This article was first published in the September/October 2015 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.
By Kate Ellwood, BCT prenatal teacher and First Aid instructor
For most of us, home is a haven of peace and safety, but add a child into the mix and suddenly it becomes a place of incipient chaos, danger and threat – at least that’s how it seems to new parents of babies. Not moving one day, crawling the next – it’s hard to keep up with them. However, we can’t wrap our children up in cotton wool (and well-won scrapes, bruises and minor injuries are all part of growing up) but major injury, disablement or disfigurement from accidents can be prevented.
Keep in mind that accidents are more likely to occur at home during the summer, weekends and school holidays, especially in the late afternoon and early evening and especially if:
- there is a distraction and lack of supervision
- there is a change to the child’s usual routine, or you’re rushing around in a hurry
- surroundings are unfamiliar – for example, you’re on holiday or visiting friends or relatives
Here are some of the main causes of serious accidents affecting young children and some tips for their prevention:
Falls from a height
For babies, the biggest danger is rolling off the edge of a table, bed or sofa. Toddlers quickly learn how to climb and explore, and it’s very easy for them to fall off a piece of furniture, down stairs or out of a window or balcony.
- Make sure your baby cannot roll off the changing surface and don’t leave them unattended on any raised surfaces
- Don’t put a bouncing cradle or similar piece of equipment on a table or worktop
- Fit restrictors to upstairs windows so they cannot be opened more than 6.5cm – but make sure you can still open them quickly in an emergency
- Keep chairs and other climbing objects away from windows and balconies
- Fit safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs if your child is younger than two years old
- Don’t leave anything on the floor or stairs
- Check there is no room for a child to crawl through any banisters at the top of the stairs. If so, board them up!
- Keep balcony doors locked and board up any balcony railings or fit wire netting as a guard
- Secure any furniture and kitchen appliances to the wall
Suffocating and choking
Babies and young children can easily swallow, inhale or choke on small items such as marbles, buttons, peanuts and small toys. There are also other less obvious risks to consider:
- Choose toys appropriate to the age of the child
- Ensure that small objects such as peanuts, marbles and other small toys are kept out of reach of children
- Encourage older children to keep their toys away from their younger playmates
- Pull-cords on curtains and blinds should be kept short and out of reach
- Keep animals, especially cats, out of the bedroom and use a net on a pram
- Keep nappy sacks out of the reach of babies and young children
- Never store nappy sacks in or around the cot or pram
Burns and scalds
Hot drinks are the cause of most burns and scalds to young children. A child’s skin is far more sensitive than an adult’s, and hot water can still scald for up to 15 minutes after it has boiled. Hot bathwater can also cause severe and fatal scald injuries in young children. Other risks are open fires, cookers, irons, hair straighteners and tongs, cigarettes, matches, lighters and other hot surfaces.
- Never hold a hot drink and a child at the same time
- Never leave young children alone in the bathroom
- Put hot drinks out of reach and away from the edges of tables and worktops
- Keep small children out of the kitchen whenever possible
- Run the domestic hot water system at 46°C or fit a thermostatic mixing valve to taps
- When running a bath turn the cold water on first and always test the water temperature with your elbow before letting a child get into the bath or shower
- Always use rear hotplates on a stove top and turn the pan handles away from the front of the cooker
- Keep hot irons, curling tongs and hair straighteners out of reach, even when cooling down
Most poisoning injuries involve medicines, household products and cosmetics.
- Keep medicines and chemicals out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked cupboard
- Wherever possible, buy products in child-resistant containers
- Always store chemicals in their original containers
- Dispose of unwanted medicines and chemicals safely
- Avoid buying plants with poisonous leaves or berries, or those that can irritate the skin
Children can drown in a few centimetres of water. They should be supervised at all times when near water.
- Never leave a baby or child in the bath unsupervised, not even for a moment
- Don’t leave uncovered containers of liquid around the house
- Empty paddling pools and store them away when not in use
- Ideally, fill in garden ponds when your child is young and before they’re mobile, or cover with a rigid grille or fence them off securely. Take special care when visiting other gardens
There are potential hazards in every home, such as stairs, household chemicals, fireplaces and ponds. With this in mind, walk around your home on a regular basis to see what simple things you can do to make it safe, then get down on your hands and knees and do it again from your child’s viewpoint, and then FIX IT; prevention is better than cure after all!
From a mobile or landline call 112 from anywhere in Europe
- Ambulance 100
- Fire 100
- Police 101
Anti-Poison Centre: 070 245 245 – or call 112
N.B. Always explain to the ambulance, police or anti-poison centre that an infant/child is involved, describing the situation quickly but clearly (e.g. stopped breathing/unconscious, etc.) and tell them exactly where you are.
Other medical services for emergencies:
Pharmacists: 0903 99 000
www.apotheek.be or www.geowacht.be Websites listing pharmacies open out of hours. (French and Dutch only). Type in your postcode to locate the nearest one.
Doctors: www.mediwacht.be Website listing doctors on call. Also check your weekly local newspaper for details of the duty doctor in your commune available for evening and weekend emergencies.
Dentists: www.tandarts.be or www.dentiste.be Websites listing dentists for emergencies.
Brussels 02 426 10 16, Flanders, 0903 39969, Brabant Wallon 02 375 70 27