Child Safety Around the Home
There are millions of children around the world that are injured or killed by hazards within the home every year. While not every accident can be prevented, many of them could have been by simply using inexpensive child-safety devices.
It is important that you don’t become lazy to using such devices. By this I mean that if you use a child-safety device that stops them from getting into a cupboard for example, don’t not use it just because the children are in a different room. Also, if you have older children in the home, make sure that they too understand that they need to re-secure the child-safety devices too.
One thing that you do need to realise is that no device available is absolutely 100 percent childproof. Determined children have been known to disable them, my own included, especially when you disable them when the child is watching. It doesn’t matter how old they are, they take in more than we realise.
Some relatively inexpensive safety devices that all homes with little children should use include:
- Safety Gates – obvious places to use safety gates are on the top and bottom of the stairs but they can also be used in doorways to keep children out of those rooms. There are “pressure gates” available but I would recommend avoiding those and going for safety gates that screw into the wall.
- Cabinet and Drawer Latches – these can be used in bathrooms, kitchens, and anywhere else where potential poisonous chemicals or other hazards may be found. They are easy to install but sturdy enough to withstand being pulled. Although they won’t stop a determined child, it will make it much harder for them to get in giving you more time to stop them.
- Anti-Scald Devices – these are used on faucets and showerheads to help prevent burns.
- Smoke and CO Detectors – have these installed on every level of the home and near bedrooms. Check them regularly to ensure that they are working properly and replace the batteries when needed.
- Window Guards – to help prevent falls from any windows, balconies, decks and landings. There should be no more than 4 inches between the bars of the window guard.
- Corner Bumpers – children fall over quite a lot and these fit on the sharp corners and edges of your furniture. Make sure that they fit securely.
- Outlet Covers – these help to prevent electrical shocks and possible electrocution. They should be secure enough that children can’t remove them but also large enough that they can’t choke on them.
- Shorten Window Blind Cords – doing so will prevent your children from strangling in blind-cord loops. Either cut the cords shorter or tie them up so they’re out of the reach of children.
- Door Stops/Holders – for prevention of trapped fingers and hands.
While modern cribs have much stricter safety standards to follow, the same may not be true for a hand-me-down crib or those that have been made at home. These can pose serious risks to children such as strangulation, entrapment, and overheating. Even though modern cribs may be safer, there are still defective cribs that slip into the market and are responsible for the highest child injury rates of any nursery item.
To help prevent this, always check the crib over to look for any of the following defects:
- Make sure that there are no loose, missing or broken screws or bolts.
- Make sure that the slats are no more than 2-3/8 inches apart, which is about the width of a soda can, and that none of them are loose or broken.
- Make sure that the corner posts do not extend more than 1/16-inch above the headboard and footboard.
- Make sure that the mattress is firm and fits snugly inside the crib.
- Make sure that there are no sharp points or edges or any splits, splinters or cracks in the wood.
- Decorative knobs and corner posts should not be higher than 1/16-inch so that a baby’s clothing cannot catch on them.
- Don’t let the baby sleep under a blanket. They should only use a sleeper. Soft bedding and blankets are suffocation hazards.
- Make sure that your baby can’t reach the mobile as they present a choking hazard. It should be removed completely when they can crawl.
Furniture and TV Tip-Over Hazards
More than 25% of furniture tip-over injuries occur when children pull over or climb on furniture. They often try to pull themselves up onto their feet when they are trying to walk. They don’t understand what is safe and what is not. It is your job to make sure that it is safe.
You can minimize the risks posed to children from furniture tip-overs by practicing the following:
- Never leave your children in a room unsupervised
- Place televisions low to the floor and near the very back of their stands.
- Make sure that all furniture and televisions are strapped to the wall using heavy safety straps or L-brackets.
- Only purchase furniture that has a solid base, wide legs, and otherwise feels stable.
- Install drawer stops that prevent drawers from opening to their full extent otherwise a fully opened drawer shifts the centre of gravity of the furniture.
- Keep heavier items on lower shelves and in lower drawers.
- Keep all electrical cords out of the reach of children, and teach kids not to play with them. A cord can be used to inadvertently pull a TV, and perhaps its supporting shelf, onto a child.
Falls from windows are the most serious and fatal of all falling-related injuries, especially for young children. During the summer months the risk is heightened as windows are left open for ventilation. Keep the following in mind:
- Keep all windows closed and locked when ventilation is not needed.
- Consider installing window guards to prevent children from falling out. These devices are constructed of horizontal bars that are spaced close enough together so that a 5-inch ball cannot pass through.
- Keep all furniture that a child could climb on to away from the windows.
- Don’t use window screens as they are designed to keep bugs out and can’t stop a child from falling out.
- Shrubs, wood chips, grass and other soft materials may be strategically placed beneath windows in order to lessen the degree of injury sustained from falls.
When thinking of child safety around the stairs, the first thing that would come to many peoples mind is safety gates but you also need to make sure that any carpets are not loose to avoid the risk of tripping them up.
- Safety Gates – a good quality safety gate can be attached to both doors and stairways and will allow you to unlock and go through it but won’t allow children to open it. We recommend using hardware-mounted safety gates that mount in place via screws. These are a much more solid option than pressure-mounted safety gates.
- Railings – as the children grow up the safety gates won’t be of much use but if they are still small and prone to climbing on things, baluster spacing on the handrail becomes a concern. A stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail not lower than 34 inches or taller than 38 inches on at least one side, with balustrades not more than 4 inches apart from each other. If there are spaces between vertical rails or risers that will allow an object larger than 4 inches to pass between them, this should be considered a safety hazard.
Trampolines are a lot of fun for children but they don’t come without their own dangers, especially when misused, poorly designed or damaged. The most common injuries that occur from trampolines are fractures to the upper and lower extremities. Catastrophic spine injuries are rare, but head and neck injuries constitute a large portion of the more serious reported injuries.
Keep the following safety tips in mind:
- There should be only one person on the trampoline at any time.
- Use a trampoline that is located in a well-lit area.
- Never allow your children to jump from higher areas such as a roof or tree onto the trampoline.
- Supervise children at all times.
- Never allow a child under the age of 6 to use a full-size trampoline.
- The user should never attempt maneuvers beyond their capability or training such as somersaults as landing on the head or neck can cause an injury resulting in paralysis.
- Install a net around the trampoline to reduce the chance of the child falling off.
- Cover all frames, hooks and springs with safety pads.
- Place wood chips or other soft surface to the surroundings beneath it.
- Inspect the trampoline regularly for any tears, rust, and detachments.
A tree swing is typically a single rope or chain that is attached to a high tree branch with something that acts as a seat such as a tire or a plank of wood. These can be great fun for children but sadly many of the DIY tree swings are just too poorly constructed and children are often not aware of the potential dangers.
If you want to build a tree swing then please research what actually goes into a properly installed tree swing, along with how to inspect them for potential hazards.
- Tree Inspection – the tree must be sturdy but you must understand that trees are constantly growing and changing shape. Branches that appear strong today could be brittle this time next year. Trees such as beech, oak, sycamore and Norway maple are suitable for rope swings, while pine, poplar, spruce, willow and silver birch should be avoided. In general, the branch should be a minimum of 8 inches thick and without any bulges, cracks, or unusual swelling. Any dead, damaged and hanging branches above the swing should be removed.
- Ground Cover – at some point the child is likely to fall from the tree swing and the extent of their injuries will be determined, in part, by the condition of the ground beneath the swing. The ground below should be level and have materials such as grass or bare earth that has been covered with leaves. You could also use materials such as mulch, wood chips, shredded rubber mulch, or engineered wood fiber for additional safety.
- Rope or Chain – a tree swing is only as strong as its rope or chain, so care should be taken to choose adequate material. Choose rope that is an inch to 1-1/2 inches thick and can withstand significantly greater weight than that of the intended rider. Before you wrap the rope around the tree limb, wrap a section of rubber around it to protect the tree from abrasion and subsequent damage.
- Seat – the seat needs to be high enough so that the user’s legs do not scrape the ground but not so high that the swing isn’t easily accessible or unsafe to dismount. Sufficient clearance is roughly 10 inches between the ground and the user, which may translate into 16 inches for an unoccupied swing. The seat of a tree swing is usually a tire or a wooden plank. If using a wooden plank, check it over for splinters first. If using a tire, check that there are no visible metal wires (don’t use radial tires), and drill a couple of drainage holes so that rainwater doesn’t build up inside.
- Hanger Clamp – these provide a fixed point for the rope and the tree branch to intersect while keeping them properly separated. This should be installed far enough away from the tree trunk that the user cannot inadvertently swing into the tree and placed at a point on the branch close enough to the tree trunk that the branch is of desirable strength and thickness. If this clamp detaches, the swing and the rider falls to the ground.
Because children do not understand danger the same way as an adult does, always do the following:
- Supervise them at all times when using the swing
- Remove drawstrings from children’s clothing, as they can become attached to the moving swing and create a strangulation hazard.
- Inspect the equipment for signs of wear such as splintering wooden surfaces, damaged suspension ropes, broken and missing components, and bent pipes or tubing.