The following is the conclusion of a three-part series by Tracey Duguay on fire safety issues regarding wheelchair users.
In the first article, the focus was on investigations into fire-related deaths of wheelchair users including that of Sudbury?s Joanne Nother Read Part 1>>.
The second part highlighted the flammability issues with the materials used in the design of wheelchairs, and the powerlessness of users once a fire started. Read Part 2 >>
This article focuses on the lack of monitoring in Canada with regards to product- or user-related wheelchair incidents and lessons learned from Nother?s death.
According to the American-based Institute for Medicine around 1.3 million Americans are seriously injured, or worse, each year by events involving medical products.
Health Canada is the governing body for the wheelchair industry in Canada, but it doesn?t have the same type of watchdog reporting capabilities as the U.S. FDA.
For example, there is no searchable public database in Canada documenting adverse incident reports, user or product-related.
In fact, Health Canada takes a rather passive approach to monitoring problems with medical devices and focuses on those related to defective products.
?The company [ie. wheelchair manufacturer] would have to file a report to Health Canada including corrective measures to prevent the recurrence of
similar incidents,? explains Nathalie Lalonde, a media relations officer for Health Canada.
As well, there have only been a few reported cases of alleged wheelchair malfunctions to Health Canada over the years, none of which resulted in serious harm or death.
These statistics appear inconsistent when compared to the data collected in the United States.
?The United States and Canada have different legislative instruments and different regulatory requirement,? Lalonde says.
?It?s possible that product-related incidents/malfunctions are reported elsewhere outside Health Canada?s Health Products and Foods Inspectorate.
For instance, some product-related incidents may be reported to Health Canada?s Consumer Product Safety Bureau or Health Canada?s Canadian
Hospital Injury Reporting and Prevention Program.
It is also possible that some disability associations also collect this type of data. Problems of an electrical nature may be reported directly to an accredited certification body, such as CSA International or Underwriter?s Laboratories of Canada.?
For now, especially in Canada, the majority of wheelchair-related deaths and injuries appear to be treated as isolated events. And, while the number of known incidents is small compared to the number of users, one death is too many, as the family and friends of Nother can no doubt attest.
?Joanne was an advocate for the disabled,? her friend, Rachel Proulx says. ?She would not want this to happen to anyone else.?
Major recalls or corrections, like the one issued by Invacare a few years back, didn?t even gain the attention of most mainstream media. The information about the recall was distributed through letters to its affiliated distributors, health-care publications, and health-care agencies. Compare these strategies to the high-profile warnings associated with automobile recalls or well-publicized notices about unsafe food products.
While it?s too late to change the tragic outcome of her friend, Proulx hopes the end result of Nother?s death is increased public awareness about fire hazards for wheelchair users and stricter or new standards for the design of wheelchairs
?Joanne?s death can?t be for nothing. We have to learn from this horrific accident and make the world safer for people with disabilities,? Proulx says. ?Joanne?s legacy is that she advocated for the living for equity and justice. In death, she continues to advocate for those at risk.?