Home accidents in the U.S. are among the top causes of childhood injuries and deaths. Childproofing your home can reduce the risk. Home accidents involving young children typically include burns, falls, electrocution, drowning, poisoning, choking, and head injuries.
Path to better safety
Children suffer from both mild and severe burns from fires started by candles, scalding water, burning cigarettes, hot stoves, fireplaces, and home fires. To prevent burn injuries:
- Replace traditional flame candles with battery-operated candles.
- Use knob covers on stoves. Turn the handles on your pots and pans toward the back of the stove so your child cannot pull a hot pan down on top of his or herself.
- Install childproof faucet and shower spout covers in your bathroom and kitchen to prevent hot water burns. Lower the temperature on your hot water heater.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach.
- Don’t leave burning cigarettes around children.
- Install and regularly check smoke detectors. Dispose of hot ashes outside in a fireproof bucket.
- Install a fireplace screen around your fireplace.
A fall down the stairs, or from a balcony, deck, or window can lead to broken bones and serious or deadly head (or spinal) injuries. Tips for prevention include:
- Place baby gates across stairways or entries to rooms that could pose unsafe exposure. This includes the kitchen, bathroom, garage, laundry room, or basement. Choose gates that can be fastened to the wall with durable hardware.
- Add doorknob covers to your outside doors to prevent your child from falling off a deck, balcony, or the stairs.
- Secure windows with barrier netting or protective window guards. Window guards should prevent the window from opening more than 4 inches. Window screens are flimsy and can be pushed out. Choose window guards you can easily undo in the event of a fire.
- Use barrier netting around decks and balconies.
- Use padded bumpers to cover sharp corners on furniture and your fireplace hearth to soften the injury of a fall.
- Anchor tall, heavy furniture or appliances against the wall or to the floor with brackets and bolts to keep it from tipping over onto your child.
Many poisons look child friendly, including colorful pods used for laundry and dishwashers. Colorful medicines also look appealing to young children. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible. Additional tips:
- Lock cabinets, closets, and doors to rooms, drawers, and other storage areas containing common household poisons. These include cleaning supplies, medicine, laundry detergent, and dishwasher pods.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. Change the batteries twice a year when you change your smoke alarm batteries. Replace the detector if it’s not working properly.
A child can drown in 2 inches of water. Drowning is a danger if your child is left alone near the kitchen sink, bathtub, or toilet, as well as pools and hot tubs. To reduce the risk of drowning:
- Drain water from sinks, tubs, and child pools. Install a childproof lock on your toilet. Drain your larger, outdoor pool at the end of the season.
- Install doorknob covers on doors leading to the bathrooms.
- Secure your pool or hot tub with a sturdy cover designed for the product (not a light tarp).
- Install a four-foot fence around the perimeter of an outdoor pool or hot tub to protect your child and neighborhood children. Lock the gate.
- Add a secure lock to the door or doors leading to an outside pool. Push-up bars on sliding glass doors are not effective and can be lifted by a young child.
- Use a floating pool alarm to an outdoor pool or hot tub. This device sends out a warning sound when something or someone enters the water.
Young children are at risk of choking while eating or when putting a non-food object in their mouths. If your child is choking, you may not hear gagging or coughing. You may notice your child is unable to speak or make noise, may have loud or no breathing, blue lips, or fall unconscious. Some tips to prevent choking include:
- Keep choking hazards, such as small toys, coins, clothing, and buttons away from your baby or young child.
- Cut food into small bites.
- Consider signing up for basic first aid and CPR courses through organizations such as the American Red Cross and other local groups.
Something as small as an electrical outlet can cause death if your child sticks a metal object into the outlet. To reduce this risk:
- Install outlet covers on all your electrical outlets to prevent your child from sticking his or her finger or an object into the outlet.
Strangulation and suffocation
Many household items can cause suffocation, including plastic bags used for groceries, trash, or dry cleaning. Children can suffocate by climbing into a toy box with a lid or into an unplugged freezer or refrigerator.
Strangulation can occur with everyday things, including the cords on window blinds and shades, strings or ribbons used in clothing, necklaces, elastic headbands, and a mobile that hangs above a crib. To reduce the possibility of strangulation:
- Replace traditional window blinds or shades with the cordless version to prevent strangulation. Trim what you don’t need or raise the blinds and tie the extra cord near the top of the window. Free cord repair kits for blinds made before 2000 are available through The Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC).
- Store plastic bags including grocery, trash, and dry-cleaning bags out of the reach of children.
- Remove the lid from a toy box or use one without a lid.
- Lock your extra or unplugged freezer or refrigerator to keep your child from being trapped inside.
- Fasten or avoid using crib mobiles. These can fall and potentially strangle your child.
- Don’t attach pacifiers to your child’s clothing with ribbons or strings while asleep.
- Trim hanging ribbons and strings from your child’s toys and clothing.
- Remove necklaces or elastic headbands from your child before putting them down to sleep.
Injuries from guns and knives
Deaths and injuries from accidental gunshots and stabbings are common. These can occur when guns and knives haven’t been properly removed or stored away from a child’s reach. For maximum safety:
- Always keep guns and knives locked and stored out of a child’s reach. Kitchen knives are best stored in a high cabinet rather than a drawer.
- If a gun safe or other lockable storage area is not available, use trigger locks on all firearms.
Some other things you can do around the house include:
- Place a childproof cover over the switch of your garbage disposal.
- Store small batteries away from children. They can be a choking hazard and poisonous.
Things to consider
Most accidental injuries and deaths at home can be avoided by putting certain precautions in place. The best strategy is to go through your home, room by room, and check the items listed above to make sure each is properly secured, locked, stored, or blocked from your child’s reach.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What are the signs of choking?
- What are the signs of poisoning?
- What are the signs of strangulation or suffocation?
- Should I treat my child’s burn at home?
- What should I look for in a head injury from a fall?
- What are the signs of electrocution? Do I risk electrocuting myself by pulling my child away from an electrical source while he or she is being electrocuted?
- How will I know if the small amount of water my child swallowed while swimming could lead to dry or secondary drowning?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.