Children, Safety & Injury Prevention

Injury experts do not like to use the word accident, since it suggests that the event just happens out of the blue or is an act of fate. To them, most injuries are preventable and occur in predictable patterns—and thus are no accident.

Children, in particular, are at great risk from injuries, and when they are injured, their wounds can be devastating. They are also at risk for poisoning. Often they playfully emulate adults, which sometimes leads to serious or even fatal results when medications are accessible.

For children as for adults, a disproportionate number of injuries are associated with stressful life events, such as the arrival of a new baby, divorce, death of a family member, or marriage of a parent. The effect of stress is cumulative, so during a period of multiple stressful events, it’s especially important to be on guard against childhood injuries.

Injury Prevention in Children

Learning to foresee "accidents" is the best way to prevent them. If you have children in your household, or if children visit you often, there are many steps you should take to childproof your home.

  • Remove all hazardous substances from the kitchen and dining areas; do not keep them in old food containers. Almost 75 percent of poisonings involve kids under five, who mistake household cleaners for beverages, for instance, or medicine for candy.
  • Store paints, lacquers, and other toxic substances in locked cabinets. Keep all medicine, including aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs, in containers with safety caps. Better yet, keep drugs out of sight and/or locked up. That advice also applies to dietary supplements: vitamin and mineral pills, especially iron pills and children’s vitamins shaped like cartoon characters, are a leading cause of poisoning.
  • Flush all old medications down the toilet instead of throwing them away in the garbage where children or pets may find them.
  • When bathing a small child, test water temperature by putting your whole hand in the water and moving it around for several seconds; if it feels even slightly hot, it’s too hot for your child. Don’t leave a small child alone in the water for even a few seconds, since she can turn on the hot water. A child can also drown in a tub, even in shallow water.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from a filled tub or sink. Unplug bathroom appliances after using them: they can cause electrocution if they are plugged in and fall into water, even if they are turned off. To prevent severe or lethal shocks, install ground-fault circuit interrupters in outlets in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Install slip-proof padded carpets at the foot of all staircases.
  • Be aware of hazards to a child left alone in a playpen, high chair, or crib. For instance, a string of toys across the top of a playpen can strangle a child, and fingers can get stuck in hinges. A baby can slip out of a high chair in a minute, or topple over if it’s unstable.
  • In a crib, if there’s too much room between the mattress and side of the crib, an infant’s head can get caught in between and he could suffocate. Get a mattress that fits the crib; otherwise, place bumper pads or rolled-up bath towels in the space. Don’t place cribs or playpens near windows.
  • Remember, hand-me-down cribs may not meet current safety standards. Use only cribs approved by the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal regulatory agency that develops and enforces safety standards for thousands of consumer products.
  • Don’t use a walker. Walkers for babies cause more injuries than any other baby product. In a walker, the baby can scoot down a flight of stairs, into a table edge, or into a glass door. And an unstable walker can tip over.
  • Surround swimming pools with high fences and locking gates. This is the law in many localities.
  • Replace an automatic garage door that does not reverse if it lowers onto a person or object.
  • Keep portable heaters away from play areas—and away from curtains and furniture.
  • Use care when cooking. Put pans on rear burners. Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove. Keep hot foods away from the edge of tables and counters and not on a tablecloth that a small child can grab.
  • Don’t smoke. Adults’ cigarettes are a leading cause of childhood burns.
  • Keep disposable lighters out of the reach of young children. These lighters are easy to use, and kids may be attracted by their bright colors. About 140 youngsters under the age of five die each year as a result of playing with such lighters.
  • Keep toothpicks out of the reach of children under age five, because of the risk of injury to an eye or ear.
  • If you keep a gun in your home, keep it locked up and unloaded, and store the bullets in a separate location. Buy a trigger lock or other device to prevent accidental shootings. Every year about 3,000 American children and teenagers die as a result of gunfire—intentionally (homicides and suicides) or unintentionally. Most of these shootings involve handguns. Kids may play with guns because they resemble toys; few children have been taught how to handle guns safely.
  • Don’t let children use a microwave oven without supervision, and be careful with microwaved baby formula. Microwaved foods get very hot quickly and may feel only warm on the outside, but be scalding inside. Microwaved coffee can be boiling while the mug is cool. Most important, your baby’s formula can be scalding, though the bottle is merely warm to your touch. Use the old arm test before giving an infant microwaved formula—the baby can’t react to hot liquid until it’s too late.
  • Maintain swings, slides, and other outdoor play equipment and make sure they are in safe condition. Install matting or other soft material on the ground.
  • Install window guards. Don’t depend on screens to prevent kids from falling out of windows—screens aren’t strong enough. Make sure the bars are not fixed in place, but rather can be easily removed from a window in case of fire.
  • Don’t let kids play with plastic bags of any kind.
  • Keep your eye on toy balloons. During a 15-year period, 121 American children suffocated after inhaling balloons. Don’t let young kids blow them up on their own; don’t let kids chew or suck on balloons.
  • Choose safe toys. For small children, avoid toys with sharp edges or points, brittle materials, small removable parts, projectiles, poorly constructed electrical components, or cords or strings. Look for age recommendations.
  • Don’t let kids play with discarded refrigerators and deep freezers, since they can get trapped inside. Remove the doors immediately.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 11 Aug 2010

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015