We all want our homes to be a safe haven for our children – a place where they can play, learn and grow without risking a nasty accident – but the average home is full of hidden dangers.
Hot stoves, table edges and unprotected plug sockets are all familiar examples. As are the unguarded staircases and outdoor pools that regularly feature in child safety campaigns. But there are plenty of other – less obvious – dangers too.
Unstable furniture, loose wires and blind cords are all responsible for seriously injuring hundreds of small children every year, but these lesser-known hazards are much easier to overlook. Particularly if you’re busy trying to juggle the needs of a young baby. Or struggling to survive on a few hours of sleep…
Sadly, these safety risks tend to escalate as your child gets older. You might think you’d be able to relax once your little one has learnt pick themselves up from a fall, or started moving around without pulling on bookcases for support.
But studies actually show that toddlers between 2-5 are just as prone to household injuries. Particularly drive way injuries, or incidents involving water.
So, what are you – as a responsible and caring parent – supposed to do? Round-the-clock surveillance is unachievable, and you need to give your little one some freedom to explore so we’d recommend focusing on preventing common accidents by:
In this article, we’re going to walk you through the common safety risks and show you how to safely childproof your home.
We’ll start with some case studies that highlight the biggest dangers, then work our way through the house room by room; discussing common hazards and explaining how to protect your little one.
Data and Figures
Suffocation is the leading cause of unintentional injury and death in infants under 5;
Falls are the leading cause of serious injury in children aged 1-5;
Striking a hard object is the second most common cause of injury for children under 5;
Burns are the third most common household injury for kids aged 1-5;
Between 120 - 90 infants are killed after being left in an adult bed every year
Unstable TVs and large pieces of furniture kill one child every two weeks, and a child is hospitalized by so-called “tip over incidents” once every 24 minutes
● Tip-over incidents
** The GIF below shows the serious risk posed by unsecured furniture. But be warned, this footage may be difficult to watch. Especially if you are a parent. **
The CPSC also points out that some heavy furniture can fall with approximately 10x the force of an NFL lineman, which helps to bring-home just how devastating these accidents can be.
● Suffocation and choking
Suffocation is another major focus of the CPSC. Suffocation-related incidents are the leading cause of death in 0-1yr olds and they can be caused by anything from blind cords to small toys, or the narrow spaces between furniture and walls.
Statistics show that very small children are most likely to suffocate by inhaling small items or wrapping themselves in loose bedding, but common furniture items also pose a significant risk and children aged 1-5 are more likely to choke by tangling themselves up in common household items – including heavy blankets, cords.
This doesn’t mean that all furniture is dangerous, but it does mean you should be aware of the dangers posed by common household items, and keep an eye on the CPSC’s list of product recalls.
● Bumps and Falls
Accounting for over 50% of all non-fatal hospital visits, bumps and falls are another big risk for small toddlers.
A lot of these falls are just a natural part of growing up and learning to navigate the world, but some common household items can increase the chances of a serious fall, and it’s important to understand the dangers of leaving your little one on countertops, tables, sofas or high beds.
** The GIF below highlights the serious risk posed by letting children play on high surfaces. Be warned though; this may be difficult to watch. **
It’s also important to keep an eye on your little one when they are walking or crawling around furniture – just in case they start to climb – and many experts recommend supervising your baby while they’re using high-chairs and other unstable items too.
● Scalding and burns
95% of burn-related accidents occur in the home, and it’s not just stovetops that cause these injuries. In fact, data from the UK-based Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) indicates that hot drinks, hot water and hair straighteners are just as likely to burn small children.
It’s important to remember that a small child’s skin is much more fragile than your own. Just touching a hot cup of coffee can cause lasting damage and it’s very important to make sure that they can’t run hot water from a tap too.
Drowning is one of the most serious household safety risks. You might think most drowning incidents occurred in homes with a pool, but small infants can drown in just 1 inch of water, which means that bath tubs, toilets, bidets and low sinks all present a risk. As can buckets that are left outside, to fill up when it rains.
Unfortunately, small children are also drawn to water because it’s sparkly, interesting and fun to play with. Organizations like the Mayo Clinic always recommend taking steps to safeguard your bathroom. You should also pay close attention to any open water sources whenever your child is moving about on their own.
Preventing Accidents in the Home
In this section of the guide, we’re going to go through the average American house on a room by room basis: Highlighting common hazards and showing you how to prevent any untoward accidents.
Since most accidents occur in the living room, we’ll start there. We’ve also covered the nursery/bedroom, the bathroom and the kitchen because these locations are also relatively high-risk, and there’s lots you can do to make them safer.
◆ The Living Room
The living room is full of potential safety hazards, and some of the biggest risks are surprisingly easy to overlook.
Case in point? Sofas. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, 2.3 million infants were treated for “soft furniture related injuries” between 2006 and 2017.
Most of these accidents were the result of young children falling off sofas after being placed there by parents, but some of the more serious cases also involved children suffocating underneath heavy sofa cushions or injuring themselves while climbing up the sides.
For this reason, it’s very important to supervise your little one whenever they’re lying on the sofa. You should never place them there unattended or turn away while they’re playing. It might even be more sensible to avoid the sofa altogether and let them play in their crib instead.
Sharp corners are another living-room hazard. Particularly if you have a low coffee table or TV cabinet. A lot of living room furniture is about the same height as a young toddler’s head, which means they’re quite likely to hit their head while cruising around the room.
Door frames, corner walls and even fireplaces also represent a significant hazard, and it’s worth remembering that infants have much softer heads than you or I…
You can attach soft corner guards to most furniture items, which should mitigate some of the risk. You should also remove any trip hazards to reduce the chances of a nasty fall but close supervision is the best defense against cuts and bruises, so make sure you keep an eye on your little one!
Lots of living room furniture is heavy, which means it’ll cause a serious accident if it falls on your little one. Bookcases, cabinets and TVs are all responsible for causing tip-over injuries, and they’re also toddler magnets during the cruising phase so make sure you anchor them to the wall with a baby-safe wall strap.
It’s also a good idea to move heavy books or ornaments down from the top shelf, to reduce the risk of them falling on your child’s head. Obviously, it’s important to keep them out of reach, but the top of a cabinet isn’t always as secure as we’d like to think.
Power outlets have the potential to electrocute inquisitive toddlers, and it’s important to keep them switched off whenever they’re empty. You can use socket covers too but as long as your outlets are wired in safely, there’s really no advantage to doing this.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the appliances that you’ve plugged into a power outlet. Small children love to play with trailing cables and there’s always a risk that they’ll hurt themselves while pulling a plug out of the wall so use cable tidies whenever you can.
This tip isn’t specific to living rooms, but it is important! Toddlers can injure themselves by falling out of windows or trapping their fingers in the frame. There’s also a slight risk of them breaking the glass during vigorous play, so it’s important to:
The CPSC have issued a safety warning for all reclining chairs, due to the ease with which infants can injure themselves while playing with buttons, levers and footrests. If you have a reclining chair, it’s best to make sure your child can’t play on it.
We’d consider moving it to another room or storing it until your little one is old enough to play safely.
◆ Hallways and Landings
The dangers posed by hallways and landings are relatively straightforward: Stairs are the greatest hazard – and account for approximately 100,000 hospital visits every year – but it’s also important to be mindful of banisters and decorative spindles, which could trap your baby’s head or arms.
A good baby gate is an absolute must-have. We’d recommend installing one at every doorway leading to your staircase but putting one at the top and bottom will also prevent your child from accessing the stairs while your back is turned.
It’s also worth measuring the gap between your banisters and covering any spindles that are more than 2.5 inches apart.
◆ Bedrooms and Nurseries
Quilts, blankets and pillows might seem like night-time essentials to you or me, but they represent a significant risk to your little one.
Blankets and heavy bedding can quickly get tangled as your baby moves around, which can restrict your little one’s breathing. There’s also a slight risk that bedding will fall on their face and cut off their airway which is why blankets are often associated with an increase in SIDS.
To make sure your baby can sleep safely, stick to lightweight crib sheets. You can also buy lightweight baby sleeping bags if you’d like, but we haven’t seen enough research to verify that they’re 100% safe.
Cribs that don’t comply with CSPC guidelines can also cause serious harm to your child. This is particularly true if the crib’s slats are too far apart, which increases the risk that your baby will trap their head.
Other potential hazards include cribs that are light enough to tip over, and cribs that feature dangerous mechanisms – like the drop-side cribs that were banned in 2010.
Our advice is to stick with cribs that meet or exceed the CSPC’s guidelines – just to make sure your baby sleeps safe and sound. You’ll find a good list of super-safe cribs in one of my blogs here.
Dressers and wardrobes are heavy furniture items, but they often have drawers that are positioned at just the right height for young toddlers, which is why they’re responsible for causing so many tip-over accidents.
As with the bookcases and cabinets we mentioned before, we’d strongly recommend anchoring these furniture items using strong cabinet straps.
It can also be helpful to move heavier items into the bottom draws. This stops large cabinets from becoming top-heavy and reduces the likelihood of them tipping on your little one.
There’s nothing inherently dangerous about blinds, but the cords used to open or close the slats can be incredibly dangerous.
Suffocation is the leading cause of death amongst young infants, and dangling blind cords are one of the most common causes because they hang at just the right height to wrap around your little one’s head, and they’re generally quite strong.
Blinds built in 2018 must be manufactured with short cords that break under tension – otherwise they’ll be found non-compliant with CPSC regulations published at the end of last year.
Unfortunately, older blinds won’t have these safety features, so you’ll need to replace the cords with a child-safe alternative, or secure them right up, out of the way.
The CPSC launched a special campaign targeting bathroom safety, so it’s fair to say that this room is probably one of the most hazardous areas in your home. To safeguard it properly, make sure you consider:
It’s very easy for small infants to drown in an open toilet. Toddlers can drown in less than 1 inch of water and they’re often drawn to shiny, refractive surfaces so make sure you always keep the lid closed. You could also invest in a safe and reliable lid lock if you want to make doubly sure your little one stays safe.
Because babies have very sensitive skin, chemical cleaning agents can cause serious injury. This includes toilet cleaners, bleach and other items commonly stored in the bathroom so make sure that you take steps to secure any chemical products in a secure cupboard or move them out of the bathroom entirely.
Most of us have a drug cabinet in our bathroom, and they are normally too high up for wandering arms.
However, it’s still worth thinking about the potential risks. A lot of common household drugs – including aspirin and Tylenol – will seriously injure small children. Razor blades and other sharps also represent a serious risk.
So, it’s worth asking yourself what would happen if your little one did the unthinkable and managed to get into your cabinet. Are the doors secured? And do you need all the drugs that are in there? A quick cleanout will reduce the risk and installing a magnetic door lock will make doubly sure your little one never gets into your drugs.
Faucets can be quite dangerous too. They’re hard, metal and generally sit at head-height for young toddlers, which means they’re very easy to bump into during bath time. A good faucet cover will help to reduce the risk of injury.
Finally, the kitchen; home to hot food, sharp knives and a boatload of additional safety risks. We’d recommend spending a lot of time babyproofing this room. Paying attention to:
Cupboards and draws are every parent’s nightmare. Not only do they open at just the right height to hit your little one’s head, their contents are also a health hazard in their own right.
The last thing you want is to find your infant’s hand trapped in a draw – or delving around in your spice cupboard – which is why we’d always recommend installing baby-proof safety catches on every cabinet. If you’re anything like us, you’ll find that good magnetic cupboard locks work best. Plus they’re nice and discreet.
Scalds and burns are particularly unpleasant injuries, so it’s best to make sure you watch your little one whenever they’re near the stove. You can also get some baby-proof stove guards if you’re worried about them playing with hot pans, but it’s still important to keep a close eye on them. Just in case they manage to get close to the heat.
Small appliances like blenders, kitchen aids or rice cookers often have long, trailing wires that your little one can pull on. They’re also quite light, which means there’s a chance that they’ll fall straight on top of your infant. To prevent this, we’d strongly recommend keeping appliances in a cupboard when they’re not in use.
It’s also wise to try and keep cables coiled at the back of your work surfaces, particularly while you’re using your appliances. Little fingers have a way of wandering where it’s most dangerous, and it’s always worth doing everything you can to mitigate the likelihood of an accident.
Loose utensils are another risk factor that’s often overlooked. We’re all guilty of setting a knife down while we carry something to the stove, but what about utensils that are stored on your work surfaces? Or knives that are kept in a block?
It’s these hidden dangers that pose the greatest risk to your little one’s health. Particularly if they manage to get into the kitchen while you’re not present so try to keep sharp objects in secure cupboards at all times.
Our modern homes are full of safety hazards, but it is possible to identify and mitigate most of the risks. Now that we’ve highlighted the most common types of accident – and broken down the dangers lurking inside your home – we hope you’ve got all the information you’ll need to babyproof your home and keep your little one safe from harm.
Don’t rush this process though. It’s incredibly easy to overlook something small but dangerous, so make sure you go through room by room, and refer to our guide to make sure nothing gets missed.