Keep your little one safe by knowing what hazards and accidents to look out for and the baby proofing measures you can take to make your baby’s environment safer
When you have a small person running – or crawling – round the house, it opens up the possibility of a range of accidents. Of course, it’s something that’s hard to avoid when you have a curious toddler desperate to explore the world, but you can take steps to prevent accidents and be prepared if something happens. But what should you look out for?
Where do accidents happen?
The largest number of accidents happen in the living or dining room, but the most serious accidents happen in the kitchen and on the stairs. ‘Every year more than 67,000 children experience an accident in the kitchen and 43,000 of these are aged under four,’ says Sheila Merrill, public health adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Who’s most at risk?
Children under the age of four years old have the most accidents at home and boys are more likely to have accidents than girls. Older children are more likely to sustain fractures than younger counterparts. Younger children have a higher percentage of burns and scalds as well as poisoning and ingestion accidents.
Why do children have accidents?
Often, children are absorbed in their own immediate interests and can be oblivious to their surroundings. ‘They only have a limited perception of the environment because of their lack of experience or development,’ says Sheila. ‘They are not aware of the consequences of the many new situations that they encounter. Plus, being small, inquisitive and having a tendency to show off or over-reach their abilities can mean they’re more likely to put themselves at risk.’
Falls are by far the most common causes of accidents in the home and account for 44 per cent of all children’s accidents. ‘Most falls involve tripping over on the same level but the most serious consequences result from falls between two levels, such as falling out of a pram or highchair or falling from a bed or down the stairs,’ says Sheila.
Make sure you fit a safety gate at the top and bottom of stairs and ensure any damaged or worn carpet is repaired or removed to avoid tripping hazards. Likewise, don’t leave items on the stairs as they could be stepped on, resulting in a fall for anyone. ‘To avoid dangers near open windows, avoid putting anything under the windowsill that can provide a step up for children,’ says Sheila.
Scalds and burns
Hot drinks cause most scalds to children under the age of five. ‘A child’s skin is much more sensitive than an adult’s and a hot drink can still scald a child 15 minutes after being made,’ says Sheila. ‘Never hold a hot drink and a child at the same time and put hot drinks out of reach and away from the edges of tables and worktops.’
A hot drink can still scald a child 15 minutes after being made
Hot bath water is responsible for the highest number of fatal and severe scalding injuries among young children, so when running a bath, turn the cold water on first and always test the water temperature with your elbow before letting a child get into the bath or shower.
‘Many scald accidents happen when a child gets into the bath before it’s ready, plays with the hot tap when they're in the bath or leans over to pick out a toy and falls in,’ says Sheila. Staying with your child all the time when they’re in the bath time means you can keep them safe and also share some quality time.
Children can also suffer burns after contact with open fires, a cooker, irons, curling tongs and hair straighteners, cigarettes, matches and cigarette lighters so keep them out of reach of children, even when they’re cooling down.
Keep small children out of the kitchen whenever possible and use rear hotplates when possible with the panhandles turned away from the front of the cooker so they can’t be grabbed and pulled down on top of your child.
Use rear hotplates when possible with the panhandles turned away from the front of the cooker
The increased use of glass in the home has led to more glass-related accidents. This could be glass coffee tables, glass-fronted cabinets and patio doors.
‘When buying furniture which incorporates glass, look for BS kite marks which show that it’s specially reinforced and always clear up broken glass quickly and dispose of it safely,’ says Sheila.
Most poisoning accidents involve medicines, household products and cosmetics. Some poisoning agents can cause breathing difficulties so always seek medical attention immediately.
‘Make sure you keep medicines and chemicals out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked cupboard,’ says Sheila. This is particularly the case in under-the-sink cupboards, as they tend to contain potentially dangerous cleaning products and are at the perfect height for an inquisitive toddler. Be careful of laundry and dishwasher liquitabs. To a young child, they look like brightly coloured sweets – despite them being particularly toxic – and the number of children who have accidentally eaten them has increased in the last few years.
Keep medicines and chemicals out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked cupboard
Watch out for plants, as children will love to pull off leaves, flowers and berries, so keep any with poisonous leaves or berries or those that can irritate the skin such as hydrangea, cyclamen and lilies out of reach of your child.
Suffocating and choking
Children can swallow, inhale or choke on items such as small toys, peanuts and marbles.
Keep nappy sacks, which are used to dispose of soiled nappies, well out of reach, too. Unlike many supermarket and shopping bags, they don’t have holes in them (understandably) so can pose a suffocation risk if children pull them over their head. ‘They’re also made of a flimsier material and don’t rustle in the same way meaning they’re easily grasped and breathed in by young toddlers without parents realising,’ says Sheila.
Babies and small children are most at risk from choking because they examine things around them by putting them in their mouths, so choose toys that are suitable for the age of your child – those with small parts can pose a choking risk.
Keep animals, especially cats, out of the bedroom and use a net on a pram. No matter how loving your pet, it can pose a suffocation risk if it decides to lie across your newborn.
Choose toys that are suitable for the age of your child – those with small parts can pose a choking risk
Strangulation and blind cords
Looped cords such as blind cords and chains can pose a risk to small children. Cords should be kept out of the reach of children, or even better, install blinds that do not have cords.
‘Research indicates that most accidental deaths involving blind cords happen in the bedroom and occur in children between 16 and 36 months old,’ says Sheila. ‘These toddlers are mobile, but their heads still weigh proportionately more than their bodies compared to adults and their muscular control is not yet fully developed, which makes them more prone to be unable to free themselves if they become entangled.’
To reduce risks, don’t hang drawstring bags where a small child could get their head through the loop of the drawstring. Do not place your child’s cot, bed, playpen or highchair near a window and any pull cords on curtains and blinds throughout the house should be kept short and out of reach using cleats, cord tidies, clips or ties.
Do not place your child’s cot, bed, playpen or highchair near a window
An amendment to blind cord legislation came into force in February 2014 and requires that all blinds must be “safe by design” or be supplied with an appropriate child safety device. This means that where there is a loop that is present, or could be created, a safety device must be installed at the point of the manufacture. They have also imposed a maximum cord and chain length.
Children can drown in less than 3cm of water so they should always be under constant supervision when in or near any water.
‘Never leave your child in the bath unsupervised, even for a moment and even if he or she has an older sibling to watch them,’ says Sheila. Don’t leave uncovered bowls or buckets of water around the home and paddling pools should be emptied and stored away when not in use. If you have a garden pond, it should be securely fenced off and take special care when visiting other people’s gardens.