The modern home poses a number of risks to babies, toddlers and young children. Taking practical steps to make your home environment safer for your child is crucial, but so is constant or near-constant supervision. Added to this, teaching your child about risks in the home is important in order further minimise the chances of an injury - or a fatality.
According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), children suffer most accidents in the living/dining room, but the most serious accidents occur in the kitchen or on the stairs. Annually, 67,000 children have an accident in the kitchen, 43,000 of whom are aged 0-4 years. 58,000 children suffer accidents on the stairs.
Children aged 0-4 are most likely to have an accident in the home, while boys are more likely to have an accident than girls.
In the UK, around 10 children die each year as a result of a fall. Most of these take place on the stairs, but falls also occur from balconies and windows.
Staircases pose a particular risk to young children. Install safety guards at the bottom and the top of the stairs. Safety gates should meet BS EN 1930: 2011. Ensure your staircase is well-maintained, with strong balustrades and securely fitted carpet. Avoid leaving anything on or near the staircase that could cause a trip or a fall.
- Install window guards to upper storey windows, or ensure they are locked at all times. Do not leave any items under the window that could be used by a child to climb onto the sill.
- Avoid leaving babies alone on chairs, beds, changing tables or any raised surfaces.
- Avoid using baby walkers, as infants can tumble into pools, stoves, heaters etc. RoSPA discourages the use of baby-walkers and table-mounted high chairs.
- Many falls take place during play with other children, with pushing, shoving or wrestling sometimes leading to injuries.
- Ensure chests of drawers, other furniture and TVs cannot be pulled over by a child, as serious injury can result.
- Remove any trip hazards in the home, including electrical cables.
- Ensure smoke detectors are fitted and working throughout your home. Test them on a monthly basis.
- Consider investing in a fire extinguisherand placing it in a high risk location - such as the kitchen.
- Ensure matches and lighters are kept safely out of the sight and reach of children.
- Ensure flammable fabrics such as curtains and upholstery are a safe distance from any heaters, fireplaces or other heat sources.
- Check your appliances for frayed cords, and rewire them as necessary.
- Store any flammable liquids outside your home.
- If there are smokers in the household, consider making them smoke outside, away from the children. Any cigarettes should be safely extinguished. Never smoke in bed.
- Plan a fire escape route, and practice using it.
Scalds and burns
Scalds and burns can be extremely painful and may lead to permanent scarring. Among under-fives, most scalds are caused by hot drinks. Keep hot drinks away from children and away from the edges of tables. Children's skin is much more sensitive than that of adults.
- Most fatal and serious scalding accidents are caused by hot bath water. Never leave a child alone in a bathroom. When running a bath, add cold water first and ensure the temperature is safe (around 46 degrees) before bathing the child.
- When cooking, use the rear hobs/hotplates. Turn the handles of pans towards the back.
- Scalds and burns may also be caused by matches, lighters, cooker hobs, hot pans being knocked over, open fires and all manner of hot surfaces.
Every year children die due to cuts from broken windows/architectural glass. Injuries are also sustained from broken glass tumblers and bottles.
- Ensure the glass in your windows and doors meets BS 6206 - particularly at low levels. Improve the safety of existing glass by applying shatter-resistant film.
- Any broken glass fragments should be removed immediately and safely disposed of.
Choking and suffocation
Children can swallow and choke on small toys, as well as on various types of foods - such as peanuts.
Plastic bags are well known to pose a suffocation risk to children. Nappy sacks - used to dispose of nappies - also pose a suffocation risk, there having been at least 14 deaths since 2001 in the UK, according to RoSPA.
- Choose toys appropriate to the age of your child. Avoid toys with small pieces.
- Keep small objects/toys and certain food stuffs away from under-threes. Marbles, plastic bricks and peanuts pose particular risks.
- Cut soft fruits such as cherry tomatoes and grapes into quarters to reduce the risk of choking.
- Babies' cots should be free of soft toys, pillows and bumpers. Babies should sleep on their backs with their feet towards the foot of the cot.
- Ensure you choose a cot that is suitable for your child's age.
According to RoSPA, each year in the UK 28,000 children receive medical attention after poisoning - or suspected poisoning. Many poisonings are caused by children ingesting or inhaling medicines, cosmetics and household products.
- Purchase products with child-resistant lids/caps if possible.
- Keep chemicals in their original containers so they are always identifiable.
Blind cords are one of the leading causes of accidental child strangulation in the UK. Since 1999, there have been at least 30 deaths, according to research by RoSPA.
- Avoid installing blinds with cords. In a child’s bedroom, always choose blinds without cords.
- Ensure any cords on blinds or curtains are out of the reach of children.
- Keep draw-string bags out of your child's reach.
Whenever a child is near water they should be under constant supervision. A child can drown in just three centimetres of water.
- Don't leave bowls or buckets of water around the home. Toddlers are often top-heavy and can easily fall into them.
- Once a paddling pool has been used, it should be emptied and stored away.
- If you have small children, ensure any garden ponds are either filled in or fenced off. Be aware of any such hazards in any other gardens you visit.