When visiting family and friends, the last thing we want to think about is child injury. Unfortunately it does happen. KIDSAFE’S Ian Scott reports.
Parents are often worried about safety when visiting. We might not see the unfenced pool at home but worry about steep stairs at our friend’s. We might think our dog is harmless but (justifiably) be anxious that the babysitter is not vigilant enough with child restraints. How do we know what is a real risk when we are visiting and what is not? What can we do about it?
The major issues in other people’s homes are the same as in our own. Dealing with them is different because it is not our space; we are only there temporarily; others may view it differently. Look out for safe places to play and safe places to sleep. The easiest option is to keep children away from the hazard.
Spot the Hazard
Falls are the most common cause of injury outside our own homes. They account for four-out-of-ten cases coming to hospital. Steps and stairs are the difficult for young children. The need to be blocked off or play needs to be away from them. Trampolines are the source of many injuries at home and away. Trampolines need to be away from objects like fences and sheds. They need padding on springs and to be used by only one child at a time. They are not suitable for young children. Bicycles are also one of the most common sources of falls. Helmets and a safe area to ride are just as important away from home and young children need supervision and a bike that suits their size.
Child injury reports:
- Riding bike, lost control, fell hitting head on steel gate
- Playing, fell down stairs, hit head on floor
- Child in stroller, pushed by brother down stairs, fell out hitting head
- Playing on trampoline, fell on metal part of trampoline.
Children have died before parents have even known there was a risk. A two-year-old boy drowned in a spa on the back verandah. The spa was covered with a plastic cover and the child fell in and drowned before his mother knew the spa was there.
Unfortunately many backyard pools are not separated from the house with an Australian Standard fence and self-closing gate, so that despite being both good for child development and good fun, pools are the main reason why we have one of the highest rates of drowning for young children. If young children are in the pool they must be supervised by an adult. If the pool cannot be closed off from the play area then it is not a safe area.
Ingestion of chemicals accounts for one-in-eight admissions to hospital for children under five years of age injured in other houses. Medicines are often left out on the kitchen bench; household cleaners are stored in kitchen, laundry and bathroom; and garden and do-it-yourself products lurk in workshops and sheds.
Child injury reports:
- Reading a book, when grandmother left, ate tablets from a drawer
- In grandmother’s kitchen, ingested tablets left on kitchen bench
- Playing with brother, ingested two thirds of 20ml bottle of lice treatment
- Following ball, found rat poison behind washing machine, ate unknown amount.
The Poison Information Centre has a 24-hour around Australia service. Keep the number handy (13 11 26) in your bag and on the phone.
Household pets can be a hazard both at home and away. Three-out-of-four dog bites to children are from the pets of family or friends. They can be very serious and account for one-in-ten injury admissions to hospital for children under five injured in other homes. Dogs, no matter how gentle, are territorial and toddlers exploring their world have no boundaries – they take food from plates, push and pull.
Child injury reports:
- Cuddling dog at friend’s house, holding too tight, dog tried to get away, bit child
- While playing, disturbed dog while it was eating, dog bit child’s head
- Playing in garden, tried to take food from dog, bitten on the hand
- Playing at grandparents’ house, stepped on dog’s foot, dog bit child.
These cause nearly one-in-five admissions to hospital for young children injured in other homes. Tea and coffee are the most common cause of injury but other hot liquid injury, while less frequent, can be very severe. Keeping these out of reach and children out of dangerous areas is the only prevention.
Child injury reports:
- Pulled on cup of tea, spilled on head and face
- Ran into mum who was holding kettle of boiling water, scalded
- Helping to make a cup of tea, moved too fast, scalded on hand
- Playing, pulled cord of electric frying pan, spilled hot fat on himself
- Playing in the kitchen, put his hand in hot toffee.
Access to the drive way and to the street, is very dangerous for young children. Every week one or two children are run down in their own driveway and others gain access to the street at great peril. A safe place to play, separated from driveways and the street is essential. If there is not a place like this, then fencing between play space and the driveway would reduce the risk of harm.
Because biting teeth grow before grinding teeth, young children can literally bite off more then they can chew and choke. Ironically, it is healthy food, such as crisp fresh vegetables and fruit that pose the greatest risk. Hard food, such as apples and carrots, should be specifically prepared (chopped, diced, grated) for young children under the age of three. Young children need to sit when eating.
When visiting we often don’t have access to the same nursery furniture as at home. Putting babies to sleep on adult beds means they are up high and can hurt themselves if they roll. Rolling off a change table is a common injury for children under one. Away from home, placing children to sleep on a mattress on the floor is safer. Cots, even portable ones we bring ourselves, need to be carefully set up and checked as a safe place to sleep. Sleeping in prams placed out of sight is not safe.
Watching is not enough
You are visiting a friend with your two-year-old and having a cup of tea in the lounge room. Your friend goes to the kitchen and you sit watching your toddler explore when you suddenly realise that she is going to touch your friend’s hot drink. You are watching, but to stop an injury you would need to be able to put your cup down, get out of your chair and halfway across the room in the time it takes for the cup to fall from upright to horizontal.
Two-out-three scalds to young children occur from hot drinks - most occur when there is an adult in the same place but too far away to act. Removing the hazard beforehand is easier than stopping something once it has started. Being in the same area is sometimes not enough. If there is danger you need to be within immediate reach. Most serious injury is easy to predict and can be prevented by simple means, in your own home or in other people’s homes.
Child safety is no accident.
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine May 1999. Updated July 2009.