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Banning the word “accident”
  1. M Cordeiro
  1. Professor of Paediatrics and Public Health, Director, National Observatory for Health, Tv Pote de Água–10–8°, 1700–317, Lisbon, Portugal

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    I read the recent editorial in the BMJ with interest.1 In my capacity as national manager of the former EHLASS programme and Portuguese representative on the EU committee for injury prevention, I agree that the word accident has been overused. This is especially true in southern European countries where it may lead to the fatalistic idea that “nothing can be done”. We can anticipate the event in terms of risk of occurrence, but we cannot estimate the exact time of occurrence—that is, the accident. For example, if I have a wire across my floor I can anticipate that someone may trip and fall but I don't know the exact moment this will happen. This is preventable but in some cases this is not, for example, if a driver has a heart attack and the car crashes.

    Also there are the consequences of the accident, determined by the energy released and how the environment and elements present (like the humans) deal with it (back to Hugh de Haven and Haddon....). I may step on the wire, fall, and not hurt myself, or I may hit my head on a hard surface and suffer head trauma.

    So the word should not be banned . . .it should be used correctly. Obviously we have to avoid injuries, either by preventing accidents or by preventing their consequences.

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