Home safety hazards cause spike in child hospitalisations

Child trying to climb out window

RACV

Posted August 03, 2022


More than 50 per cent of children aged 0-4 who attended an emergency department in 2020-21 were injured at home. Here are the most common hazards and how to child-proof your home.

Remember the adage: most accidents happen in the home? Well, when it comes to children, some of the dangers are hiding in plain sight.   

New research by Monash University Accident Research Centre’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit reveals that 54.3 per cent of children who presented at hospital emergency departments and 29 per cent of those who were admitted to hospital in 2020-21 were hurt in the home. 

In 2020/21 there were a total of 14,578 admissions and at least 94,483 ED presentations for unintentional injury among children (0-14) at Victorian hospitals, with children aged 0 to 4-years-old accounting for 12 per cent of all injury admissions.

Overall hospital admission spiked by 2.2 per cent compared with a decade ago.  

The hospital admissions data showed that falls were the leading cause of injury for young children (43.3 per cent), followed by hit/struck/crush injuries (16.2 per cent), and foreign objects entering the body (5.9 per cent). These hazards most often caused fractured arms (22.6 per cent), open head wounds (11.8 per cent), and concussions (8.2 per cent). 

And if you’re the parent of young boys, watch out. Males accounted for 62 per cent of hospital admissions and 58.5 per cent of ED presentations.  

While many dangers around the home can be easily eliminated with a bit of common sense, RACV Product Manager Property Inspections, Premika Banerjee, says it takes a trained eye to spot some hazards.    

"It’s important to have a good look around your home to try to identify potential risks such as tripping hazards, dangerous curtain cords, drowning risks with pools, unsecured bookshelves and even low-lying medicine cabinets,” she says.

“These are some of the most common safety issues we encounter in our Child Safety Inspection Property Checks.”

To help protect your children from injury and reduce their chances of ending up in hospital emergency departments, we’ve pulled together a guide to the most common home safety hazards and what you can do to child-proof against them. 

Father and son looking through medicine cabinet

Keep medicines or other harmful chemicals out of reach of children. Image: Getty


 

How to baby-proof your house once your child is on the move 

Hanging risk

Curtain and blind cords can strangle and seriously injure or kill a young child. In 2010 it became law to have a safety device fitted on all new curtain and blind cords to stop them from forming a loop or being in the reach of children. But the legislation was not retrospective and many homes still have this risk.   

Consumer Affairs Victoria says unsecured blinds or curtain cords claim the lives of one to two Australian children a year and at least 21 young children have died as a result of this hazard since 2001. It offers a free cord-safety device to retro-fit old curtains and blind cords. 

Slips, trips and falls  

A build-up of oil, grease, soap or other slippery substances on walking surfaces can cause slips and falls, so it’s worth considering non-slip surfaces in baths and showers to avoid falls. A loose rug, uneven floor surface, and unseen objects like power cords or clutter left on the floor are common trip hazards that can cause falls and injuries.  

Poisons, medications and chemicals  

Keep your medication out of reach or locked away to safeguard children. Installing magnetic locks or other safety latches on cupboards that contain potentially harmful chemicals (such as cleaning products) or medicines is a good idea. Household chemicals such as fertiliser, insecticides and herbicides must also be kept out of reach, and petrol and other chemicals should not be kept in soft-drink bottles which may entice children to take a sip.   

Secure heavy items

The leaning mirror you have in your bedroom and the fully stacked bookcase might look nice, but once your baby is on the move and climbing all over your furniture, heavy objects including tallboys, tv cabinets and dressers, need to be secured to the wall. Hit/struck/crush injuries accounted for 15.7 per cent of ED presentations in 2020-21, with unsecured items one of the biggest offenders.

Child reaching through staircase baby gate

If you have a two-storey home, install safety gates at the top and bottom of the staircase. Image: Getty


 

Stairs  

If you have young children, install stair gates at the top and bottom of the steps. If you’re older, think about installing coloured edge strips on each step so you can see them clearly, and always make sure stairs are well lit.  This could be as simple as installing a night light or sensor in case of middle-of-the-night wake ups.

Electrical hazards   

Firstly, ensure you have a working safety switch so that if an appliance fails it will shut off the power, preventing electrocution or fires. Check for damaged appliance cords, power points or light switches and be especially careful with power points near water. For low-lying power points that are within reach of curious fingers, consider plugging them with outlet plugs to reduce electrocution risks. Alternatively, you can use strategically placed furniture to block access. Unplug and put away small appliances, such as irons or phone chargers, when not in use to remove temptation. 

Glass risks  

Glass doors can easily be mistaken for an open doorway, which can have dire consequences, especially in older homes where the glass might not be shatterproof. Avoid disaster by fitting all glass doors with a distinctive safety band or decal.   

Windows  

If you have children in the home, avoid leaving furniture such as beds, cots or occasional chairs near windows. It’s all too easy for little ones to climb up and fall out of an open window. Alternatively, install strong security mesh on windows to prevent falls.    

Sharp objects  

Even the safest of homes will have a litany of sharp objects that can cause injury. With young crawlers or toddlers running amok, it can be useful to cover sharp furniture edges and corners – such as kitchen benches or coffee tables – with bumpers or safety padding.  

Scalding  

It takes just a second for hot water at 68 degrees to cause a full skin-thickness scald, compared with five minutes at 50 degrees, according to the Victorian Building Authority. By law, showers and bathroom taps must be set to a maximum water temperature of 50 degrees, but older systems installed before the law was introduced in 1998 may not be heat regulated. While it is not mandatory to retro-fit older units, safety-conscious homeowners can install a device called a tempering valve to reduce bathroom water temperature. Seek advice from a plumber.   

Bear in mind, though, that the maximum bathing temperature recommended for young children is 37 to 38 degrees.   

If there are young children in the house, close the bathroom door when vacant and never leave a child alone in the bath or even in the care of an older child who may turn on the hot water tap.  

 


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