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Child Safety in the Home

Thousands of kids go to emergency rooms every year as a result of preventable, accidental injuries. Here's how you can lower your youngster's chances of being one of them

Think Like a Kid

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

In a world made by the point-of-view of grown-ups, there are inadvertent hazards to small children all over the place. Home is no exception. According to Safe Kids USA (an organization that educates parents, policy makers, and the general public in creating safe environments for children) a child dies every 101 minutes as a result of an unintentional injury, making it the leading cause of accidental death and permanent disability for America's kids.

Best we try, we can't have both eyes fixed on little busy bodies all the time, but there are things that can be done reduce risk throughout the home. (That said, making the upgrades and adding some of the safety devices we'll mention aren't meant as a substitute for good old-fashioned supervision.) Simple things like closing the door to exercise rooms and putting an affordable doorknob guard on the door could save you a trip to the emergency room. Start off with doing a careful inspection of your home: Think like a curious kid and see what kind of trouble you can get yourself into. But first, take a minute to familiarize yourself with danger zones and common hazards.

Kitchen and Dining Area

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

Respondents to the Home Safety Council's (HSC) Safe Haven research named the kitchen the most dangerous room of the house, possibly because it's also one of the busiest.

• "Hot liquids and food are always being shuttled between the sink, fridge, and stovetop or oven, and neighboring surfaces," says Alison Rhodes of safetymom.com, Evenflo's resident expert on child safety. "You'll want to keep this area off limits while cooking." Gate off the danger zone, if possible, or strap kids into their high chairs. The HSC suggests marking a three-foot safety margin around the stove with tape so older kids know it's off limits.

• Make it a habit to use back burners and turn pot handles in when cooking.

• Store cleaning supplies and home products—especially brightly colored fluids and those with fruit on the packaging—in cabinets with child-locks or latches.

• Unplug countertop appliances so that little fingers won't chance into hot toasters or mistakenly switched-on processors. But keep in mind that dangling appliance wires—and tablecloths—are pull-down risks for young children wanting to hoist themselves up to their feet. Put countertop appliances behind cabinet locks when not in use.

• Ditch the tablecloth in favor of colorful placemats and trivets.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Bathroom

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

Respondents of the Home Safety Council's Safe Haven research named the bathroom a close second to kitchens as an at-home danger zone. Still, 64 percent of respondents report they haven't made any safety upgrades.

• According to The American Burn Association, more than 21,000 kids are treated yearly for scalds. Make sure your water heater temperature is set to a maximum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As an added precaution, or if you live in an apartment where you cannot adjust the water heater, add an easy-install scald guard to spouts and showerheads to block water flow above a preset temperature.

• According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, unintentional drowning is the 2nd leading cause of injury death for kids aged 1-14. But, says Safe Kids USA, a parent or caregiver claimed to be supervising children in nearly 9 out of 10 child drowning-related deaths. Never leave children alone in a bathtub. Carry a cordless phone with you to discourage leaving the room "for just a second." Lock toilet lids to further reduce drowning risk. Consider CPR training; the American Red Cross offers courses.

• Put in non-slip shower and tub mats or strips. Install grab bars for added bath-time safety.

• Keep mouthwash, medicines, and cleaners or chemicals stores in cabinets with child locks or latches. If anyone in your home has to use syringes or lancets for medical reasons, be sure they're disposing of them properly. Get proper disposal solutions (i.e. MedWaste containers) from your waste management company.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Living Area

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

"There's been a 47 percent increase of furniture toppling with flat screen TVs now in more homes," says Alison Rhodes of safetymom.com. "Pick up some heavy-duty Velcro to add stability to sleek television sets, vases and other things in storage units." Here are some more things you can do to child-proof living and play areas.

• Prevent furniture tip-overs by keeping entertainment and shelving units bottom-heavy. Pack heavy articles in bottom compartments and lighter ones at the top. Also, discourage climbing by not putting anything a kid might want to get to at the top of wall units. Secure furniture to walls with straps or L-brackets, if possible.

• Corral cords to reduce strangulation, tripping, and pull-down hazards. "Use wire ties or cord-keepers to attach lamp cords to end table legs," suggests Rhodes. Pick up an easy-install wire management kit, available at home centers, for wall-mounted flat screens, telephone wires and other unwieldy cords.

• Kids under the age of four account for 86 percent of electrical-related deaths and injuries. Individual socket plugs present a new choking hazard if they're popped out. Instead, opt for a complete cover that completely encases sockets, even with items plugged in.

• "Spot the tot" before opening or closing recliners and other furniture with moving parts. Don't set hot liquids down on low coffee tables. Consider low-profile corner-edge protectors to soften the impact of bumps.

• Some common houseplants—like Aloe Vera, English Ivy, Hydrangea, and Mistletoe—are toxic and may cause symptoms ranging from mild stomachaches to serious heart and kidney problems if eaten. Read the University of Connecticut's Home & Garden Education Center's Safe and Poisonous Houseplants list, or check with the National Poison Center (800-222-1222) before introducing new plants to your home.

• The National Safety Council warns that radiators, spaceheaters, and heating vents are not always hot. Children can get a false sense of safety after touching a radiator when it's off, and a big ouchie from the same radiator when it's on. Adding a radiator cover is a DIY solution that can lower severe burn risk.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Bedroom and Nursery

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

Little ones probably get into the least trouble when they're sleeping, but you've still got to take a few precautionary measures. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, these practices can reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), prevent suffocation, and more.

• Bedroom windows are hot spots for accidental falls. Keep furniture away from windows—especially dressers and chests with drawers, which kids can open and climb.

• Don't use mothballs or flakes on closet floors. Opt for a hanging cedar block instead. Also be mindful in general of pest control devices and poisons that are laid out around the house.

• According to The National Safety Council, spaces between crib slats should be no larger than 2⅜ inches apart to prevent infants from getting extremities lodged between them. (Cribs manufactured after 1974 are required to meet this standard, but make a note of the specs if you're using heirloom furniture or buying second-hand. In those circumstances, test for lead and other contaminants, too.) Headboards should not feature cutouts. The top rail of crib sides should be at least 26 inches above the top of the mattress at its lowest set position. When your child can stand, set mattresses at their lowest position, and stop using cribs when height of top rails is less than ¾ of your child's height. For more on mattress requirements and a safe crib environment, download Crib Safety Tips from nsc.org.

• The Home Safety Council's Save Haven research finds that even though the majority of fatal home fires happen at night, only 13 percent of respondents have a fire escape plan. Make sure there are working (good batteries and audible alarm) smoke detectors on every level of your home. Carbon Monoxide detectors should also be installed throughout the home, especially near bedrooms.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Stairs and Floors

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

Home Safety Council research names falls as the leading cause of home injury across nearly all age groups. Here are some precautions you can take to avoid accidental trips and slips.

• "Install hardware-mounted gates into the walls where needed, especially at staircase landings. Pressure gates aren't stable enough for your home where baby will be spending most of his or her time," advises Rhodes of safetymom.com.

• Clean spills on uncarpeted floors promptly to prevent slips. Encourage and reward tidiness from a young age and the chances of tripping over your teenager's skateboard will be smaller.

• Consider installing "handrails" on both sides of your staircase and padded stair runners to soften the blow if someone does take a tumble.

• Use nightlights in halls and near stairs. Make sure there's a dependable light source at every staircase, and don't slack on replacing bulbs.

• Keep stairs and floors clear of clutter. Vacuum often to pick up staples and other small hazards. Try to locate and retrieve dropped paper clips, pins, or medication (pills), and the like immediately after realizing you've dropped them.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Windows

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) receives an about 25 reports a year of fatalities associated with window falls. The CPSC also reports that thousands of children are injured in related accidents, yearly. Window safety can be tricky; here are some tips you should follow.

• "Lots of old homes have double-hung windows. If you must open them, do so only from the top," Rhodes of safetymom.com advises. "You might also consider a window stop, like the Window Wedge, a device that limits window openings to 4 inches.

• Screens won't hold back the weight of most small children. Install a window guard with an emergency release mechanism, which adults can quickly activate for escape in the event of a fire.

• The National Safety Council cites that the degree of injury sustained from a window fall can be affected by the surface on which the victim lands. They suggest planting shrubs and soft edging like wood or grass beneath windows, if possible.

• Cut loops in blind and drapery cords to prevent strangulation. Tie or roll cords up so they're out of the reach of children. The Window Covering Safety Council recommends cord stops, devices that keep dangling cords encased and out of reach.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Garage and Driveway

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

Garages are often an afterthought when it comes to home safety. Seventy-eight percent of respondents to the Home Safety Council's Safe Haven poll stated that they didn't lock away harmful chemicals like antifreeze and lawn care products in their garages. Seventy-five percent admit to not watching kids as carefully as they should while outside.

• "Spot the tot" before starting up yard machinery or backing up your vehicle. Advise kids to stay still when a vehicle is on the move and roll down your windows to listen for any cues that someone may be entering your path. Staying alert will prepare you to stop and lower the risk of accidental backovers.

• Consider adding a locked garden shed for dangerous yard machinery and products.

• The bottom-heavy storage unit rule applies here, too. Put poisonous chemicals (i.e. automotive fluid, brightly colored antifreeze, pesticides, paint thinner, etc) in a child-locked or latched cabinets.

• Never run a barbeque or generator in the garage. Carefully back out of the garage before warming up your car. Again, make sure working Carbon Monoxide detectors are placed throughout your home.

• Consider installing a child-proofing alarm at the doorway from your home to the garage. Many home security systems feature an alert that tells you when a window or door opens.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.

Yard and Playground

Photo by Courtesy of Home Safety Council

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms every year because of yard and playground injuries. Aside from encouraging the use of helmets when riding bikes or skating, here are a few ways you can lower the risk of outdoor accidents.

• Store buckets and containers upside down so they don't accumulate rainwater. Even just a couple of inches of water presents a drowning hazard.

• The Home Safety Council reports that the only measure scientifically proven to reduce pool drowning is proper fencing. Pool fences must completely surround the pool and include a gate that closes and locks automatically. Sturdy, locking pool covers are recommended as another line of defense. Pool alarms will alert you when the pool area is accessed without your knowledge. Some alarm systems feature motion sensors along the perimeter of the pool itself.

• Add soft-surfacing to playgrounds and play areas (at least 12 inches of wood chips or mulch, or rubber mats) to soften the blow of accidental falls from monkey bars or swings. Swings are also most likely to cause injury, so make sure seats are soft and that they are set 24 inches apart with no more than two per supporting framework. Anchor play sets and set them on a level surface to reduce the risk of tipovers. See The NSC's Top 10 Checklist for Playground Safety for more information.

• Remove toxic plants from your landscape; check plant names through the United States Department of Agriculture's Plants Database before introducing them to your garden.

The key to prevention is awareness. If you have another tip or idea, share it in the comment section below.