County committee firms up plans for Safe Communities Committee

Wellington County’s Safe Communities Committee took another step forward with plans to obtain a national designation.

The committee met here Feb. 20 to discuss issues related to the priorities it will focus on as part of its bid to garner a national designation under Parachute – the umbrella organization for Safe Communities Canada. The local committee is hoping to become the first county to be nationally-recognized under the Safe Communities banner.

The county committee is comprised of members from several organizations including emergency responders, Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit, county fire departments, Wellington County OPP, Guelph Police Services, municipal safe communities groups and county and municipal politicians and staff.

Over 60 municipalities in Canada have received the national designation.

The county committee is currently embarked on a 10-step process to apply for national status.

Part of the process is to determine priority areas the committee should be involved in. Those priorities were determined at a meeting last November.

The priority exercise was based on the most recent accident data provided by the Guelph Wellington Dufferin health unit for 2005–2009. The statistics dealt with incidents involving pedestrians and cyclists, on- and off-road motor vehicle accidents, agriculture and machinery accidents, Sports and recreation accidents, falls, accidental poisonings and intentional self harm.

Falls were ranked as a top priority by the group. During the four-year period, statistics show falls resulted in 60 fatalities, 14,869 emergency department calls and 1,821 hospitalizations with 12,679 days spent in hospital.

Motor vehicle accidents were ranked second by the group. During the time frame accidents resulted in 39 fatalities, 3,419 emergency department responses and 336 hospitalizations resulting in 2,212 days in hospital.

Intentional self harm, including attempted suicides, was chosen as the third priority for the committee, with 27 fatalities during the four-year period, which resulted in 612 emergency department responses, 248 hospitalizations and 663 days spent in hospital.

The committee will focus on the top three accident causes on its priority list.

County councillor Gary Williamson, co-chairman of the county committee along with OPP Staff Sergeant Jack Hunjan, went through a slide presentation on the committee’s work and mission statement. The presentation has been making the rounds to municipal councils at the county’s seven lower tiers. It has also been shown to lower tier safe communities and COPS groups. It was recently shown to a group in Mount Forest prior to the formation of the local safe communities committee of which Williamson was named chairman along with Bob and Aletha McArthur who also serve as directors.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, the committee adopted its $30,000 operating budget for this year. The county has contributed $25,000 to the budget for the committee which is operating under the auspices of the county economic development department. The remaining $5,000 is expected to come from Parachute once national status is granted.

An application for the designation is expected to be finalized by the committee executive in March with a decision expected by mid-year.

Williamson reiterated the intent of the county committee is to work with local committees in a bid to eliminate accident injuries which often require hospital time and emergency response time.

“What  I see is the county committee being the umbrella for lower tiers and assist them so they can assist us,” he said.

As part of its budget, the committee is planning the design and creation of banners to be used at displays and functions throughout the county. The committee has designated $4,500 for eight banners.

“Whether we went to a show in Puslinch or Erin you will see the same banner,” Williamson added.

The committee is also considering working together with the county roads committee to develop roadside signs. The county signs are expected to be developed along with the county strategic plan where better signage is a priority. Williamson said smaller signs showing potential dangers could be attached to the county signs. According to him, a smaller sign showing potential Mennonite buggy hazards could be hung on signs where there is a risk, generally in the northern part of Wellington.

The committee is also looking at putting together publicity folders where information about the committee’s work could be put together with information from other safety organizations and handed out at county or local functions and shows.

“Awareness is key to this whole thing, what we’re doing and why we are doing it,” he said. “It’s not that we’re going to tell the local committee what to do, but so we have continuity from the county level to the local level.”

The committee is also holding talks with a similar safety committee to see whether they would be interested in having a member on the county committee.

“They (Mennonites) already have a similar organization like safe communities and they actually track all their injuries,” Williamson said.

“They could do a priority exercise from their own data,” he added, referring to the data used by the committee to determine its priority accidents.

“I think the Mennonite thing is an exceptional add on,” Barry King, Ontario Safe Communities representative who has been assisting with county efforts, said.

The committee has also received county insurance coverage for work done by volunteers at the county and local level and is considering putting together an application for a Trillium Foundation grant to help offset its costs.

Tax free donations of over $20 can also be processed through Parachute for those wanting to make a donation to the committee.

Efforts to reduce accidents “enhances the quality of life for everyone,” Hunjan said.

“For every dollar the community spends on safe communities the return is $40,” Williamson said at the meeting and it was similar message he made during a presentation Feb. 21 at Wellington North Mayor Ray Tout’s mayor’s breakfast in Arthur.