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Safety Starts at Home


Injuries in the home, hmmmm-when I was preparing to write this article I really had to think about how to try to make the subject of home injuries and home safety interesting. How would I grab your attention and say, "Hey, I'm talking to you!" without sounding like I know it all, or like I am implying that everyone's home is a death trap? After all, I am a parent too, and frankly, I think my home is pretty safe.

Most of us could list at least three or four major "child-proofing" steps-keep poisons out of reach, never leave a child alone in the bathtub, supervise young children at all times. These are all important, but how many of us do them consistently? Injury is the leading cause of death and disability for Alberta's children.

Every year, more children die as a result of injury than from all childhood diseases combined. Most childhood injuries are predictable and preventable. In the home, the most frequent and severe childhood injuries result from falls, poisonings, choking, drowning and burns.

Between November 1, 1995, and October 31, 1996, 3047 children under the age of 12 were seen in the Alberta Children's Hospital Emergency Department for the treatment of injuries that occurred in their own or another home (CHIRPP data). 3047! That's approximately 250 children per month.

Details of the injuries include: 56% of the children injured were boys, 44% were girls. 68% of the children injured were under the age of five years. Almost half of all the injuries recorded occurred between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m.-a time when children are typically more tired and parents less attentive.

Although injuries don't take a day off-a slightly higher number of injuries were reported on Saturdays with slightly fewer seen on Tuesdays. Almost half of the injuries seen resulted from a fall by the victim.

6% of the injuries seen were serious enough to require admission to the hospital, 31% required significant treatment, 30% required minor treatment and 33% required advice only. Head injuries accounted for 37% of the total.

Prevention of home injuries can be broken down into five main areas:

Fall Prevention
  • Never leave an infant alone on a change table. Secure the baby with your hand when you turn or reach for something.
  • Do not use baby walkers for any reason.
  • Use approved safety gates at the top and bottom of all stairs to prevent infants and toddlers from falling. Gates at the top of stairs should be mounted on the wall.
  • If you buy play equipment for the backyard, make sure it is sturdy and easy for your children to use. Place 15-30 cm (6-12") of an impact-absorbing surface such as sand or wood chips under and around the play equipment.
Reduce the Risk of Poisioning
  • Store household cleaners, alcohol, vitamins, medicines and other harmful substances in their original containers in a locked cabinet.
  • Use child-resistant caps for all medications. Keep pills out of purses, pockets or bags where children love to explore.
  • Plants are a common cause of poisoning to preschoolers. Consult your plant store staff to determine which plants are best around children. Teach children not to put plants, berries or fruits in their mouths until they have permission from an adult.
Prevent Choking and Strangulation
  • Avoid tiny or hard foods such as peanuts and candies for young children. Grapes and hot dogs should be pureed or cut lengthwise.
  • Follow the age recommendations for toys. Many toys have small pieces that are a choking hazard, especially for children under 3.
  • Keep blind and drapery cords securely out of reach. Place the child's crib a safe distance from a window with blinds.

Water Safety

  • Constant supervision during baths is necessary for infants and toddlers. If the doorbell or phone rings and you must answer it, take your child with you.
  • Surround swimming pools with a secure fence with a self-latching, self-locking gate. Ensure that the gate remains locked at all times unless there is a supervising adult present.
  • Install proper rescue equipment and a poolside phone.

Scald and Burn Protection

  • Cover all exposed electrical outlets with sliding outlet covers.
  • Adjust the temperature of your water heater to 54 C (120 F). Test the bath water with your entire hand prior to putting your child in the tub.
  • Install a smoke detector on every level of the house and one in each bedroom. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
  • Develop a home fire escape plan for your family and practice it regularly.

Carol is the Injury Prevention (SAFE KIDS) Coordinator at the Alberta Children's Hospital. She can be reached at 229-7833.

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