Understanding safety issues at home:
Research shows that the majority of visits to emergency centres are as a result of an injury or accident at home. Those children most at risk are under the age of five years with accidental poisoning, choking and drowning being the major risk factors. As parents we aspire to protect our children but these curious little beings have a way of finding potentially dangerous situations before we can even think about them, making safety in the home a very important part of raising a child.
I came across a very interesting study carried out by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The study was conducted on first time mothers with a child younger than 3 years old. The mothers were presented with a number of scenarios in and around a house and asked to identify the potential safety problems. The mothers only recognised 50% of the hazardous items or situations. These mothers had the best interests of their toddlers at heart. This clearly indicates the real need for those with knowledge on safety and what does go wrong in a home on a day to day basis to pool this knowledge. This is so that we as parents can protect our children to the best of our ability.
Where to begin with safety?
It goes without saying then that it is vital that all parents and care givers take special care to ensure that the environment is safe for children. While I can imagine going through the laborious task of checking out each room in your house may feel a bit like watching the air-hostess go through the safety briefing on a flight, the stats indicate that we often miss potential dangers and suggest we take it seriously. There are a number of really good sites that run through each room of the house and point out the obvious and not so obvious dangers. As a paediatrician who deals with these crises I would urge all those in charge of children to examine their environment in relation to these informative sites. Please feel free to explore as many sites as possible.
From my perspective I believe there are certain fundamentals to child safety. For ease of reference I will run through each one individually. This list is by no means complete but is a good starting point for those concerned with the matter. Each room has potential danger but hopefully what you read below will give you an idea of what you are looking for. Without any doubt, supervision is the number one key to safety followed by awareness of potential hazards.
1. Have emergency numbers accessible.
I would recommend that a list is left next to each telephone and one on the fridge.
- Your security company (very often in an emergency you can activate your panic switch and the security company will call the necessary services)
- Poison centre ( for South Africa 0861 555 777)
- General practitioner
- Contact people living close to you, family or friends
The kitchen is potentially the most dangerous room in the house for a child. There are so many products and appliances all of which pose a threat. I would recommend that you check this space thoroughly. It is probably a good idea to do so with all members of the household who have access to the kitchen.
- All detergents, cleaning pods, washing liquids, insect sprays, cleaning materials and bleach are poisonous. These should not be stored under the kitchen counters. All these products should be stored high up in a lockable cupboard.
- Ensure that drawers that house knives, scissors, corkscrews, forks and other sharp objects have a safety latch on them.
- Ensure that the cords of all appliances are well out of reach and that the appliance is pushed back on the units or placed in a cupboard. Children will pull on cords and appliances are heavy or hot enough to cause harm. If they are not in use make sure they are switched off.
- Stove knobs should have protectors on them. Please ensure that pot handles do not stick out past the stove. A single knock could send steaming hot food onto your child. Whenever possible try to cook on the back plates.
- Items such as matches, firelighters and alcohol should be stored well out of reach.
- Vitamins are commonly kept in the kitchen. These are also dangerous for your child if swallowed in large numbers and pose a choking hazard.
- Plastic packets can cause suffocation. Tie a knot at the open end so they can’t be put over little heads.
- The garbage bin also contains dangerous items. Glass, tins and other discarded items may be sharp and cause harm. Keep a garbage clip on your dustbin and re-cycling bins at all times
The bathroom is another area of the house which seems to stimulate curiosity but is a potentially unsafe space. Children can and do drown in very little water. The scary thing is that water is a magnet to most children and the joy of flushing the toilet, dunking the toilet brush, turning on taps and blocking plugs is present in every child I have ever encountered. Besides the obvious threat of water, the bathroom has other dangers. My advice for this room would be:
- Ensure that any medicines are in a box in a locked cabinet.
- Keep scissors, razors, tweezers, nail scissors and any other sharp object in a locked cabinet.
- Perfumes, mouthwash, nail polish remover, hair spray and dyes are also stored in a locked cabinet.
- Bath mats should have rubber underneath to prevent slipping. It is also advisable to have non-slip strips in the bath and shower.
- Have your geyser thermostat set to no higher than 49°C
- Keep buckets in another room away from any taps. A child can drown in as little as 7cm of water.
- Hairdryers and straighteners should also be stored in a locked cupboard
- Keep the toilet lid closed and preferably secured with a toilet seat lock.
4. Other rooms in the house
There are potential dangers in every room so I will summarize the major issues to look out for in each room. As has been illustrated with the kitchen and bathroom we need to look for specific problems throughout the house. To mention a few which pertain to the rest of the house is by no means complete but gives a good indication of what you are looking for:
- Have a fire extinguisher readily available. There should be at least two smoke detectors around the house preferably situated in the bedroom and living areas.
- Ensure the cords of curtains and blinds are wound up so that they cannot cause strangulation. If at all possible have such cords replaced with a stick or cordless system.
- All stairs should have a guard across the top and bottom to prevent falls. Also ensure stairs are well lit.
- Top heavy furniture like bookcases and display cabinets as well as television sets should be secured against the wall.
- Fireplaces should have heat resistant grates.
- Poisonous houseplants like elephant ear must be removed.
- The floor should be kept clear of tiny objects that can swallowed or tripped on.
- Inspect toys to ensure no small parts can come off and pose a chocking hazard.
- Ensure the toys are age appropriate and well made.
- Hard foods that can block the airways should be cut up. This applies to softer foods like sausages, baby tomatoes and grapes that have the potential to lodge in the airway.
- Plugs should be covered with the appropriate cover.
- Make sure that your trip switch is working on your electrical board. This will ensure that power is cut off when there is a faulty appliance or an electrical fault. This is the earth leakage protection unit found on your board. It has a test button.
- Keep furniture away from open windows.
Outside play is fabulous for children. Not only does it encourage gross motor development but it instills in children a feeling of freedom, stimulates imagination and creativity through new experiences, sounds and textures and exposes children to sunlight where they can get a healthy dose of Vitamin D.
Having said this, we as the responsible adults need to be vigilant. Injuries and accidents can happen and again there are certain things we must ensure so that our children remain safe.
- It is a requirement by law in South Africa that any open water in the home be covered by a safety net or have a fence with a gate that can lock.
- Ensure all pool chemicals are locked away.
- Garden tools must be in a cupboard or a room that locks to avoid injury.
- Drains must have adequate coverings.
- There are also a number of plants commonly found in gardens that are poisonous for children. Be sure to know which they are so you can remove them from your garden.
- Be very careful of rat poison. This is often a small and colorful product and children could associate it with a sweet. If ingested it will cause internal bleeding and can be fatal. All other poisons can be equally as harmful.
- If you do have playground equipment like jungle gyms and swings ensure that they are positioned in such a way that a child will land on something soft if they do fall. Swings should also have adequate space around them to prevent someone walking into a moving swing.
- Even domesticated animals can injure a child. Make sure that pets are accustomed to children and teach your child not to tease or hurt animals as this may cause the animal to react aggressively.
6. Car Seats
A car seat is the first item parents should buy when they are expecting a baby. I cannot stress this fact enough. Your baby has got to travel in a car seat from the moment you leave hospital which means there can be no substitute or waiting until the child grows a little before you invest in one. The AA has reported shocking statistics that less than 7% of children are secured into a car seat. Children that are allowed to sit on seat or worse still to stand in a car are literally missiles on impact and face being thrown through the windscreen. Injuries occur when adults hold children on their laps. Not only do children risk being crushed by the adult holding them in the event of an accident but can also be severely harmed by airbags. Road accidents currently cause around one third of the unnatural, injury related deaths for children below five years of age in South Africa. With these alarming statistics it is shocking that we still see parents driving cars with their children out of chairs. From my perspective it doesn’t matter how short the journey is or how much the child dislikes the car seat, you have to restrain them. Since 2015 it has been law that children under the age of three years have to be transported in a car seat. This I believe should be extended as current statistics coming out of America indicate that the most common cause of death for children ages 3 to 14 is motor vehicle crashes with 43% of these children not being properly restrained.
Car seat essentials
When it comes to car seats parents or other adults who transport babies and children need to be aware of the following:
- Ensure that the seat you buy meets all safety requirements.
- Ensure that the seat belt is done up correctly. It must fit over the child’s chest and lap.
- Make sure the car seat is correct for your child’s weight and height. Many chairs have adaptations which allow you to make changes as the child grows.
- When your baby is tiny you may want the car chair in front with you if you are travelling alone. In this case the seat must face backwards so that the back of the chair protects your child. If the airbags are deployed your child will sustain serious injuries if facing forward. The recommendation is that a child under the age of 2 years or weighing less than 20kg’s should be transported in a back facing car chair.
- Certain cars allow you to deactivate the airbag. This is recommended when transporting a child under the age of 12 years in the front seat. The child at this stage must be in a proper child restraining seat.
- As your child gets older they must go into the back seat but should be seated so you can see them properly.
- Do not have hard toys attached to the car seat or available for the child to play with. These can cause harm if you break hard, have to swerve or are involved in a collision.
You should be issued with instructions on how to install the chair when you purchase it. There are also a number of sites which explain how to fit car seats properly, how to operate the belts and the best position of the chair. If you are unsure please consult these sites. Once you know how, it is simple to do but it does seem daunting at first. Rather get it right for the sake of your child!!
7. Accidental overdosing
Visits by Granny and Grandpa are wonderful but if they are staying for a while be very aware of their medications. Accidental overdosing occurs way to frequently when children ingest adult medication. Elderly people are often on chronic medications and may leave these brightly coloured tablets lying around. These would usually include blood pressure, cholesterol and heart medications. Please ensure that any visitors follow the same rules as you do with regards to locking away medication. The dosage of these medications is adult specific and can be deadly if ingested by a toddler mistaking them for sweeties. If such an event does occur call the poison centre immediately with the name and dosage of the medication and they will instruct you on the correct procedure to follow. Alternatively take your child to the closest emergency centre where the doctor on call will deal with the situation.
Accidental overdosing may also occur when parents do not follow the exact instruction of the doctor or pharmacist when administering prescribed or over the counter medication. In my experience it is often the over the counter medication that is given incorrectly. Again the poison centre or your closest emergency centre should be consulted if this does occur.
This is just an introduction to a very important topic. The old saying “prevention is better than cure” is never truer than in the sense of child safety. Look at the various sites to help you dig deeper and which enable you to provide an environment which is child friendly. Over and above this it is really important that you ensure that all adults caring for your child are fully aware of the safety measures you have put in place.
A CPR course will stand you in good stead should your child be injured. Having a readily available first aid kit will enable you to deal with the crisis more effectively. Being well prepared for an injury or accident is crucial to the well being of your child.