It’s horrifying: 60 per cent of childhood injuries take place in the home, says statistics from the Ministry of Health. Dr Arif Tyebally, an associate consultant at KKH’s Emergency Medicine department, highlights that head injuries, fractures and open wounds caused mainly by falls (45 per cent) are most common. Indeed, the Health Promotion Board notes that over half the 10,000 plus cases of childhood injury seen in Singapore every year are due to accidental falls!
In the KKH study, a quarter of children need treatment after being struck by objects, 7 per cent for swallowing/inhaling foreign items, 3 per cent for being trapped between objects, 2 per cent for cuts, 1.5 per cent for poisoning, and 1.5 per cent for burns.
But before you get paranoid, experts assert that you needn’t worry about every tiny thing ―simply observe some key, simple measures. “Stay vigilant and calm,” says Colin Morris, home injury prevention manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, UK. “Being realistic and teaching your child simple safety rules are the best ways to prevent accidents.”
And for us as parents, here are simple, unsafe things to note:
1) Small amounts of water can still drown
Many of us have pets and leave their water bowl on the kitchen floor, but did you know a child could fall face down into it and drown in as little as 3cm of water? Even if they just upset the bowl, your tot might slip on it and get injured.
2) Only putting “dangerous” products out of reach
Sure, the bleach is in a locked cupboard, but what about everyday items you don’t perceive as dangerous? Eileen, mum to Ewan, 13 months, says, “I left the diaper cream on the sofa while I went to wash my hands after changing Ewan’s diaper. When I came back, the lid was off and the cream was all around his mouth. He hadn’t actually eaten any, but I’m more careful now.”
If you think your little one has ingested anything dangerous, take her to A&E. “Also, keep liquids in their original containers,” Morris advises. “Don’t be tempted to put car oil in a cola bottle, for example, because if it gets into the wrong hands, the inevitable is likely.”
3) Ignoring the danger of belts and dangling cords
Another everyday hazard is the pull cords on window blinds and curtains. A dangling cord presents a hanging hazard, so make sure to tie the cord so it’s completely out of reach of your baby, or shorten it. Do the same for bathrobe belts and regular belts with buckles — so never leave accessories lying around. “Tidying up is one of the best forms of accident prevention,” says Morris.
4) Underestimating household appliances
The kitchen is an accident hotspot for crawling babies or toddling little ones. Morris advises you to sit on the floor in your kitchen and look around from your child’s viewpoint. What will she be interested in? Could she climb into that cupboard? Crawl under that surface? Reach that kettle? Drag that power cord and tip over the hotplate? Once you’ve identified all the potential hazards, you can incorporate the appropriate safety measures.
“Be extra-vigilant in the kitchen” Morris stresses. “If you can, fit a pressure-mounted gate across the kitchen doorway to keep your tot out, especially when you’re cooking.” And look out for your child climbing into the washing machine!
5) Not checking baby equipment
“When she was 12 weeks, I took Aeryn to visit a neighbour,” says Sarah, mum to Aeryn, now 1. “I put Aeryn in her infant carrier but, when I got to my friend’s door, the handle snapped and Aeryn fell face first on to the ground! I rushed her to casualty and luckily, she was fine. I always double-check all my baby equipment now.”
Baby products, furniture and even safety essentials may come with a host of assurances, but they mean nothing if the product is faulty or you haven’t put it together correctly. Whenever you buy anything for your baby, check it over to ensure nothing is missing or broken, and check it again regularly for any faults.
6) Not installing baby equipment correctly
With furniture, anything that could overbalance and topple on your tot or that she could climb into is a hazard, so secure bookcases to the wall with special hooks and fit safety locks on drawers and cupboards to keep inquisitive tots out.
7) Using the right baby equipment
Did you know that stair-gate manufacturers only guarantee that their products work for children up till age 2? That the gate must be securely fixed to the wall in order for it to work properly? And if you have stairs in your home, a well-fitted gate at the top and bottom of each flight is essential.
8) Not keeping smaller objects out of reach
Left your spare change on the table recently? If your child gets hold of it and puts it in her mouth, she may choke. Other choking hazards include loose toggles or buttons on coats, so check that they are firmly sewn on. “Toys are another danger, particularly if your toddler has an older sibling with much smaller, fiddly toys,” Morris warns.
“My son was given a squishy toy that had a balloon wrapped around it as a face,” says Michelle Soh, mum to Nathan, now 3. “He was playing with it while I made his lunch only a metre away. I turned to see Nathan silently choking. I rushed over and gave him the Heimlich manoeuvre ― which I’d learnt at a first-aid course ― and out shot a knotted piece of balloon. Nathan was fine, but I felt awful that I’d let him have that toy.”
9) Placing playpens/travel cots in unsafe areas
Know that your baby can reach out and grab objects if she puts her hands through the bars of her playpen. A shirt left on a nearby chair could be a source of fascination to your tot ― she can easily pull it nearer to her and start chewing at the buttons.
And if you take your tot for an overnight stay away from home, think about where you place her travel cot. If she can pull herself to standing, she can grab at anything within reach, so remove any risks. “I babysat my nephew and set up his travel cot in my spare room,” says Sarah Seetoh, aunt to Samuel, 20 months. “When we woke up the next morning, we found his cot full of my teddy bear collection that I had put on the shelf next to his cot. I did a complete sweep of the room there and then to prevent him from pulling in anything else.”