Archive for November, 2012

27 November, 2012

Don’t be too relaxed around nappy sacks

Nappy sacks – flimsy plastic bags used to dispose of soiled nappies – are a relatively recent phenomena for parents.

nappy sacks dangers suffocation choking RoSPA

Parents are advised to never place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot or pram, and to keep them a safe distance away from babies’ and young children’s inquisitive hands at all times.

But these sacks have been implicated in causing the suffocation and choking of babies who are less than one year old, prompting a campaign by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) to warn parents in England and Scotland on the possible dangers.

This issue was first brought to light in September 2010 when a baby died from asphyxia due to a nappy sack. Beth Beynon, child accident prevention co-ordinator for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly (NHS CIOS), heard about the case through the local Safeguarding Children Board and was part of the NHS team which immediately set about gathering information to develop an understanding of the circumstances and to identify whether similar deaths had occurred elsewhere.

This exercise highlighted that asphyxia from nappy sacks had caused up to 10 known deaths in babies across England and Wales alone.  However, none of these cases had come to the attention of national accident prevention bodies, nor had they been logged on the national Trading Standards database. Each area had assumed their incidents were one-off, isolated cases. Sadly, since then two more deaths have been added to the list bringing the total to 12.

The typical scenario associated with the deaths involves sacks which are stored within the baby’s reach, close to the baby’s cot – including under the mattress usually for convenience. In some of the cases, the nappy sacks had been left near to or in the cot for ease of changing the baby’s nappy in the night.

Babies are at particular risk because despite naturally grasping items and putting them in their mouths, they find it difficult to let go or remove them when in trouble. Once in their mouths, the nappy sack can lead to obstruction of the nose and mouth and prevent babies from inhaling fresh air. The flimsiness of nappy sacks also makes them small enough to fit into little mouths, plus they do not rustle in the same way as plastic bags and can be easily breathed in by babies without parents realising.

Informal feedback from parents and carers and professionals demonstrated that the risk to young babies is compounded by the fact that widespread usage of nappy sacks is a relatively recent phenomenon. Parents and carers are generally aware of the dangers posed by plastic bags, but do not make the same link to nappy sacks and so they are less likely to take the same safety precautions.

The risk of this potential hazard is increased by the lack of mandatory suffocation warning advice on the packaging and the product’s frequent availability as loose bags in a packet, as opposed to supplied on a roll.

Parents are advised to never place nappy sacks in a baby’s cot or pram, and to keep them a safe distance away from babies’ and young children’s inquisitive hands at all times.

Thousands of RoSPA posters and leaflets, warning families of the dangers of leaving plastic nappy sacks lying near babies, are currently being distributed to GP surgeries, parent and toddler groups and other family centres. Any organisations involved with children’s services in England and Scotland can apply for these nappy sack safety leaflets by visiting RoSPA’s nappy sack safety advice page.

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

23 November, 2012

Are there children there? Be aware!

The very real risks posed to children on and near the driveways of their own homes were vividly highlighted during the photoshoot for our new driveway safety campaign recently.

RoSPA driveway safety campaign Are there children there? Be aware!

RoSPA research shows that at least 25 children have been killed on, or near, the driveways of their home since 2001. Sixteen of these accidents have occurred since 2007.

At least 26 children have died in these circumstances since 2001 – 18 of these incidents have occurred in the last five years. Tragically, it is often a member of the family or a friend who is driving the car at the time.

Our new campaign Child on the Drive! is being funded by an appeal by Mark Goodwill who lost his son Iain in a driveway accident when Iain was just 17 months old. We have been working closely with him and other parents of young children to develop a hard-hitting poster and leaflet to alert parents and carers to this danger blind spot.

All of the parents in the focus groups were horrified at what could, and has happened. They felt very strongly that once this simple message was seen, it would not be forgotten. Their input was vital – helping us develop the slogan and image which would form the basis of the poster.

And so, to the photoshoot…

Our charming and extremely well behaved young volunteers were just that – young and so energetic and hard to keep track of as we encouraged them to play on the grass near the driveway.

We had, of course, thoroughly risk assessed the photoshoot – thinking about and trying to mitigate the risks posed by simulating a reversing car threatening the life of a child darting for a ball. Supervision appeared to be the key, as did ensuring that any reversing manoeuvre was conducted slowly with a focus on who was where.

RoSPA driveway safety campaign Are there children there? Be aware!

RoSPA’s new driveway safety campaign is being funded by an appeal by Mark Goodwill who lost his 17-month-old son Iain in a driveway accident.

Despite this, it became clear to the team involved just how these deadly accidents happen. Between the ages of one and two, infants’ mobility increases at a remarkable, but irregular, rate. Young children can easily escape your notice for a short time and get into difficulties before you even realise they have moved.

Thankfully, the shoot went without incident, thanks in no small part to successful planning and close supervision. Our fantastic volunteers ably helped us to illustrate not only the dangers of reversing off a driveway, but also the need to ensure children don’t see a car as a play area or have easy access to car keys.

The leaflet also highlights the importance of parking in gear (PING) on an incline, emphasised by the devastating story of the Patterson family. Their son Harry was killed last year when the family car’s handbrake failed and the car rolled back and crushed him.

We are now launching our awareness raising poster and leaflet to drive the message home. It is hoped that the distressing experiences of the Goodwill and Patterson families, coupled with simple safety advice, will ensure that no family will have to suffer in the same way again.

These tragic incidents happen every year – please help us to stop this trend. Certainly, having been involved in the photoshoot, I will stop to think, before reversing off a driveway – “Are there children there? Be aware!”

If you wish to apply for batches of posters and leaflets click here.

Lindsey Brough, RoSPA’s road safety research and evaluation officer

22 November, 2012

Keep the Christmas cheer alive this year – ensure your home is free of fire hazards

I was delighted to have been invited to attend the official press launch of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Services’ marketing campaign recently.

Don't Give Fire a Home Chief Fire Officers' Association of Scotland RoSPA

At the press launch, from left to right, Jacqui Doig (Scottish Community Safety Network), Alex Clark, the new deputy chief of the new (single) Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Elizabeth Lumsden (RoSPA Scotland), Roseanna Cunningham (Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs) and Colin Keir, MSP (Member for Edinburgh Western).

The “Don’t Give Fire a Home” campaign supports the Chief Fire Officers Association of Scotland’s 2012-13 marketing and publicity strategy. The backdrop to the event was a map illustrating the number of fires within domestic dwellings in Scotland. The launch also promoted the roadshow events currently being held around the country, which generate referrals to the Fire and Rescue Service’s free home fire safety visits. Further information on the fire data by local authority area is available at

The launch was covered by STV and there was also interest from various radio stations as well as the printed press. The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Roseanna Cunningham, attended the event and urged householders not to be complacent as the festive period approaches – a time that traditionally presents a variety of new fire hazards in the home. Ms Cunningham also mentioned the need to have a working smoke detector and urged people to take up the offer of a free home fire safety visit – available from all of the local fire and rescue services.

There were 6,149 dwelling fires in Scotland in 2011-12 and sadly dozens of people die each year.  But what types of fires are happening?  Well, most of the deaths were due to careless use of smoker’s materials and many of the non-fatal casualties happened because of chip pan fires. When we, at RoSPA, speak to people about chip pan fires, the majority will say, “I don’t know anyone who still has a chip pan”. But people do still have them – and leave them unattended for different reasons. One reason is that they have consumed alcohol and fallen asleep in another room while they wait for the pan to heat up. Much safer to collect a bag of chips from the local chippy on the way home!

RoSPA's home safety advice includes the safe use of candles

RoSPA recommends that lighted candles are never left unattended and that they are never positioned in a draught, anywhere near curtains or near any materials, which could ignite.

At RoSPA, we will do what we can to support the Fire and Rescue Services’ campaign again this year. Our advice includes the safe use of candles (a popular Christmas gift) and the dangers of overloading sockets. However, we also draw attention to the fact that being injured in a fire, although causing one of the most serious types of injury – a painful, often life threatening burn – is just one of the many types of accidents that can happen in the home. Falls remain the biggest cause of home accidents – involving all age groups – but we also see incidences of poisoning, choking and drowning. You can see all of our Christmas safety tips at

So, keep safe over the festivities this year. Many of you will be spending extra time in the home while you are away from work. Plan in advance to ensure that you can enjoy a great time without ending up at A&E – or worse…

Elizabeth Lumsden, community safety manager for RoSPA Scotland

1 November, 2012

Remember, remember, the real facts about fireworks…

Remember, remember, the fifth of November is an apt saying for Bonfire Night.

Firework Code Bonfire Night safer fireworks

“For those who are organising their own display, make sure your audience are well away from the bonfire and fireworks, plus keep to hand a torch, buckets of water, eye protection, gloves and a bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in” – Sheila Merrill.

For a start, it stirs up the fondest of memories – screeching rockets bursting neon colour into the dark sky with a faint aroma of smouldering cinders; families cooing around a glowing fire; and small gloved hands swirling sparklers.

Then there is the remembrance of Guy Fawkes and his failed gunpowder antics under the House of Lords.

But what I really want people, particularly teenagers, to remember is exactly what a firework is – an explosive, an unpredictable charged fuse, something that can scar for life or even kill if recklessly used as a toy or a missile.

Of course I want young people to enjoy Bonfire Night and all its sizzling revelry, as public health adviser for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), but I also want them to stay safe by being aware of the risks and knowing the facts.

Like, did you know that three sparklers burning together generate the same heat as a blowtorch? Or that a firework rocket reaches a speed of 150mph after being ignited? They are just some of the striking facts being highlighted by NHS Choices in the run up to Bonfire Night when A&E medics feel the full impact of firework injuries.

The NHS is also warning how sparklers get five times hotter than cooking oil, which is why RoSPA advises families using sparklers to wear gloves, not give them to very young children and not to hold one while carrying a baby.

Scarily, around 1,000 casualties are injured by fireworks, sparklers and the like in the four weeks around Bonfire Night every year, and half of these victims are under the age of 18. While in Northern Ireland, more than half of the 25 people injured by fireworks at this time last year were aged between 11 and 15. Despite overall casualty numbers being much lower than previous years, the rate of firework injuries among under-18s rose to four in every five victims.Firework Code Bonfire Night safer fireworks

It is against the law to sell fireworks to anyone younger than 18 in the UK, and the reason for that is because they are far from child’s play. They may dazzle and delight the young, but without proper planning and precautions, fireworks are something that commonly blind, maim or leave an unforgiving burning memento when they sadly fall into the wrong young hands. If you are asked by younger members of the family of friends to buy fireworks on their behalf, please think about this carefully as you could be putting their life at risk.

So my advice is simple, with roughly half of firework victims struck at a family or private party and many others injured in the street or park, enjoy the night at the safest place – an organised firework display.

For those who are organising their own display, make sure your audience are well away from the bonfire and fireworks, plus keep to hand a torch, buckets of water, eye protection, gloves and a bucket of soft earth to put fireworks in.

But if there is one thing you remember this Bonfire Night, remember, remember to follow the Firework Code, which can be found at RoSPA’s fireworks website –

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

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