Updated 22 May 2014

Don’t let kids out your of sight

For children the summer holidays should be a happy time of lazy days and swimming. For some children and their parents, however, they are a time of hardship and even tragedy.

The summer holidays are all about winding down from a tough year and fun in the sun.  But accidents involving children can happen in a moment, and sometimes end in tragedy.

Not just drowning

According to Peter Feurstein, Operations Director, Netcare 911, the medical emergency service handles a range of different child related emergencies over the school holidays. Drownings and near drownings are among the more common ones, but there are a number of other kinds of trauma cases as well. These range from burns to injuries sustained from physical abuse.

“We see children with broken limbs, with serious cuts, children who have ingested poisonous substances, and who have been bitten or stung by animals, insects and sometimes even snakes,” observes Feurstein. “Tragically, motor vehicle accidents are very common over the holiday periods and many children are injured and even killed in them. Always buckle small children up in special child safety seats in the back of your car and drive responsibly.”

Get proper training to be pro-active

“So many trauma cases could be avoided or at least better dealt with if parents took more basic precautions and learned some first aid. We at Netcare 911 regard it as one of our priorities to educate parents on the dangers that children face in today’s world and how to avoid them. We also highlight the importance of learning first aid so that parents are able to respond appropriately if they are faced with an emergency. CPR can be a life-saver and is particularly important to learn. There are many good first aid courses available and I would urge parents to consider doing one.”

Feurstein says although it is difficult for some parents, children should never be left without adult supervision. Only leave young children with responsible adults who do not drink heavily or take drugs. If you are leaving your child with a grandparent or relative think about whether they care about your child and will look after him or her properly. Festive season or not, any child minder or parent should not drink so much alcohol that they are not capable of looking after children.

Nuts and bolts of safety

Every home or holiday home should be child-proofed as far as possible. This includes ensuring that electrical wiring is approved and out of harms way, plugs are properly wired and sealed, and all unused electrical wall plugs are covered with plastic protectors. Anything that could be harmful to children should be put out of reach or under lock and key.

Netcare 911 Medical Director, Dr Anchen Laubscher, says burns are an ongoing problem and the emergency service sees relatively large numbers of cases throughout the year. Children are burnt by pulling hot food from a stove onto themselves or from playing with improperly wired electrical cords at home. Children must be kept away from fires, hot baths and hot food on a stove.

Children should also be protected from the hot sun with sunscreens and hats. They have more sensitive skin than adults and should not be allowed to burn from the sun as it can cause permanent skin damage.

As noted previously, drownings are a particularly common problem during the summer holidays. Swimming pools, rivers and dams are dangerous although Dr Laubscher points out that a small child of three or four years of age can even drown in a bucket of water or a shallow pond. Netcare statistics for 2009 showed that 73% of those who were admitted to one of the group’s hospitals for drowning or near drowning were children aged three years and less.

Swimming pools, ponds and bird baths must therefore be child proofed and should be fenced and have child proofed locks and gates. Make sure that water is not left lying around the home or garden. Young children should not be allowed to go exploring or swimming in rivers or the sea without the supervision of an adult.

Keep children informed

Children are always curious and it is vital that a close eye be kept on them. While it is important not to instil a sense of fear in our children, it is necessary to teach them what poses a danger to them and how they can keep themselves safe, according to Dr Laubscher.  They can be allowed increasingly more independence as they get older.

“Children have the right to be cared for properly and the onus is on us adults to ensure that they are looked after,” concludes Dr Laubscher. “With a little caution and care we can go a long way to ensuring that our families have a blessed and peaceful holiday.”

Feurstein suggests that too many people do not know what numbers to call when they have an emergency. Everyone should memorise these or have them at hand. Anyone with a medical emergency should call the Netcare 911 national emergency number 082 911.

Some general safety tips to keep children safe these school holidays:

  • Only leave the care of your child to responsible adults that you can trust.
  • Always make sure that a close eye is kept on your child. Do not let them wander off on their own or be without the supervision of a responsible adult.
  • When travelling by motor vehicle ensure that your baby is buckled up in a safety seat in the back seat, and drive responsibly.
  • Learn first aid or at least learn CPR. It could save a life.
  • Child proof your home or the place you are staying by making sure that all dangerous substances and items are out of reach. Make sure that all electrical wiring is safe and swimming pools are sealed off with an SABS approved safety fence.
  • Do not drink too much alcohol if you have children in your care.

For further information on first aid training courses contact the Netcare 911 School of Emergency and Critical Care on telephone 010 2098383.

(Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare 911, December 2011)

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