Playing it safe with kids

In all the excitement of a new baby, simple safety precautions are sometimes overlooked
In all the excitement of a new baby, simple safety precautions are sometimes overlooked 

Safety in and around the home is a major concern for new parents. Lisa Wachsmuth looks at ways to baby-proof your home and yard.

You've bought the cot, clothing, the cuddly toys; you've got enough nappies, wipes and baby oil to stock a small pharmacy and your hospital bag is packed and in position - but are you really prepared for the new addition to your home?

In all the excitement of a new baby, simple safety precautions are sometimes overlooked according to Kidsafe NSW executive officer Christine Erskine.

Homes - and much of their contents - are designed for adults and there are potential dangers lurking around every corner for the very young and the inquisitive.

As a result of unintentional injury, each week around 1300 children in NSW will be treated in a hospital emergency department, many more will see their GP, 350 will be hospitalised and one or two will unfortunately die.

Your hospital bag is packed and in position - but are you really prepared for the new addition to your home?

Sixty per cent of these preventable incidents occur in the home.

But there is some good news, Ms Erskine says.

"The severity and the nature and number of those accidents have declined," she says. "So as a community, we are doing a better job."

For children under one, the leading causes of injury are suffocation, drowning, violence and motor vehicle transport.

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So first things first, says Ms Erskine; when setting up a nursery parents need to ensure that all items within it - including furniture, bedding, toys and clothing - adhere to Australian safety standards. Second-hand furniture - even family heirlooms - can be a potential safety risk.

"Cots and bassinets that have been passed down through generations may be attractive but they have been designed to different standards and there's risks like entrapment," Ms Erskin says.

"People should be very careful of those deep bassinets with lots of frills and padding as they restrict airflow."

When buying cots and bassinets, people should make sure they conform with current standards and that the mattress fits snugly.

Pillows, bumpers and toys should not be placed in cots, which should be positioned away from blinds with accompanying cords that are a strangulation hazard.

The gifts people buy for you may not always be age appropriate.

"New parents get bombarded with a lot of presents and these need to be examined for risk factors - such as teddy bears with bead eyes that can be chewed off by an infant," Ms Erskine says.

Bathtime can also be a hurdle and the best way to protect sensitive skin is to set bathroom taps at a delivery temperature of 50 degrees. Safety products like bath thermometers and tap protectors are also a good idea.

"Also check that the bathroom products you use are suitable for babies," she says.

Once your bundle of joy becomes mobile, the entire house and its surrounds need an even closer inspection. From one to four years, the leading causes of injury are drowning, motor vehicle transport, violence and suffocation.

"A good idea is to get down on your hands and knees and crawl around your home yourself," Ms Erskine says.

"You might find things like cockroach baits you put down BC (before children), your wooden floor may have splinters - there's all sorts of dangers."

Once you're on the same level, you can also see whether coffee table edges need some padding or if your photo frames or ornaments need to be moved.

The kitchen, bathroom and laundry are hot spots for trouble and it's important to put safety catches on all cupboards and drawers.

"It's a good idea to put all toxic or dangerous cleaning products or medications up high, because sometimes older kids work out how to open those 'childproof' catches," Ms Erskine warns.

Stove guards are a good idea and while cooking, pan handles should be turned away from the edge. Don't hold your child while enjoying a hot drink.

Safety is also vital in the bathroom and around any water.

"Anywhere where water is likely to be settling - a nappy bucket, the dog's bowl - needs to be drained or carefully supervised as babies can drown in very small amounts of water," Ms Erskine says.

In the home, smoke alarms should be checked regularly and doors and windows kept secured.

"There's been a number of reported cases where children have fallen fiom a window which was open but fitted with a flyscreen," she says. "Flyscreens are designed to keep out flies, not keep children in."

Outside, young children need constant supervision. Swimming pools and spas are a well-known hazard and, unfortunately, on average one child dies each week in Australia as a result of preventable drowning.

"Only allow your child near a pool if you are able to stay and supervise," Ms Erskine says.

"It's also a good idea at a barbecue to have a designated pool watcher, like the concept of a designated driver. That person should be visible - they may wear a bright shirt - so children and the other adults know that someone is watching, and they should also abstain from drinking while in charge. The role can be rotated between adults."

Driveways are another danger zone as children are at risk fiom low-speed moving vehicles. Good driveway fencing is important, as is supervision.

"Don't encourage children to view the driveway as a good place to play or ride their bikes," Ms Erskine advises.

Car safety is another area of concern and parents need to ensure that their vehicles are equipped with age-appropriate child restraints. Ms Erskine adds adults should never leave children alone in a vehicle as the temperaturecan rise quickly.

Dogs can be a problem for children when venturing outdoors. Most kids love dogs, and many have their own, so will often run up to pat one they see in a park.

"It's important to teach them not to run up to a strange dog - they need to approach cautiously and ask the pet's owner if they may pat it," Ms Erskine says.

Kids love playgrounds and even if they are designed to Australian standards, there can still be risks. Ms Erskine says parents should check that the equipment is age appropriate.

"Most playgrounds have a mix of equipment to suit a variety of ages but a lot is not suitable for the under threes," she says. "Plus when little ones are at playgrounds they can often get hurt inadvertantly by enthusiastic older children so parents must watch carefully."

Ms Erskine says today's parents often get coined 'helicopter parents' because they are always hovering around their children, but she believes it is important for them to stay alert.

"Those from older generations will often say 'we let our children have more freedom and they were all right' but the truth is in our parents' day children did sustain quite bad injuries - the severity of the injuries sustained by children has actually decreased over time," she says.

"So while we need to acknowledge that children are going to get bumps and bruises, that they need to develop the skills to judge risks for themselves and they need the opportunity to engage in creative play and have fun - we can still check out the environment they're in to make sure they're safe from serious injury."

For more information and hints on safety, check out the Kidsafe NSW website at www.kidsafensw.org

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