10 June 2010

Prevent childhood accidents at home

Most accidents suffered by children happen where children should feel safest – the home. We take a look at what could be done to create a safer environment for children.


Injuries are the leading cause of death among South Africa children from five to 14 years. The majority of under-fives die as a result of HIV/Aids. Injuries are the second leading cause of death among boys and the third leading cause of death among girls.

This was according to the results of the 2006 National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) which represented data arising from 36 mortuaries in South Africa.

Most of the non-natural deaths were due to pedestrian accidents. Drowning was the second leading cause among children aged one to four. The situation was differently for infants, with burns being the leading cause of non-natural death.

Not just good luck
Keeping children safe is not just due to “good luck”. Most accidents can be predicted and are therefore preventable.

Vigilance is not a substitute for simple safety measures. Not only does being overly protective limit your child’s initiative and freedom to explore the world, it is also physically impossible to keep an eye on your child permanently. When “suicide hour” approaches and you are tired, preoccupied trying to whip up something nutritious and playing referee between your fighting kids at the same time, accidents are more likely to happen. If you are going through a stressful time, such as marital conflict or work pressures, chances are that you are less alert to possible hazards.

Enforcing safety rules, such as not touching plug points or not playing with matches, are important from an early age but remember that these rules need to be repeated over and over again before the message sinks in.

The most important step you as a parent should take, is to make your home a safe place for little ones - after all this is where most accidents happen. Children grow and develop at an alarming and unpredictable rate. Waiting to institute safety measures until your child masters certain skills which could endanger his or her safety, may be waiting too long. Pre-empt a tragedy by creating a safe environment from the word “go”.

We give you handy tips on how to go about it.

Most children burn with hot fluids such as water, oil, coffee and tea. Children in this age group are most vulnerable because they have especially sensitive skin and even a burn from a cup of coffee can prove fatal.

To prevent burns:

  • Never handle small children and hot substances at the same time.
  • Never leave your child alone in the kitchen with pots on the stove. Keep kettles, toasters and similar appliances out of reach of children. Turn pot handles towards the wall.
  • All electrical appliances should be safely earthed and wall plugs secured with childproof covers.
  • Always use flame-proof materials for bedding and clothing.
  • Supervise children in a room with a fireplace or paraffin stove.
  • Set your geyser at 50 degrees Celsius or lower.
  • Always run the cold water in the bath first and then add the hot water.
  • Teach children to "stop, drop and roll" if their clothing catches fire.

Road accidents
Annually, more than 11 000 children under nineteen years die on South African roads from pedestrian, passenger and cycling injuries. This is an average of three children per day. According to the NIMSS, children aged five to 14 years are most at risk.

To prevent death from road accidents:

  • Children under the age of nine are generally not physically or emotionally developed enough to cross roads on their own. They should always be accompanied by a parent or guardian and the children should be made as visible as possible.
  • When travelling by car, fasten children in SABS-approved car seats, even if you travel to the corner cafe. Make sure that your child has not grown too tall or have reached the weight limit for the seat. Install it on the back seat, especially if your car has front seat air bags.

One child a day drowns in South Africa. The majority of children who have drowned were last seen in the home, were in the care of one or both parents at the time of drowning, and had been out of sight for less than five minutes.

Children under four years of age are most at risk. Most infants under one year of age who drown, drown in the bath when the parent or caretaker leaves the child alone for a few minutes to answer the phone, or fetch something. Swimming pools and dams pose the greatest risk to one to four-year-olds.

To prevent drowning:

  • Always supervise small children near water even if they can swim.
  • Swimming pools should be fenced or covered with a safety net.
  • Children should learn to swim from the age of four and should also be taught water survival skills.
  • Never leave small children alone in the bath, even for a second.
  • Always empty buckets or close them firmly with a lid. A small child can drown in as little as five centimetres of water because of the disproportionate weight of their heads.

Children under five become gradually more confident with their bodies, prompting them to be more adventurous. Unfortunately, their coordination and skill don’t always match their eagerness to explore – often resulting in falls. Serious falls could lead to fractures, permanent brain damage or even death.

To prevent injuries due to falls:

  • Never leave a baby alone on any high surface such as a changing table or bed. Preferably use a changing table with drawers so that you have everything you need close by.
  • Remove bulky toys or cushions from cots – a child could stand on and then topple out of the cot.
  • Don't allow small children to climb or sleep on bunk beds. The top bed should have railings right around.
  • Use safety gates on stairs and keep stairs well-lit.
  • Don’t allow your baby to use a walker – many babies have been seriously injured as a result of rolling over objects or down stairs.
  • Remove all loose rugs or fix anti-skid rubber underneath.
  • Supervise a child when in a high chair and fasten the restraining devices.
  • Install burglar bars and safety catches or locks on second-story and higher windows. Plant grass or shrubbery at the base of second storey houses to act as a cushion in case of a fall.
  • Always use safety harnesses on prams. Prams should be stable and not tip over easily. Do not overload a pram and avoid hanging shopping bags from handles.
  • Make sure your child wears a helmet, wrist, elbow and knee protectors when using roller blades, skates, skateboards or bicycles. Don’t buy a bicycle that is too big for your child.
  • Supervise children near playground equipment.

Most cases of poisoning happen in the home and are usually the result of accidental ingestion of medication, paraffin and cleaning agents. Children, particularly those under four years, are especially at risk because they are curious creatures and explore the world by putting everything into their mouths. Don’t be fooled into thinking that children would not ingest bad tasting substances - young children cannot distinguish between odours and have a poor sense of taste.

To prevent poisoning:

  • Store dangerous substances out of reach in a locked cupboard or in child resistant containers if available.
  • Always read labels and dosage instructions on medication and never take or give medication in the dark.
  • Always use safety caps on containers of poisonous substances. These can be purchased at baby shops or through CAPFSA.
  • Never store poisonous substances with food and always keep these substances in their original containers.
  • Know what to do in the event of an emergency and keep the number of the nearest poisons information centre next to the phone.

Be proactive
Apart from creating a safe home, parents can play an active role in preventing accidents in their neighbourhood. Report safety hazards in your environment to the relevant authority, whether it be erecting speed bumps on busy roads or replacing tarred surfaces in your local parks with grass. CAPFSA is also involved in several projects to lobby for legislation to prevent injuries and could put you in touch with pressure groups in your area. They can be contacted on (021) 6855208. – Health24

Read more:
Hard facts can save your child
Child safety section




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