Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Injury Science - One Punch Deaths

Another one punch death ...

This is what someone wrote about yet another newspaper article reporting yet another person has died after being hit with one punch. This blog was inspired by (a) an article appearing on news.com.au concerning this issue, and (b) the work I'm doing on my book associated with injury science and pain.

Injury science is a relatively new science that studies injuries and the causes of injuries. Injuries can be classified in many ways but one of the main ways is by intent: unintentional and intentional. The World Health Organisation subdivides the intentional category into interpersonal (eg assault and homicide), self-harm, legal intervention, and war, civil insurrection, and disturbances (Injury Surveillance Guidelines). Injuries can also be classified as non-fatal and fatal. Thus, the injury field studies, among other things, fatal and non-fatal injuries resulting from violence.

William Haddon, the father of modern injury control, made many contributions to the field of injury control. One of his contributions is a matrix that analyses injury in terms of all the factors that go into the occurrence of an injury over three phases. Interventions to prevent or reduce the severity of an injury can then be developed for each of the nine cells in the matrix.

The author of the abovementioned news article attempts a bit of an analysis as to the causes of these types of deaths and possible ways to prevent these deaths. The framework for such an analysis and the development of interventions has already been provided by Haddon. There is a whole scientific field that studies injuries arising from violence, and hence violence itself. But it is seldom referred to.

In 2008, new laws were passed in Western Australia aimed at 'one punch deaths' because the current laws did not adequately cover them. The following is an extract from a media statement issued by Attorney General Jim McGinty:
In an Australian first, offenders in Western Australia will no longer be able to walk free unpunished after killing another person in what is commonly referred to as a 'one punch death'. ...

'In recent years, several young men, each facing charges of manslaughter following separate incidents, have been acquitted and allowed to walk free or have been convicted of a lesser crime such as assault,' Mr McGinty said. 'Meanwhile, the families of the men who died are understandably angry that the men who assaulted their loved ones are able to just get on with their lives. They feel let down by the justice system and their feelings are shared by the general public.'

'This is an age old problem that is also experienced in other parts of Australia and throughout the world. WA will be the first State to rectify this grave injustice.'

'Regrettably, all too frequently, a scenario arises when a victim receives a blow, falls to the ground, hitting his head on concrete or some other hard surface, and dies from the injury to the head. Under section 23 of the Criminal Code, a person is not criminally responsible for an act or omission which occurs by accident. An incident is described as an accident if it is not intended, not foreseen and not reasonably foreseeable. Because of this, manslaughter charges in these cases are often unsuccessful.'
The mantra of the injury field is - INJURIES ARE NOT ACCIDENTS! In fact, there are many within the injury field that recommend a halt to the use of the term 'accidents'. The term 'accident' denotes an unforeseen, unexpected event that is the result of fate, chance, or destiny. It is also used to describe human error or mistake, which thereby excludes the person from the consequence of injury. A better understanding of of the nature of injury in the past few decades has led to a reconceptualisation of injury as a largely preventable event.

It would appear the law is catching up with the injury field in recognising that deaths from one punch are not accidents.

With the traditional 'accident prevention' mindset, the approach to preventing injuries was to prevent 'accidents'. If the 'accident' could not be prevented - you were on your own. 'Injury prevention' looks at attempting to prevent an injury even if an 'accident' happens, hence, seatbelts, airbags, crumble zones, etc. But the injury field goes further and looks to reduce the severity of an injury if an injury occurs. If the Japan Judo Accident Victims Association (JJAVA) mentioned in a previous blog have an 'accident' mindset ... Wouldn't it seem advisable to refer to the theories and concepts produced by the injury field.

In researching this blog, I came across another relevant and interesting blog and associated website. The blog is The Actuality of Fighting (http://theactualityoffighting.blogspot.com/) which reports deaths from fighting. Unfortunately the last posting on that blog was in November 2009. What it does support is the extent of the problem. The above photograph comes from Queensland Government's 'one punch can kill' campaign to tackle this problem. The associated website is Not-Me! (http://www.not-me.org/) which is dedicated to self-defence instruction. Just a quick perusal of the site uncovered their '3 Petal Plan'. This 'is a method to graphically group related concepts in order to make the overall plan easier to comprehend, convey, and carryout.' The three petals refer to three stages which correspond to Haddon's three phases in the injury process. Not-Me! use these three stages to develop or illustrate the use of their interventions (the '5 Ds of self defence'). A more comprehensive approach is available using Haddon's matrix, though, kudos to the developers for looking at the problem from a temporal perspective.

Haddon's work associated with his matrix is simple and practical. Haddon's matrix has been applied to domestic violence, teen violence, gun-related violence, and many other violence related topics, even terrorism and warfare. Injury science and Haddon's matrix has so much untapped potential for the martial arts and self defence. It obviously offers ways to analyse and develop interventions in relation to specific high risk groups. It also provides a means of analysing and developing interventions to prevent or reduce the severity of injuries while training. 'Accidents happen' is no longer acceptable, if the injury science theories and concepts are referred to.

Haddon acknowledged that there are analogous opposites to his injury control strategies. At the heart of injury science is the study of the causes of injuries, and that is what I'm also using it for. To study the tactics and techniques of the martial arts which are designed to avoid violence-related injuries, but which often entails inflicting or threatening to inflict injuries through violent acts. Haddon's matrix is adapted to develop a model that can be used to understand and study the percussion techniques of ALL martial arts.

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