By virtue of their curiosity, children learn by exploring the environment around them. But young children are not able to judge what is safe and have a limited understanding of the consequences of their actions. They will touch, taste and feel anything that comes into their reach.
Accidents are the leading cause of injury and death among children. In a two-year study conducted by the Hong Kong Childhood Injury Prevention and Research Association between 1999 and 2001, the attendance records of 18,919 children under the age of 16 visiting accident and emergency departments were analysed.
Almost 27 per cent of injuries were the result of unintentional residential childhood injuries. About 50 per cent of the accidents took place at home and were experienced by children aged four or under, with falls, cuts and scalds the most common mishaps.
In its report, the association recommended concrete solutions, such as behavioural or environmental modifications, and it has since implemented prevention programmes in the community that integrate child-proofing measures.
There are few profiles of childhood injuries seen in Hong Kong, but according to Britain's Child Accident Prevention Trust, (CAPT), most accidents, 40 per cent, happen in the living room, probably because children spend most of their time there. The bedroom accounts for 21 per cent, with kitchens and bathrooms next.
Making a home 100 per cent child-proof may be impossible, but being aware of potential dangers and implementing safety measures does reduce the risk of accidents.
The different stages of a child's development pose different risks. Very young babies can wriggle, kick and roll over. Between six and 18 months, a baby's increasing mobility and co-ordination gives more freedom to explore. Frequent checking for hazards and an ever-watching eye are crucial.
Toddlers will try to eat or drink anything. They cannot differentiate between what is harmful and what is is not, and poison prevention is vital. Between the ages of three and five, a child's ability to understand rules relevant to home safety improves, but the toddler cannot be relied on to follow them.
Hot water, household chemicals, matches and sharp objects such as knives or scissors are all potential hazards. Design features such as balconies, stairs and glass doors can also contribute to accidents.
Buy products that meet recognised safety standards. Those that meet European and United States standards have to pass stringent safety tests and will avoid potential problems arising from toxic plastics, or products that are not fit for their intended purpose.
Safety features that can reduce the risk of injury are readily available in Hong Kong and do not have to be expensive. Bumps to Babes sells a safety starter pack for $140 containing 12 plug socket covers, eight corner cushions, six cupboard or door locks, a fridge lock, one door stopper, toilet seat and video lock. A bathmat costs from $25, a bed rail starts from $275 and a stair gate from $325.
All its products are sourced from British and US manufacturers and conform to relevant safety standards. Bumps to Babes is at 21/F Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau; 2552 5000; and 5/F Pedder Building, Pedder Street, Central; 2522 7112)
At Toys 'R' Us , safety-oriented products are mostly sourced from the US and Australia and meet American Safety Testing Materials and British Standards. Its best-selling items include bath thermometers costing $349.90, monitors for $399.90, bed rails from $199.90 and safety gates priced from $269.90. Their customer hotline is 2991 6222.
- Check safety glass is installed on balcony doors and low windows
- Install balcony netting to prevent arms, legs and heads getting stuck
- Install cord shorteners on blinds to prevent strangulation
- Install a safety gate at the kitchen door
- Prevent scalds by cooking on rear hobs and turn pan handles away from the front
- Install a cooker guard and/or handle covers to prevent access to pans or allowing a child to turn the gas on
- Store dangerous items out of reach and install cupboard locks on all lower units
- Keep water below 46 degrees Celsius to prevent scalds and always put cold water in the bath first
- Never leave a child alone in the bath - Secure the toilet seat with a lock to prevent a toddler falling in
- Ensure a cot meets the latest safety standards. Second-hand cots need a new mattress to ensure it fits correctly, does not harbour mould spores and does not sag
- Put a baby in a cot with its feet at the end so it cannot wriggle under bedclothes
- Take soft toys out to prevent their use as climbing equipment
- Install gates at the top and bottom - Never let baby use its walker near stairs*
- Teach a child to go up and down stairs on his stomach
Bumps to Babes provided above recommendations
Toys: (information courtesy of CAPT)
- Try to buy from a specialist toy shop - Toys marked as unsuitable for children under 36 months contain small parts that can choke a baby or toddler
*CAPT advises not to use baby walkers as they cause more accidental injuries than any other type of nursery equipment