Mark Evans reports on the hazards in the home that can result in devastating injuries for children
FOR CHILDREN, summer means freedom. The shackles of school are thrown off and now they can spend the next two months basking in those long days of fun and sun. For their parents, summer is a chance to catch a breath after 10 long months of a regime revolving around hastily made lunches and frustrating school runs. Finally, it’s time for everyone to relax.
Unfortunately, with everyone’s thoughts turning to sun, sea, and so much more, there is a simultaneous fall-off in common sense. It seems we relax a little too much, dropping our guard against common dangers to our children. During those 10 months of routine we were hyper-vigilant for anything that could harm our kids but when July and August eventually arrive our awareness also takes a holiday.
Children will test their newfound freedom by getting up to all manner of mischief — and rightly so. However, inquisitiveness and curiosity can be harmful. And nowhere is more dangerous for kids than the very place that should be their haven for safety — their home.
Dr Chris Luke, emergency medicine consultant at the Mercy University Hospital in Cork, cites three chief danger areas around the home that lead to trips to the A&E for families every summer. All three are in the garden.
“For the summer, the main injuries would be trampolining accidents. This is a big source of problems and it’s not restricted to children. We’ve seen adults have a go too at communions and confirmations after a few scoops.
“The great tragedies relate to ponds and paddling pools in gardens. We’ve seen terrible incidents and parents need to remember that toddlers are in danger even if there’s only a few inches of water.
“So, yes, trampolines and pools are sources of danger. A third source, particularly for little children and toddlers, is barbecues where little hands get burned from hot flames, especially if someone foolish splashes an accelerant like paraffin on the coals to give it a bit of octane.”
Trampolines have been sending children to A&Es for years, ever since they replaced Celtic Tiger hot tubs as the backyard must-haves. Back in mid-June another A&E expert voiced his concerns about imminent trampoline-based incidents.
“The injuries associated with trampolines on children have also become increasingly frequent and many victims of such injuries present to emergency departments, particularly during the summer,” said Irish Association for Emergency Medicine spokesman Fergal Hickey, who is based at Sligo University Hospital.
“International evidence suggests that trampoline-associated injuries have doubled in the past decade and elsewhere there have been deaths associated with trampoline use, mainly from head and high spinal cord injuries,” Mr Hickey said.
Applying common sense will ensure the garden is safe for children during the summer, but what about indoors.
The good news is the HSE website offers parents key recommendations on making their homes safe and secure.
The bad news is danger lurks everywhere in a house or apartment. All of the threats to children listed below are still there during the rest of the year. All it takes to ensure they don’t cause harm during the summer is awareness and vigilance.
According to the HSE, most domestic accidents involve boys under the age of four suffering a fall.
The most common incidents include:
These account for 44% of all children’s accidents in Ireland. They include babies rolling off tables or beds and toddlers falling down stairs.
Suffocating and choking:
“Babies and young children can easily swallow, inhale or choke on small items such as marbles, buttons, peanuts and small toys,” states the HSE. Not to mention the danger of blind cords.
“Children playing with matches and lighters frequently start house fires. The youngest children often hide from the danger and may not be found until it is too late.”
Burns and scalds:
Hot drinks and bathwater pose the most risk for young children. The HSE also highlights the dangers of hair straighteners and saucepans left within reach.
It is frightening to discover that “by the age of three, many children are able to open child-resistant tops”. Medicines and household products must be kept locked away and always in their original container.
The HSE urges the use of safety glass around the home. Parents are advised to keep knives and scissors out of reach.
“Children can drown in just a few centimetres of water and should be supervised at all times when near any water. Never leave babies or children in the bath unsupervised, not even for a minute.” The hazards can seem daunting for parents when seen in their entirety but according to Dr Luke the summer doesn’t need to be a season of fear.
“My advice is for adults to be very vigilant,” he says. “They may not be aware of the dangers. They must remember that a few inches of water could be fatal for toddlers and remember that they can reach barbecues. The usual cause of accidents is that adults have dropped their guard.
“It’s not restricted to home either. When families go abroad they must be even more vigilant. Be aware of the hotel or apartment pool or pond. Accidents can happen with balconies. I would say scout out the hotel and check for any dangers.”
Each summer, emergency departments are filled with children of all ages nursing broken bones, lacerations, scalded flesh, burned skin, inflamed insides, and more. And those are the lucky ones; too many smallies never make it back to school when September comes around again.
For more information see hse.ie.
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