About 2.5 million children are injured or killed each year by hazards in the home. The good news is that many of these incidents can be prevented by using simple child-safety devices available today. Any safety device you buy should be sturdy enough to prevent injury to your child, yet easy for you to use. It’s important to follow installation instructions carefully.
In addition, if you have older children in the house, be sure they re-secure safety devices. Remember, too, that no device is completely childproof; determined youngsters have been known to disable them. You can child-proof your home for a fraction of what it would cost to have a professional do it. And safety devices are easy to find. You can buy them at hardware stores, baby equipment shops, supermarkets, drug stores, home and linen stores, and through online and mail-order catalogues.
Here are some child-safety devices that can help prevent many injuries to young children.
- Use safety latches and locks for cabinets and drawers in the kitchen, bathrooms, and other areas to help prevent poisonings and other injuries. Safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers can help prevent children from gaining access to medicines and household cleaners, as well as knives and other sharp objects. Look for safety latches and locks that adults can easily install and use, but that are sturdy enough to withstand pulls and tugs from children. Safety latches are not a guarantee of protection, but they can make it more difficult for children to reach dangerous substances. Even products with child-resistant packaging should be locked away out of reach; such packaging is not guaranteed to be childproof. However, according to Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety (IAFCS), “Installing an ineffective latch on a cabinet is not an answer for helping parents with safety. It is important to understand parental habits and behavior. While a latch that loops around cabinet knob covers is not expensive and easy to install, most parents do not consistently re-latch it.” Parents should be sure to purchase and install safety products that they will actually adapt to and use.
- Use safety gates to help prevent falls down stairs and to keep children away from dangerous areas. Look for safety gates that children cannot dislodge easily, but that adults can open and close without difficulty. For the top of stairs, use gates that screw into the wall; these are more secure than pressure gates. New safety gates that meet safety standards display a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). If you have an older safety gate, be sure it doesn’t have “V” shapes that are large enough for a child’s head and neck to fit into.
- Use door locks to help prevent children from entering rooms and other areas with possible dangers, including a swimming pool. Door knob covers, while inexpensive and recommended by some, are generally not effective for children who are tall enough to reach the doorknob; a child’s ingenuity and persistence can usually trump the cover’s effectiveness. To prevent access to a swimming pool, door locks on safety gates should be placed high and out of reach of young children. Locks should be used in addition to fences and alarms. Sliding glass doors with locks that must be re-secured after each use are often not an effective barrier.
- Use anti-scald devices for faucets and shower heads, and set your water heater temperature to 120° F to help prevent burns. A qualified plumber may need to install these.
- Use smoke detectors on every level of your home and near all bedrooms to alert you to a fire. Smoke detectors are essential home safety devices whether you have children in your home or not. Test your smoke detectors once a month to make sure they’re working properly. If they rely only on batteries, change them at least once a year, or consider using 10-year batteries.
- Use window guards and safety netting to help prevent falls from windows, balconies, decks and landings. A window screen alone is not effective for preventing a child from falling out of a window. Check these safety devices frequently to make sure they’re secure and properly installed and maintained. There should be no more than 4 inches between the bars of the window guard. Be sure at least one window in each room can be easily used for escape by an adult in case of a fire.
- Use corner and edge bumpers to help prevent injuries from falls against sharp edges of furniture and the rough edges of a fireplace. Be sure to look for bumpers that stay on securely.
- Use receptacle/outlet covers and plates to help prevent children from electrical shock and possible electrocution. Be sure the outlet protectors cannot be easily removed by children and are large enough so that they cannot choke on them if they manage to dislodge one from the outlet.
- Use carbon monoxide (CO) detectors outside all bedrooms to help prevent CO poisoning from dangerous vapors that may enter the living space from combustion appliances and an attached garage. Similar to smoke alarms and smoke detectors, CO detectors should be installed in all homes, regardless of the presence of children.
- Cut window blind cords to help prevent children from strangling in blind-cord loops. Window blind cord safety tassels on mini-blinds and tension devices on vertical blinds and drapery cords can help prevent deaths and injuries from strangulation. Inner cord stops can also help prevent strangulation. However, the IAFCS’s Ms. Driscoll states, “Cordless is best. Although not all families are able to replace all products, it is important that parents understand that any corded blind or window treatment can still be a hazard. Unfortunately, children are still becoming entrapped in dangerous blind cords despite advances in safety in recent years.” For older mini-blinds, cut the cord loop, remove the buckle, and put safety tassels on each cord. Be sure that older vertical blinds and drapery cords have tension or tie-down devices to hold the cords tight. When buying new mini-blinds, vertical blinds and draperies, ask for safety features to prevent child strangulation.
- Use door stops and door holders to help prevent injuries to fingers and hands. These devices installed on doors and door hinges can help prevent small fingers and hands from being pinched or crushed. Be sure that any safety device for doors is easy to use and not likely to break into small parts, which could be a choking hazard for young children.
- Use a cell phone or cordless phone to make it easier to continuously watch young children, especially when they’re in bathtubs, swimming pools, and other potentially dangerous areas.
There are a number of different safety devices that can be purchased to ensure the safety of children in the home. Homeowners can ask their InterNACHI inspector about these and other safety measures during their Annual Home Maintenance Inspection. Parents should be sure to do their own consumer research to find the most effective safety devices for their home that are age-appropriate for their children’s protection, as well as affordable and compatible with their household habits and lifestyle. They can find more information for household safety tips and product recommendations at the IAFCS’s website at www.iafcs.org.