About 2 million children are injured or killed by hazards in the home each year. Many of these incidents are preventable simply by taking precautions and by using simple, relatively inexpensive child safety products widely available. The practice of altering an environment in order to maximize the safety of small children is called childproofing.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 20,000 accidental deaths and approximately 25 million accidental injuries occur each year to those under the age of 25. Most of these events occur in the home. The leading causes of injuries to children at home are burns , drowning, poisoning , cuts, and falls. Safety experts state that most of these accidents are preventable with planning and foresight.
Pediatricians advise parents to begin thinking about home safety when their children are around six months old. As soon as the child is even slightly mobile, child-proofing the home is a wise practice. The following suggestions are common precautions that may be taken to avoid accidents in the home.
In the kitchen
The kitchen is one of the most potentially dangerous rooms in the household. In order to avoid the possible hazards, parents should follow these guidelines:
- Always buy the least hazardous products possible and keep toxic items out of sight, out of reach, and under lock and key.
- Post the numbers of the doctor, hospital, emergency service, and poison-control center on or near telephone.
- Teach children never to run with sharp implements (such as knives). Store knives in a secured drawer, in slotted knife blocks, or in trays attached to the wall, out of reach.
- Remove stove knobs or put covers over the burners when the stove is not in use.
- Never transfer household products to a container that once held food. Use the original containers.
- Never store snacks over the stove where a child might be tempted to try to reach them.
In the bathroom
The bathroom also contains a variety of potential dangers for children. These measures may help prevent accidental injuries in this room:
- Unplug electrical appliances when not in use and store them in a locked cabinet or drawer.
- Place nonslip mats or decals in the tub or shower and place a padded spout cover on the faucet.
- To prevent scald burns, set the temperature on the hot-water heater to a maximum of 120°F (49°C).
- Install safety locks on the medicine cabinet to prevent children from reaching prescriptions, vitamins , soaps, and other toxic substances. All medications should have child-resistant caps.
- Keep razors and scissors stored in a locked cabinet.
- Install toilet locks to prevent the lid from being lifted by young children. Children can easily fall into the toilet and may drown in as little as 1 in (2.5 cm) of water.
In children's rooms
Each child's room poses certain dangers, and the following are steps to assure children's safety in their bedrooms:
- Keep unopened windows locked and move furniture away from windows. Consider putting guards even on ground-floor windows. Though screens offer the illusion of safety, they are not strong enough to prevent a child from falling through the window.
- Make certain toy boxes are either without a lid or have a feature that prevents the lid from closing on a child's head or fingers.
- Make sure baby furniture meets current safety standards. There should be no sharp edges, and crib slats should be no more than 2.5 inches (6 cm) apart. If the distance is wider than this, a child may be caught or strangled between the bars.
- The crib mattress should fit snugly within the crib frame, with no more than two fingers' distance between the mattress and the crib railing, to avoid strangulation.
- Consider securing heavier pieces of furniture to walls, as children are often injured by pulling heavy furniture down on top of themselves.
In the living room
The living room can be dangerous for children. The following are some safety measures to take:
- Cover all unused electrical outlets with safety plugs.
- Pad sharp tables, and remove glass-topped tables, if possible.
- Pad the corners on a raised hearth or cover the edges with heat-resistant padding.
- Place a protective screen around the fireplace, and never leave children unsupervised when the fireplace is in use.
Hallways and stairs
Hallways and steps can be dangerous for family members. The following are some measures to take to make them less so:
- Install a smoke detector on every level of the home, as well as in the hallways outside every sleeping area. Change the batteries yearly.
- Use a carbon monoxide detector outside each sleeping area and near appliances which burn fuel.
- Teach children to use the handrail on stairways and to walk, not run, on the steps. Keep stairways cleared of all objects.
- Use safety gates that screw to the wall at the tops of stairways.
In the yard
The property around the house poses some dangers for children. Here are some steps parents can take to make the yard a safer place:
- eck to see if any plants in the yard are poisonous, and remove them or isolate them with fencing.
- Remove rotting or loose branches from trees promptly.
- Inspect gates and fences regularly to be certain there are no rusty nails or splintered wood.
- If there is a pool, it should be fenced, and all windows and doors providing access to the pool area should be locked. Alarms may be placed on these doors, to alert adults if children do slip into the pool area. Install a phone or keep a charged, waterproof cordless phone near the pool with emergency numbers posted on it.
In the garage
The garage can be a lethal place for small children. Here are some steps to take to secure it for the whole family:
- Petroleum products and any other poisonous substances should be stored up high, in appropriate containers, and locked.
- Garage doors should have electric openers that have an automatic reversing mechanism to prevent the door from closing on a child.
Child safety devices
The following child safety devices can help prevent injuries to young children and are commonly available in stores:
- Safety latches and locks. Latches and locks that are easy to install and use but sturdy enough to withstand pulls and tugs from children are good choices. Safety latches do not guarantee protection, but they can make it more difficult for children to reach dangerous substances.
- Safety gates. Safety gates can help to keep children away from stairs or rooms that contain hazards. Gates that cannot be dislodged easily by a child, but that adults can open and close without difficulty are best. Newer safety gates that meet safety standards have a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Check older gates to be sure they do not have V-shapes large enough for a child's head and neck to fit into.
- Door knob covers and door locks. These devices help prevent children from entering rooms with possible hazards. Be certain that the door knob cover is sturdy enough so that it does not break but will still permit a door to be opened quickly by an adult in the case of an emergency.
- Anti-scald devices. These devices help regulate water temperature in order to prevent burns from water that is too hot.
- Smoke detectors. Used on every level of the home and especially near bedroom areas, smoke detectors should be checked monthly to make certain they are working.
- Window guards. To help prevent falls from windows, decks, and balconies, install window guards. However, remember that adults should be able to open at least one window in every room easily in case of fire.
- Corner and edge bumpers. Devices like corner and edge bumpers can be used on sharp edges to prevent injuries from falls.
- Outlet covers. Outlet covers should be inserted in all unused outlets as a way to prevent electrocution or electrical shock. Make sure they cannot be easily removed and that they are large enough so as not to pose a choking hazard for young children.
- Carbon monoxide detectors. Parents should place carbon monoxide detectors near all sleeping areas in the home, especially if the house uses gas or oil heat or if it has an attached garage.
- Door stops and door holders. These aid in preventing finger and hand injuries by preventing small fingers and hands from being pinched in doors or hinges.
One of the most common childproofing challenges in a home is making certain that toys are age-appropriate and that they are in good working order. It can be difficult to keep toys that are geared for an older child away from a younger sibling, but parents should make an attempt to do so. The primary hazard presented by toys meant for older children is the possibility that a smaller child will choke on smaller parts. Parents can instruct their older children why it is important to keep these types of toys away from their siblings who can possibly be harmed by them.
Parents should also be aware if any toy or equipment made for children has been recalled by the manufacturer. This information is easily obtained by checking the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recall list (available online at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prerel.html).
Parents are responsible for providing a safe home environment for their children. However, no amount of childproofing can replace vigilant supervision as a means of maintaining child safety. On the other hand, taking these simple and common sense precautions can help prevent many potential accidents.
See also Safety .
Lansky, Vicki. Baby Proofing Basics. Minnetonka, MN: Book Peddlers, 2002.
Townsend, Lindsey. "Keeping Your Child Safe at Home." Pediatrics for Parents (October 2003): 4–6.
Consumer Product Safety Commission. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207–0001. Web site: http://www.cpsc.gov.
National Safety Council. 1121 Spring Lake Drive, Itasca, IL 60143–3201. Web site: http://www.nsc.org.
"Childproofing Your Home: 12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children." Consumer Product Safety Commission. Available online at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/grand/12steps/12steps.html (accessed October 25, 2004).
Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil, RN