Kids Health Info

Home Safety

  • The home is the most common place for young children to be injured. Pre-school aged children often spend the greater part of their day at home and they are curious, adventurous and do not have a full understanding of the consequences of their actions. Most injuries are predictable and preventable. Parents therefore need to make the home environment as safe as possible to minimise the likelihood, frequency and severity of injuries.

    Main causes of injury 

    Common causes of injury to young children in the home include poisoning, burns, finger jams, dog bites, falls and near drowning.  There are a number of common scenarios, such as:

    • Collisions due to poorly designed kitchens.
    • Injuries due to poor visual contact between work areas (kitchen, laundry) and play areas (yard, family room).
    • Collisions and impacts due to poorly positioned doorway openings.
    • Falls due to poor lighting, floor surface, tripping hazards, visitors or other distractions.
    • Lack of supervision of children during phone calls, when we are not feeling well, when we are distracted or entertaining, or when there are a lot of things happening at one time.

    Supervision is the most important safety precaution. However, it is understandable that parents cannot watch their children every second of every day. Take the time to create a safe home for your child by looking for potential hazards and implementing steps to remove or guard any risks. There are plenty of low-cost safety devices such as outlet plugs, cabinet and drawer locks, window stops, window guards, smoke alarms and furniture straps and brackets to prevent furniture tip-overs that can help keep children safe at home.

    Home safety would be improved dramatically if parents incorporated safety features during the design, construction or renovation stage of a home. Doing so establishes greater potential for reduced injury risk. Very few houses are purpose-built for children; however, there are many simple ways to reduce potential risks.  

    • Ensure dangerous items such as medicines, poisons, matches or lighters are locked away.
    • Install barriers to stop access to some areas.
    • Add safety products.
    • Rearrange objects and furniture to improve traffic paths and reduce tripping hazards.
    • Consider your daily routine. Sometimes you are in a hurry or under a lot of pressure. At times like these, injuries can happen because too many things are going on at once. Perhaps this is the time to skip unnecessary jobs or to change your routine. Avoid that 4.00 – 7.00pm kitchen disaster by feeding a demanding toddler his dinner at midday and serving something light you don’t need to cook in the early evening.  Perhaps the rest of the family can eat a meal when baby is safely in bed. Occasionally give a baby a wipe instead of a bath if you don’t have the time to stay beside him/her. The choices you make will depend upon your individual situation and the age of your child/children. 
    • Most importantly, take steps now to provide a safe play space.

    Suggested ways to increase safety inside the home and the immediate surrounds

    Driveways

    Many small children - particularly toddlers - are run over in home driveways, with 92 per cent of run-overs occurring at home. A parent or family friend is usually the driver.

    Never reverse until you know where the children are.

    Kitchen

    The majority of kitchen injuries are to children aged from newborn to four years. Injuries in the kitchen include poisoning, falls or scalds from hot food, water or other liquids.

    To avoid injuries, try to keep children out of the kitchen when you are cooking. Some parents may choose to use a playpen at this busy time or a safety gate at the kitchen door.

    Visit the Poisons Information Centre website for more information on poisoning prevention www.austin.org.au/poisons  

    Other ways to keep children safe in the kitchen include:

    • Installing an oven guard, stove knob covers or a stove guard that fits around the hot plates to avoid burns.
    • Installing safety taps or tap covers to reduce the risk of scalds.
    • Installing locks or safety latches on cupboards where dangerous items are stored.

    Bathroom

    In proportion to the amount of time in use, the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the home for children, with scalds and drownings most common.

    Ensure hot water is delivered to the bathroom at a maximum of 50°C to prevent serious scalds.

    Fall injuries are also common due to the combination of water and slippery surfaces. Install anti-slip products to prevent children from falling in the bath.

    For more information on water safety in the bathroom, visit the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia website www.keepwatch.com.au.

    Other ways to improve bathroom safety include: 

    • Keeping the door shut or installing a safety gate in the doorway to block access to the bathroom.
    • Avoiding the use of fan heaters on the floor.
    • Checking the temperature of the water before placing your baby or child in the bath; use your forearm or a thermometer (a comfortable temperature for a baby is between 37–39ºC).
    • Ensuring hot water taps are turned off tightly, particularly before putting children in the bath.

    Remember – Always remain within arm’s reach of your baby or child in the bath. Do not leave to answer the phone or attend to visitors, and avoid cooking at the same time.

    Laundry

    To keep children safe and free of injuries in the laundry:

    • Keep the door closed or use a safety gate (half door) in the doorway.
    • To avoid the risk of drowning, keep buckets of water off the floor and cover with a lid.
    • Keep cleaning products in a locked cupboard out of reach of children.

    Living/family room and bedroom

    To ensure a safe sleeping environment for babies, lay them in their own sleeping area without blankets, bumpers or pillows.  Parents can share the same room but not the same bed.

    Provide children with a safe play space in the living area.

    Store toys in a ventilated toy box with holes to avoid suffocation, and a slow closing latch to prevent finger jams. Install finger-jam protectors and door-stoppers to both the hinge side and the opening side of doors to prevent serious finger injuries.

    In Australia, an estimated four children per week present to a hospital emergency department with an injury related to a button battery. Many remote controls and other electronic items in the home have battery compartments that are easy to open. Parents may be unaware of the risks associated with coin-sized lithium button batteries. These batteries cause severe injuries when swallowed, as they may get caught in the throat and burn through the oesophagus in as little as two hours. In extreme cases, the batteries can cause death. Children under five years are at greatest risk.   

    Do not allow young children near home gym equipment such as weights, treadmills and exercise bikes.  Place these items in a separate room or use safety gates to keep children away from these items. Before you purchase a treadmill, research which models provide protective covers to prevent little fingers and hands getting caught. Check that the machine has a safety stop switch to disable it quickly in case of an injury. Before using the treadmill, ensure children cannot reach or touch the machine.

    Windows

    Windows play a vital role in home safety, ensuring a second way out of a room in an emergency situation such as a fire. However, windows can also pose a risk to young children.

    To prevent a fall injury from a window:

    • Keep windows closed and locked when children are around.
    • Don’t rely on insect screens to prevent a fall.
    • Arrange furniture and shelves away from windows to prevent children climbing and opening a window.

    Make sure nothing is blocking or preventing a window from opening in case of emergency.

    The importance of first aid

    Injuries involving children can occur as families go about everyday activities. Are you confident you know what to do for your child if faced with a life threatening emergency?  Would you know what to do if you discovered an infant face down in a pool of water? Could you confidently revive a child, or would you know how to adequately manage a child with scalds from cups of tea and coffee or boiling water, or a flame burn? 

    For more information on paediatric first aid courses visit www.rch.org.au/safetycentre

    For a complete list of safety features throughout the home, refer to The Royal Children’s Hospital Safety Centre Home Safety Checklist and print a set of six A4 home safety and surrounds posters.

    The Interactive Home Safety Guide is a virtual house designed to help parents explore and modify safety risks around the home. As each risk is identified, parents gain knowledge about why the risk is a safety issue. Once complete, parents can print out a checklist of actions that need to be implemented in their own home.



    Interactive Home Safety Guide



    Reviewed 3/6/15

     

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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.