It’s Children’s Safety Week this week, and to support the cause, we asked Sheila Merrill, public health adviser for safety charity the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) to explain how dangerous the home can be for young children, and the best ways to keep them safe. As they say, it’s unrealistic to think that you can totally childproof your home, but with their top tips, it’s a good place to start, and a very interesting read.
Not many people realise, but more accidents happen in the home than in any other environment, and sadly that is truer for the most vulnerable in society – children and the elderly.
While 5,000 people die in accidents in the home annually, and 2.7million turn up at accident and emergency departments every year seeking treatment, accidents are the principal cause of death for children and young people aged 0-19, with 464 deaths in this age group in the UK in 2012. Of those, under fives were particularly at risk, with 80 killed in that age bracket.
In terms of injury, more than 450,000 under fives per year attend A&E, with 40,000 being admitted as a result of an accident in or around the home.
Despite the general view that “accidents happen”, accidents in the home are an epidemic which we can all easily do something to help prevent.
Falls are the most common type of home accident for the young, with the most serious happening on the stairs and from windows. Safety gates should be fitted at the top and bottom of the stairs to protect babies and toddlers, but once children are older remember to keep stairs free of clutter, and talk to them about why they shouldn’t rush on the stairs. Restrictors can be fitted on windows which limit how far they can open and it’s best to try and arrange furniture away from widows so that it is not used as a climbing frame.
Poisoning is also a major cause of A&E admittance, with youngsters eager to explore the world with their mouth, particularly if they come across something colourful. Again it is something which can be easily avoided. Always keep medicines and cleaning products out of the reach of children, preferably in a cupboard that you can fit a lock on. Also never decant a product into an unmarked container.
Aside from choking on small items, suffocation can occur with other, everyday items around the home that parents should be aware of. A particular problem is blind cords, and RoSPA has been running an awareness campaign for the past few years – although unfortunately deaths still do occur. Looped cords are particularly dangerous to toddlers, who can become accidentally entangled and strangled in them, and there have been at least 30 child deaths since 1999.
There are now blinds available on the market that do not operate with cords, so try to install these where possible, particularly those in your child’s bedroom, and ensure that cots, beds, playpens or highchairs are not placed next to windows. If you have blinds with cords remember to tie them up out of the reach of children, or use one of the many cleats, cord tidies, clips or ties that are available. RoSPA does not recommend cutting cords, as this can lead to one end becoming elongated and a danger.
Also potentially dangerous are nappy sacks, which are being used more widely for disposal of used nappies. We are aware of at least 15 babies in England and Wales that have suffocated or choked to death on this product. Always keep nappy sacks, other plastic bags and wrapping away from babies, and buy them on a roll if possible.
Along with the obvious risks of hot appliances, lighters and hot water, burns and scalds can happen from unexpected sources such as hair straighteners, and even cups of tea that have been sitting out for 10 minutes or more. Children’s skin can be 15 times thinner than adults, so horrific burns can occur. Always take care with straighteners – if you have a heat proof pouch put them away immediately and store out of reach – keep lighters out of reach, teach children the dangers of fire and tell them to take care around hot drinks.
But one of the most important things to remember is that, while taking all of this into account, by all means do not wrap your children in cotton wool. They need to experience the world around them, and the most valuable safety tool a parent can give is to educate their child on the risks they will face in life, and talk openly about how to cope with them.
It is unrealistic to think that you can have a “child-proof” home, but by following RoSPA’s advice you can make it as safe as necessary.
For more information visit www.rospa.com, or call 0121 248 2000.