Sunday, September 8, 2013

10 Often Overlooked or 'hidden' hazards in your home

This is an article I wrote for the Spotlight on Safety for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette's MassMoms Blog:

It’s baby and child safety month!  Parenting is a 24/7 job.  It’s one we often do in addition to our other jobs.  We don’t get paid for it.  We parent until the day we die.  It is one of the most challenging and yet infinitely rewarding jobs we could ever be blessed to have.  

We all know kids don’t come with instruction manuals.  Neither do our homes.  We rely on our inner wisdom, family, friends, pediatricians, books and the almighty internet to learn how to keep our kids safe and healthy.  The world our kids are growing up in is very different than the one we grew up in. As our technology advances, more and more hazards present themselves to children and adults alike.  As our children grow and become more mobile and active, their world becomes a playground. At the same time, it also becomes a time when parents need to be informed about the potential hazards to their child and how to keep them safe both at home, at grandma’s house and in the car.  

The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports 2,500,000 children are injured or killed every year from preventable accidents in their homes.  Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children under the age of 14.  Emergency room physicians report that parents often say they were ‘right there’ and couldn't stop their child from suffering an injury or death.  Many simply didn't believe their child could get hurt the way they did.  Since all accidents are preventable, being safety smart and making your home as child and toddler proof as you can and teaching your kids from an early age how to be and stay safe is the best way to prevent injury or death.

In honor of child safety month, I've compiled a list of 10 of the most common ‘hidden’ dangers in and around your home, perhaps even in your purse!  These are the things most parents don’t think about as being particularly dangerous or think are too rare to happen to their child.  As I say in my Safety Smart classes, no one ever thinks ‘it’ will happen to them, but ‘it’ happens.  Supervision is important, but it is not enough. Awareness and prevention are key.  

1.  MAGNETS:  Magnets are popular.  They are also a potential choking hazard.  What many people don’t realize is that if swallowed, magnets can cause damage to internal organs and often need to be removed surgically.  The more powerful the magnet, the greater the danger.  Inspect magnetic toys (for both children and adults) frequently, don’t purchase refrigerator magnets or toys if the magnet can fit inside a toilet paper tube opening.  If you think your child has swallowed a magnet or is complaining of abdominal pain, seek medical attention immediately.

2.  BUTTON BATTERIES:  Small batteries lurk everywhere.  Greeting cards that talk or sing, remote control key fobs, children’s toys, calculators, handheld games, watches and hearing aids to name just a few.  They are small, shiny and look an awful lot like candy to young eyes.  If swallowed, the acid in the battery can cause severe damage to internal organs, and if not identified and treated quickly, can result in permanent injury or death.  

3.  FLOOR AND TABLE LAMPS:  Lamps can be heavy and be pulled off of tables by the cords or by a decorative fabric on which it sits.  Floor lamps can tip quite easily and are very difficult to secure. The added burn hazard from a hot lightbulb, laceration hazard from the glass from the bulb should it break, and potential mercury exposure from a broken CFL or fluorescent bulb should make parents think twice about the position and safety of their lamps.  Since they are also corded, strangulation and electrical hazards also exist.  The good news is, this is easily fixed by moving the lamp to a safer location where a baby or toddler cannot access it.  This may mean removing floor lamps from the room or gating off a room to prevent access.  

4.  FURNITURE TIP-OVER:   71 children every day are injured from a fallen piece of furniture, TV or appliance (mostly furniture or furniture with a TV on top).  It’s estimated a child dies every three weeks from a fallen piece of furniture.  Every house has furniture and every piece of furniture poses a threat to your child, especially any piece with shelves or drawers.  The best way to protect your children is to secure your furniture is with furniture safety straps.  To learn more, visit www.meghanshope.org and the CPSC Furniture Tip Over PSA

5.  TV TIP-OVER:  As flat screen TV’s become more popular, old tube TV’s are being put in children’s bedrooms and playrooms, unsecured, often on inappropriate and unsecured pieces of furniture.  The number of children injured and killed by fallen TV’s, both tube and flat screen, is rising at an alarming rate.  It’s estimated a child dies every 3 weeks from a TV falling on them.  Those who survive often suffer devastating brain injuries.  The combination of a TV on top of a dresser is even more deadly.  ALL TV’s should be secured to the wall.  Straps are available for tube and flat screen TV’s and flat screens can also be directly wall mounted, which is the safest option.  For more information visit TV Tip Overs, What Every Parent Needs to Know

6.  IMPROPER CAR SEAT USE:  It’s estimated as many as 80% of car seats are improperly installed and/or the safety harness that holds your baby or child in the car seat is not properly positioned or tight enough.  Did you know car seat safety technician training lasts an entire week? Every parent, no matter how old your child is, should have their car seats or boosters inspected by a certified car seat safety technician to be sure it is properly installed and your child is properly restrained in the seat.  It’s also recommended that children remain rear facing for at least 2 years and in a high back car seat with 5 point harness until they outgrow the weight and height limit for the seat. This is often until your child is in double digits in age and 80 pounds!  One of my favorite resources for car seat safety is The Car Seat Lady.  Check her out!  To find a car seat safety check point visit SeatCheck.org.

7.  CHOKING HAZARDS:  This could easily be a stand alone blog!  Pretty much anything that fits inside a toilet paper tube (that is cut in half horizontally), is a choking hazard to a child under 5.  Spend 5 minutes on the floor and walking around your home, looking under chairs, between cushions, in your purse and diaper bag, on the fridge, on your desk, in your bathroom, where your pets eat and play and see how many things you can find that will meet that criteria.  Of special note, latex balloons are particularly deadly.  Children should never try to blow up their own balloons and should not play with inflated latex balloons because if they pop near their mouths, they could inhale a piece of the balloon which could obstruct their airway.  Make sure all choking hazards are out of reach at all times.  Food is also a choking hazard.  Teach kids to sit to eat, always, and never to move, talk, or play with food in their hands or mouths.  Every person who cares for your child should know what to do (and what not to do) if they are choking.

8.  POISONS:  Apply the same walk around the house noted above, but this time looking for toxic chemicals and plants.  Most cosmetic products, cleaning products, lawn and garden treatments and some plants contain poisonous substances and can be very dangerous if ingested, even in small amounts.  Know the Poison Control Center phone number at 800-222-1222 and keep all dangerous products locked up and out of reach and out of sight.

9.  CORDS:  Make sure all cords are secured within a channeling device or cord winder to prevent electrical burns and strangulation.  This includes electrical cords to lights and appliances, baby monitors and blinds or Roman shades.  Never run cords underneath carpeting or legs of furniture as they pose a fire hazard that way.

10. STAIRS and WINDOWS:  Falls are a leading cause of injury and death for both children and the elderly.  To prevent stair falls, lock and childproof and/or alarm exit doors to your home and doorways that lead to stairways.  Place gates at the top of stairs that cannot be blocked by a locked door.  ever use a pressure gate at the top of the stairs, even if the manufacturer recommends it.  Also gate the bottom of stairs.  Never store or place anything on stairs and be sure the surface is non-slip and well lighted at all times to prevent slips, trips and falls.  Windows should never open more than 4 inches from the bottom to prevent children from falling out.  Screens will not stop them from falling.  Window guards like the Guardian Angel Window Guard or Kidco Mesh Window Guard are the safest childproofing devices for windows and can be easily removed by an adult in the event of a fire.  The pop out stops on newer windows can easily break and are not meant to prevent a child from opening the window, do not rely on them for safety.  Open windows from the top, instead of the bottom and remove anything that can be climbed on from in front of windows to reduce the risk of falls.

These are but a few of the often forgotten or overlooked hazards in and around your home.  There are, of course, many more.  For all of these hazards, for the time and money it takes to have a dinner out with your family, you can instead purchase and install childproofing devices that will prevent these accidents from injuring or killing a child you love.  Some can be found at local stores, others might only be found online.  Amazon.com has a plethora of childproofing devices.  Don’t forget to do the same at grandma’s house or anywhere your children spend time.  

To be as safety smart as you can be, you and everyone who cares for your child should know CPR, First Aid and take a childproofing or child and home safety class.  We don’t know what we don’t know until someone teaches us about it!  Don’t let ‘it’ happen to your child. These classes are all offered locally.  For child safety updates, information and recalls visit Meghan’s Hope on Facebook. For more information on home and child safety visit Home and Life Safety, Safe Kids USA, and The Consumer Product Safety Commission.  If you are interested in taking a class or learning more about these or other child safety questions, feel free to contact me at Kim@homeandlifesafety.com.  

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