Parental supervision is the best way to keep children safe at home.
But as any parent will tell you, you’d need eyes in the back of your head to keep your child safe every second of every day.
Preventative safety measures and childproofing devices can act as a second line of defence, covering you when you’re momentarily distracted or temporarily separated from your child (e.g. in the dead of night).
Houses are designed primarily for adult use. Consequently, they can pose a danger to children — from pools and window blinds to table edges and heavy bedding.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that accident rates are higher among children compared to other age groups. The good news is most of these accidents are preventable.
In addition to keeping an eye on your child, here’s a list of measures you can take and childproofing items you can install in your home for extra peace of mind.
Remember to read any instruction manuals carefully. There’s no point in going to the expense and effort if your childproofing is installed incorrectly.
Also, ask yourself whether your child is old enough (or clever enough) to disable the devices you’ve put in place.
When kids start to toddle around, beware. Not only are they pulling themselves up on things, they’re also prone to falling.
If your home has stairs, you should install safety gates. Purchase a sturdy design that screws to the wall.
These gates can also bar children’s access to knives and other potentially dangerous items in the kitchen.
Be sure the safety gate meets Australian safety standards and that the bars in the gate (or fence) are too narrow for a child to get their head stuck. Routinely lock the gate.
Door knobs, and drawer handles
There are a myriad childproof devices designed to keep inquisitive children out of rooms and cupboards.
While it’s best practice to keep dangerous items out of the reach of children (e.g. medicines, household chemicals, kitchen knives), these devices provide extra security.
Choose a good quality, durable design that is functional.
Latch any utensil drawers that might house sharp or dangerous objects. Keep little ones out of no-go areas with door-knob fittings.
Anti-tip brackets and bumper guards
“Kids explore by climbing and often know that things they’re not supposed to have are kept up high,” warns safety consultant Gail Greatorex, in an interview with the Herald Sun.
“They find ways to climb, using open drawers as steps or clambering up a bookcase.”
Large, heavy objects such as bookcases and televisions should be secured to the floor or wall to prevent them tipping over if a child clambers up them.
Or you could install anti-tip brackets or straps in compatible appliances.
Edge and corner guards (also known as bumper guards) can prevent or reduce the severity of injuries to children who fall into furniture like coffee tables.
Smoke alarms are for everyone’s safety, not just your children’s.
Says Boyd Townsend of the Rural Fire Service Northern Rivers: “Smoke alarms …give people that early warning that there’s a problem when they’re asleep and gives them a greater chance of survival.”
Smoke alarms should be fitted throughout the home, including your child’s room.
Buy ones with long-life batteries and regularly test them to make sure they’re working.
As vital as they are, smoke alarms don’t alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that can kill and is especially dangerous in enclosed, poorly ventilated places.
Many things can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide gas: car fumes in a garage, a blocked or soot-filled chimney, a faulty furnace or gas-powered fireplace, portable heaters and other fuel-dependent appliances.
So you may wish to consider installing carbon monoxide alarms (these days, you can buy alarms that detect both smoke and gas).
Cots and bed rails
According to Australia’s SIDS and Kids organisation, the best and safest place for a child to sleep is in a cot that meets Australian safety standards.
The cot should have a mattress that fits firmly so the child’s head can’t get stuck between the sides of the cot and the mattress.
Other safety measures include putting the child to sleep on his back, keeping the bedroom well ventilated and removing any padded bumpers, pillows, heavy bedding, hanging mobiles and toys that could potentially suffocate or strangle him.
Learn about the dangers of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and the safest sleeping positions for your baby.
Around the age of two, children may start climbing out of the cot, putting them at risk of falling.
This probably means it’s time to move your child into a bed. Transition them to a bed with a rail (one that complies with Australian safety standards).
Make sure the bed rail is properly fitted and that there are no gaps between the rail and mattress.
Alternatively, you could simply put the cot mattress on the floor. Make sure it’s positioned away from the wall so the child cannot become trapped.
Another idea would be to use the same cot mattress in a low bed, or floor bed.
Be careful where you allow your baby to fall asleep. If your child rolls into an unsafe sleep position on a beanbag, waterbed, couch, sheepskin rug or other soft, cushiony place, they may suffocate.
For the same reason, keep stuffed toys, piles of clothing and similar items out of cots.
Window blind cords and baby mobiles
As children become more mobile, they’re more prone to getting entangled in window-blind cords and baby-mobile strings.
If left hanging they can form a dangerous loop or noose around the child’s neck. Remove these altogether or tie them up high in a knot.
For starters, make sure their cot is well away from any window blinds (and their cords).
Safety switches and power-point covers
Electrocution is another potential hazard, so electrical-outlet or power-point covers are well worth considering.
Make sure the covers cannot be removed by the child, as they can then become a choking hazard.
Consider having safety switches fitted to all power-point circuits.
A safety switch is a device that quickly switches off the electricity supply if an electrical fault is detected, to minimise the risk of electricity-related fires, electric shock, injury and death.
(In some states these switches are compulsory on all new homes and must be fitted to established homes when a new electrical installation occurs.)
Pool and spa fencing
In homes with pools, one of the most obvious risks to a child is drowning. Indeed, it is the leading external cause of death for children under the age of five.
In NSW alone in 2013, nine children under the age of five drowned, and an additional 64 were admitted to hospital for near-drowning.
Kids in this age group have the highest mortality rate of any age group, with roughly 60% of all drowning deaths happening in swimming pools2.
Pool-fencing laws and regulations vary between the states and territories. You’ll need to contact the relevant agency in your jurisdiction to confirm what the exact specifications are.
For example, in New South Wales the pool-enclosure gate must open outwards, be self-closing (on the first swing), self-latching, and the latch must be more than 1.5m from the ground.
The fence needs to be in good working order, no more than 100mm from the ground and at least 1.2m high. There should also be no vertical gaps more than 100mm apart.
Swimming lessons should be started for children as soon as possible, so they develop the skills and confidence they need in pools.
Make sure all chemicals, chairs, pool toys and cleaning equipment are stored securely away from the pool.
There should not be anything lying around that children could use to climb the pool fence or unlatch the gate.
While adult supervision is a must, it’s also good practice to erect a resuscitation-instructions sign in a prominent place next to the pool.
Plan a day to childproof your home. By being proactive, you can prevent unnecessary accidents and visits to your local hospital’s emergency department.
1. https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/[email protected]/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/1d72f5e5299decc5ca25703b0080ccbf!OpenDocument