Since accidents are the leading cause of death for children, it is not surprising that pediatricians often focus so much on educating parents about childproofing, the proper use of car seats, and encouraging kids to use helmets.
Many parents are unaware, however, of less common dangers that don't get as much publicity as drownings, car accidents, or house fires.
Learning about these other hazards can help you take simple steps to keep your kids safe.
EscalatorsMost parents let their kids ride escalators without giving it a second thought. Unfortunately, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that there were about 11,000 injuries on escalators in 2007, mostly from falls. In addition, there have been at least 77 reports of entrapment -- when hands, feet, or shoes (mostly clogs and slide sandals) get trapped in the escalator -- since 2006.
Your kids can still ride the escalator, but be sure they do it safely. They should:
- tie their shoelaces before getting on the escalator
- stand in the center of the escalator, face forward, hold the handrail, and step off at the end
- refrain from sitting or playing on the escalator -- it should not be treated as an amusement park ride
Perhaps most importantly, learn where the emergency shutoff button is so that you can turn off the escalator if someone gets entrapped while riding.
Shopping CartsShopping carts shouldn't necessarily be considered a hidden hazard anymore, as injuries from shopping carts have been well publicized in recent years. There are even warnings about shopping cart injuries printed on most shopping carts these days.
Still, if you go to a grocery store or large department store, you will invariably see kids riding in and on shopping carts, putting them at risk for falls and head injuries. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, "falls from shopping carts are among the leading causes of head injuries to young children."
In addition to learning about shopping cart safety, keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics states that "parents are strongly encouraged to seek alternatives to transporting their child in a shopping cart until an effective revised performance standard for shopping cart safety is implemented in the United States."
TV and Furniture Tip-overs
Young children like to climb. Unfortunately, when they climb on a large piece of furniture, such as a bookcase, television stand, or dresser, it can tip over on top of them. In addition to the danger of the heavy piece of furniture falling on them, children can also be injured when large items on top of the furniture tip over, especially large television sets.
According to the CPSC, there were at least 36 television tip-over deaths and 65 furniture tip over deaths between 2000 and 2005; many more injuries were treated in emergency rooms.
To avoid this hazard, be sure to secure large appliances and pieces of furniture to the wall with an anchor or strap; one may be provided to you when you make your purchase, or you can pick one up at a furniture or home improvement store. Also be sure to place your television on a sturdy stand and secure it in place so that it can't tip over.
Bounce HousesThe CPSC reports that 4,900 injuries related to inflatable slides and bounce houses were treated in emergency rooms in 2004. This was an increase from 1,300 injuries in 1997 and likely reflects the increased availability and lower cost of bounce houses these days; you often seen them rented for backyard birthday parties, block parties, and festivals.
In addition, there has been about one death a year due to inflatable bounce houses, inflatable obstacle course slides, and inflatable climbing walls. These deaths have been almost exclusively in older teens and young adults and involve falls and head injuries. One child did die in a bounce house in 2007 though - a three-year-old at an indoor playground when two adults fell on him in a bounce house and crushed his skull.
Bounce houses can be fun, but children should be well supervised when bouncing and matched with children of a similar age and weight. Also be sure that the bounce house is secured to the ground and that you can quickly get the kids out if the bounce house starts to deflate.
Parents? How could parents be a hidden hazard to their child's safety?
One way is that they often know the safe way to do things, but stop doing it too early because they think there child is too old to get injured. For example, they wouldn't think of letting their three- or four-year-old ride in the car without a car seat, but they let their five-year-old graduate from his booster seat. Or, they let their eight-year-old ride in the front seat of the car or ride his bike without a helmet.
To keep kids safe:
- Keep your home well-childproofed until your child is old enough to understand the hazards you are trying to protect him from. That means keeping locks on drawers and cabinets, gates on stairs, and covers on electrical outlets, etc.
- Avoid glass-topped tables, especially if they aren't made with tempered glass, because they pose a risk if kids climb or fall on top and break through the glass.
- Remember to keep your hotel childproofed when traveling, including using a travel crib and other baby products properly.
- Move kids to a booster seat when they have outgrown their forward-facing car seat with harness straps, and keep them there until they are ready for regular seatbelts when they are about 4'9" tall.
- Keep kids in the back seat of the car until they are 13 years old.
- Childproof your pool, if you have one, by enclosing it in a fence with a self-closing and self-latching gate.
- Supervise kids around water, even if they know how to swim.
- Encourage kids to wear a helmet whenever they ride a bike, scooter, skateboard, or use Heelys.
- Remember not to leave your child home alone until he or she is really ready.
- Take kids to a public fireworks display, instead of letting them play with fireworks, including sparklers, which can reach over 1000 degrees and cause half of the fireworks-related injuries to children under age five (10% of fireworks-related injuries overall).