities. 

There are six criteria for designation as an International Safe Community:

  1. an infrastructure based on partnership and collaborations, governed by a cross-sectional group that is responsible for safety promotion in their community
  2. long-term, sustainable programmes covering both genders and all ages, environments and situations
  3. programmes that target high-risk groups and environments, and programmes that promote safety for vulnerable groups
  4. programmes that document the frequency and causes of injury
  5. evaluation measures to assess their programmes, processes and the effects of change
  6. ongoing participation in national and international Safe Communities networks.


Designation as an International Safe Community based on the WHO Safe Communities model is recognised worldwide as an effective and acceptable intervention to reduce the burden of injury experienced by individuals, families, and communities.  For example, three years after the initial implementation of the Falkoping project in Sweden, injury surveillance data showed a 27% reduction in injuries resulting from injuries in the workplace, at home and on the roads.  The Harstad Safe Communities project in Norway resulted in a 26.6% decrease in traffic injury rates.  Data from the first year of the occupational safety programme in Ontario, Canada indicated that claims costs reduced by over 50% and injury rates by 22%.

Selected outcomes for New Zealand International Safe Communities include:

  • Waitakere, the first NZ designated Safe Community significantly reduced injury death rates and had lower injury hospitalization rates than the rest of Auckland

  • Waimakariri, designated as a Safe Community in 1999, had the lowest injury fatality rate among all 74 Territorial Local Authorities throughout New Zealand

  • Wellington City, designated Safe Community in 2006, reported a 30% reduction in traffic crashes, and a 5.7% overall reduction in crime in the 2007

  • North Shore City, designated in 2007 has had significant reductions in reported crimes from 1050 per 10,000 to 680 in 1996, making North Shore NZ’s Safest City.

Why should local government become involved in Safe Communities?

In New Zealand, policies to address safety are increasingly becoming an important aspect of what Territorial Local Authorities (TLAs) need to consider when developing their Long Term Council Community Plans to address their obligations under the Local Government Act 2002.  Section 3 of this Act states the purpose of local government, provides a framework and powers for local authorities to decide which activities they undertake and how they will undertake them, promotes the accountability of local authorities to their communities, and provides for local authorities to play a broad role in promoting the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of their communities, taking a sustainable development approach.

Consequently, to provide a framework for their activities many TLAs have looked to the six criteria necessary to achieve the status of an International Safe Community.  They have recognised that, to reach the criteria for International Safe Community status, Safe Communities must focus on the adoption of an integrated approach to planning community safety using all available evidence.  To be successful they must involve all sectors of the community working together in a coordinated and collaborative way, forming partnerships to promote safety, manage risk and increase the overall safety of its residents and visitors.  In general, being designated as an International Safe Community improves the quality of life for individuals, strengthens and supports community cohesion through increased participation in injury prevention and community safety initiatives, and provides a vehicle for the effective involvement of TLAs, businesses, organisations, schools, sport and recreation groups, families and individuals to improve their own safety and the safety of others.

Designation as a Safe Community of the WHO Safe Community Network is an option.  Some communities may choose an alternative approach.  However, most local councils see value in receiving international recognition for their efforts in local community safety and the benefit from making this public commitment to an open, transparent and evidence-based approach.

What is SCFNZ’s role in this process?

The SCFNZ has worked successfully with communities throughout New Zealand, Australia and Asia in promoting and supporting the development of Safe Communities in diverse geographic and socio-economic contexts.  The WHO Safe Communities model has provided an invaluable structure for our work over the past five years, and also for the communities with whom we have worked.

SCFNZ has an ongoing commitment to the promotion of a culture of community safety and injury prevention nationally and internationally through advocating for effective change, sharing information, research and best practice, and developing collaborations and partnerships that positively support the development of a positive safety culture and safer environments. 

Through the development of collaborative relationships with communities, organisations and government (national and local), the SCFNZ has been successful in bringing about significant changes in community safety practice.

As such, SCFNZ is recognised nationally and internationally as a lead organisation within the ISC network and has collaborative international relationships with the WHO Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion,  Safe Communities Canada,  Safe Communities America  and the Australian Safe Communities Foundation


Last modified 2008-11-17 04:12 AM