Accidents waiting to happen

Bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes go hand in hand with childhood. From falling down stairs and out of trees, to standing on nails and getting cuts on broken glass, nobody gets through childhood without some sort of mishap.

The more adventurous that children are, the more accident-prone they will be. But those small mishaps that can be cured with a wiping of eyes or a sticky plaster or two, can grow into serious and potentially fatal accidents. Of course it's impossible to prevent all accidents but there is a lot you can do to make your child safer both in and outside the house.

Accidents are the commonest cause of death among toddlers and older children. And it is accidents that are to blame for almost half of all deaths among 10-15 year olds, says the Department of Health.

Each year one child in every six ends up in a hospital accident and emergency department for treatment. The home can be a dangerous playground for children - but with proper precautions you can rest your mind at ease.

Dangers to children include:

  • Falls and cuts.
  • Choking and suffocation.
  • Scalds and burns.
  • Poisoning.
  • Drowning.

Home safe home!

Making sure your home is safe for your children is largely a matter of common sense but here are a few tips and recommendations that you may have overlooked.

The greatest danger in the home for babies is choking or suffocating. The Department of Health recommends that you don't use pillows for babies and that you ensure they can't snuggle down too far inside a quilted sleeping bag.

Check your baby's cot and other nursery equipment carefully - make sure the baby can't climb out or get trapped in any way.

Plastic bags can suffocate - make sure you keep them well out of reach of those exploring little hands!

Babies can choke on small bits and pieces like buttons, tiny toys and loose parts of toys, so make sure toys are big enough not to be swallowed and that there are no loose parts. Peanuts should not be given to children under the age of five.

Scalds can mean a long stay in hospital, scars and even death! Don't hold hot drinks while holding a child and make sure hot drinks, kettles, saucepans and irons are out of reach.

Is your open fire guarded and your child's night clothes flame resistant? Put cold water in a baby's bath first, then add hot and test the temperature before putting the child in.

Older children can also at risk when playing on their own. Falls are part of growing up but some can cause severe head injuries. Keep children safe by making sure windows can't be opened too wide, and restrict access to stairs and balconies. Remember a baby left lying on a bed or changing table could wriggle away and end up rolling off the edge.

Out of reach!

All too often poisonous substances are stored where exploring hands can reach them and in containers that can be mistaken for soft drink bottles. They must be kept out of reach - and this means no bleach or other cleaning products in the cupboard under sink! And above all make sure all medicines and tablets are locked away and out of sight!

Every year thousands of panicked parents contact the Dublin-based poisons information centre for advice, almost a third of which are about children up to the age of four.

The majority of the babies and children had swallowed drugs. Household products - such as bleach and cleaning liquids - were the next highest cause of accidents, followed by industrial products and agricultural items.

Out where cars are about

Children should begin to learn all about road safety practically as soon as they can walk! Even before they can talk, toddlers can be warned about the dangers of roads and traffic. But very young children should not be allowed out on the roads by themselves.

It is essential for all children out on their own to know how to cross the road safely and once they get their first bike, make sure children can ride it safely before allowing them on the roads. In many countries bicycle helmets are now compulsory, and the National Safety Council recommends a helmet is worn when cycling. Children between the ages of 10 and 14 are most at risk, both as pedestrians and cyclists.

Safe motoring

Just as adults must wear seatbelts in cars, babies and children must be safely restrained at all times when travelling. The National Safety Council recommends the back seat as the safest place in the car for children. Never hold a baby in your arms in the front seat - you won't be able to keep a hold in a crash!

For babies, a rearward facing baby seat is recommended up to eight or nine months and a forward facing car seat is advised for babies weighing 10kg or over.

Toddlers should be belted into a child safety seat properly fastened to the back seat. Young children should have a child harness in the back. Children under 12 or less than 4'11" should always travel in the back.

Wisdom around water

From an early age many children are fascinated by and love water - but they must learn that it can also be dangerous! Toddlers will investigate garden ponds and even paddling pools are dangerous if an adult is not keeping a close eye on the children. It is best for children to learn to swim as early as possible, according the National Safety Council.

Find a safe playground

Farms are not safe playgrounds. The dangers that abound for children include:

  • Tractors and machinery (responsible for half of the accidents that occur on farms).
  • Handling of animals.
  • Slurry pits (both the danger of drowning or being overcome by fumes).
  • Chemicals.
  • Electricity.

Research has shown that 11- I 5 year olds were most likely to be involved in accidents as they tended to be more involved in day-to-day farmwork. Half of the accidents in the 15 year old age group relate to tractors and machinery.

Children arriving from cities and towns during holidays must also be made aware of the dangers on the farm.

Building sites, dumps and old buildings can be magnets for adventurous children. But every year there are reports of kids being injured, and sadly sometimes killed, when playing in these unsafe areas. Loose planks, rusty nails and toxic substances are some of the potential hazards that can hurt your child.

Everything in its place

  • Don't store medicines in easy to reach cupboards, bedroom lockers or handbags.
  • Don't store caustic chemicals in accessible kitchen cupboards.
  • Don't move medicines, cleaning liquids or weed killers from their original containers into other containers which could be mistaken for soft drinks holders.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions and wear appropriate protective clothing when using weed killers etc.
  • If the skin or eyes come in contact with a poisonous substance rinse the skin for at least 15 minutes with cold running water, for eyes rinse them for at least 10 minutes with cold running water. Then contact the poisons information centre or a doctor.
  • If your child has inhaled something poisonous, remove him or her from the area, ring for a doctor immediately and make sure you are not overcome by fumes yourself.


Safety fears down on the farm

  • Children should have a safe, easily supervised play area.
  • Hazards should be securely fenced and chemicals kept locked away.
  • Spare equipment should be stored securely.
  • Keep aggressive animals in childproof enclosures.
  • Don't give children lifts on tractors and never allow them to travel on trailers or on top of loads, such as bales of hay.
  • Young children should never be allowed to drive tractors or operate machinery.
  • Never ask too much of a child. They should never be involved with hazardous equipment, dangerous animals or chemicals.

(The above points incorporate the Health & Safety Authority guidelines.)


Further information and advice is available from your GP or:

  • Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health, Tel: 01-635 4000,
  • The National Safety Council, Tel: 01-496 3422
  • Poisons Information Centre, Tel: 01-837 9964 or 01-809 2566
  • Consumer Affairs Office (Consumer Advice Shop), Tel: 01-809 0600

© Your Health

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