Posts tagged ‘home safety’

27 November, 2013

Bunk beds – are your children sleeping safely?

New arrivals in the family are a joy, but they soon need their own bed. Often this will mean smaller rooms being turned into bedrooms or siblings sharing a room.  In this edition of my blog, I will look at how parents can safely use bunk beds for their children to sleep in.

ClimbingIt is estimated that there are seven bed-related fatalities a year in the UK, along with 1,000 children injured after falling from beds.

Unsurprisingly, most accidents involving bunk beds occur when children are playing on them and so they should be discouraged from doing so.

At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), we recommend that no child under the age of six sleeps in the top bunk.

In one study of accidents involving bunk beds, the age group found to be most at risk was between two and six years (which represented 57 per cent of the accidents studied).

Of the accidents, 40 per cent resulted from “children playing”, but entrapment leading to strangulation has also been recognised as a particular hazard and is dealt with by the safety laws.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

We want families to keep bedtime safe and happy.

In fact, the harmonised European standard for bunk beds requires that the manufacturer’s instructions provided with new bunk beds contains the phrase “be aware of the danger of young children (under six) falling from the upper bunk”.

Sadly, it is not just the top bunk that can be dangerous. Earlier this year an eight-month-old girl accidentally hanged herself when she became wedged between a mattress and ladder while wriggling in her bunk bed.

She had been sleeping in the bottom bunk for two months after a health visitor said she should be given her own room.

Her parents fitted a bed brace to ensure the baby didn’t fall out, but somehow she managed to wriggle between the bars of the ladder leading to the top bunk and got stuck against the mattress.

Our advice here at RoSPA is very clear – bunk beds are perfectly safe for kids as long as safety checks are in place.

Children under six should not be allowed on the top bunk, although they may seem safe and be responsible. It can only take one awkward fall to sustain an injury.iStock_000012073096Large

Parents should consider very carefully whether allowing a child younger than six to sleep on the bottom bunk is safe for them.  Babies should always have their own cots, and toddlers can get trapped, as we have seen, so please don’t think that just because your child is under six, they will automatically be safe on the bottom bunk.

Another thing to consider is a thinner mattress for the top bunk as a standard single mattress may be too thick and will allow the child to roll over the safety barrier.

Importantly, do not allow any type of cord, rope, belt, scarf or anything similar to be hung from the top bunk. Also, do not place bunk beds near windows which have cord operated blinds – it is safer not to have this type of window covering in a child’s bedroom. This is because children can be strangled quickly and quietly by looped blind cords, sometimes with parents or carers in close proximity, potentially unaware of what is happening.

red_houseI know only too well from my own children that youngsters love to play on bunk beds, but climbing and bouncing around on the top bunk should not be permitted.

Every part to a bunk bed is important, so when assembling bunk beds, ensure that all safety barriers are in place, especially if buying a second-hand one.

Finally, when booking your holidays, please check what the sleeping arrangements for your children will be.  RoSPA has received reports in the past of holiday firms booking rooms for children under six with bunk beds.  My advice is to be very explicit at the point of booking whether or not bunk beds will be suitable for your children.

I hope this blog has been of use to you, so sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite!

Philip le Shirley, product safety consultant at RoSPA.

7 October, 2013

Parents – let us fuel your knowledge on battery risks to children

What do key fobs, musical toy books and calculators all have in common? All three, along with some remote controls and other electrical devices are powered by small button cell batteries.

Cellbatterycampaignposter_NewcastleCC

The poster by Newcastle City Council’s Trading Standards department on button cell batteries.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is warning parents about the dangers of children swallowing these batteries as with more and more compact electronic devices appearing in the home, the risk of children swallowing these small batteries is increasing.

We all know that very young children find out about the world by putting things in their mouths, but what many parents don’t realise is that lithium batteries react with saliva so that they leak acid within as little as an hour.

Therefore, if a child swallows a battery it can cause severe trauma, such as burning a hole in their throat or stomach or further damage to other internal organs within a few hours.

The Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit in Australia estimates that four children a week are admitted to hospital after swallowing batteries. Meanwhile, the National Capitol Poison Centre in the USA reports that there are around 3,500 incidents a year where swallowed batteries require urgent treatment. Newcastle City Council’s trading standards officers also launched a safety campaign highlighting this issue this year in a proactive approach to preventing further injuries.

So what can we all do to protect our children from these dangers? Some products (predominantly toys) have lockable battery compartments and these should mean that they are safe for our children to use.

Keep little hands safe from harmful button cell batteries.

Keep little hands safe from button cell batteries.

Other products though, such as musical greeting cards, flameless candles and remote controls do not have lockable compartments, and so it is with these products that parents need to be extra vigilant.

RoSPA advises that children should not be allowed to have access to these products if the battery compartment is not secure. Also, it is a very good idea to ensure that spare batteries are locked away, and used batteries are disposed of correctly.

Most importantly, if your child does swallow a button cell battery you should, seek medical advice immediately. Remember that the saliva in their body will react with the battery and so time is very much of the essence in these cases.

It is always better to be safe than sorry, so please look after your little ones, especially as Christmas is approaching.

For more information about child safety or please see our RoSPA advice pages or RoSPA product safety pages.

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA’s product safety consultant.

29 July, 2013

Families start to benefit from Scotland’s Home Safety Equipment Scheme

Hi folks,

We thought a blog would be a good way to keep everyone abreast of the news and happenings relating to Scotland’s Home Safety Equipment Scheme (SHSES). We’ll be writing updates regularly, so please add your comments as we would love to hear about what’s happening in your area.

Jen Foley, project support officer, and Carlene McAvoy, community safety development officer, at RoSPA Scotland

Jen Foley, project support officer, and Carlene McAvoy, community safety development officer, at RoSPA Scotland

Funding from The Early Years Collaborative has enabled the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) in Scotland to work with a number of partners to pilot a scheme across nine areas – Edinburgh, East Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde, West Dunbartonshire, Aberdeen, the Western Isles, Midlothian, plus West and East Lothian.

Safety equipment will be installed in 800 families’ homes for free and will include: safety gates, fireguards, CO detectors, corner cushions, cupboard locks, window restrictors, bathmats, door jammers and blind cord cleats.

Education sessions with each of the families will also lead to greater awareness of the potential child safety hazards in the home.home under the magnifying glass. RoSPA copyright.

This scheme, which runs until June next year, is particularly important because home accidents are a major cause of injury in young children.

More accidents happen at home than anywhere else and every year, more than one million children under the age of 15 are taken to A&E following an accident at home across the UK. We can all make a difference to children’s lives by taking part in initiatives to make our homes’ safer as RoSPA’s Too Young to Die video below highlights.

So where are we with the SHSES project so far? The majority of areas benefitting from the scheme have now undertaken practitioner and installer training.

Practitioners are now going into homes to identify potential hazards and install safety measures. At the moment, we have around 30 referrals, and West Dunbartonshire has taken the lead in terms of completing installations.

Keep your children safe in and around the home.

RoSPA’s referral scheme for home fire safety visits seems to be working well too, and for the first couple of months of the project, we will be emailing the relevant community firefighters in each area whenever these referrals are made.

We have been in touch with relevant partners about quarterly meetings to discuss the project and we have a few of these in the diary already.

We look forward to coming out and seeing you all to find out how things are going in each area.

Thanks again for everyone’s involvement in SHSES, especially as this scheme aims to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up in and give all children the best start in life.

Bye for now,

Jen Foley, project support officer, and Carlene McAvoy, community safety development officer, at RoSPA Scotland.

17 December, 2012

If you can’t stand the festive heat, get out the kitchen!

Food, glorious food – that’s what Christmas and New Year means for a lot of people.

Roast dinner with all the trimmings, Christmas pud with brandy sauce, piping hot mince pies, sherry trifle and mini sausage rolls. My mouth is watering already.

child safety kitchen Sheila Merrill Christmas safety

“Keep children and anyone not helping with the cooking out of the kitchen as much as possible, especially when saucepans are bubbling with hot water and sizzling hot meat is being lifted out of the oven” – Sheila Merrill.

While this gives families, including those budding Heston Blumenthals, a chance to really dabble with their culinary skills, it is also a time to remember that the kitchen is a hotbed of hidden dangers, particularly when hordes of relatives and friends come together.

Burning food was responsible for more than 12,600 fires in UK homes in 2011/12, leading to 10 deaths and 2,751 casualties. At the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), advisers are offering a wealth of Christmas home safety tips   to get families safely through the festive period.

My advice is to keep children and anyone not helping with the cooking out of the kitchen as much as possible, especially when saucepans are bubbling with hot water and sizzling hot meat is being lifted out of the oven. Spitting hot oil and boiling water can scald, so always use a cooker’s back rings or hotplates first and position pan handles so they can’t be pulled over.

More worryingly, people often forget that a large turkey is incredibly heavy and can easily be dropped into the path of excited youngsters peeping out from between your legs.

It also helps to see a busy kitchen from the eyes of a child. Get down to their line of vision if necessary and look up at the surfaces where hot drinks, wine glasses and knives are often left precariously teetering on the edge and in touching distance of little hands that instinctively want to grab hold. That’s not a great prospect when you realise that a hot drink can scald a small child up to 15 minutes after it has been made.

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and cook Christmas and New Year feasts and wipe up any spills on the floor quickly to avoid accidents involving hot fat, boiling water and sharp knives that too often come from rushing around.

Christmas safety kitchen children Sheila Merrill

Have a safe and happy Christmas.

Mark Cashin, chair of the Chief Fire Officers Association’s National Home Safety Committee, was telling me how the majority of house fires start in the kitchen. He added that there were more fire hazards in the home at Christmas than at any other time of year.

Mark’s advice is to make sure the cooker is clean and clear of debris that gets strewn around when creating a gastronomic masterpiece, like tea towels, packaging and paper towels, which can easily catch fire. And however busy things get, never leave the cooking unattended.

And without sounding too much of a killjoy, if the bubbly starts flowing early, it would be best if the chef could avoid drinking too much alcohol while cooking to avoid unnecessary accidents.

Hopefully that gives plenty of food for thought, but as I tuck into my turkey and trimmings, all that’s left to say is have a happy, safe and delicious Christmas holiday.

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

17 October, 2012

Hair straighteners – hot enough to fry an egg and can scar for life!

When thinking about injuries which occur to children in the home, how many of us have considered the everyday hair straightener as a danger?

Alfie Vance Too Hot to Handle hair straighteners Northern Ireland RoSPA

Alfie Vance was just seven months old when he accidentally fell face first onto a pair of cooling hair straighteners. Within a matter of seconds his delicate skin was burnt between his eyes and on his forehead. Alfie has been left with a permanent scar.

We use them on a daily basis and think nothing of regularly styling our hair to temperatures exceeding 200 degrees; but what happens when these styling devices accidentally come into contact with a child’s skin? Quite frankly, the outcome is horrifying!

A new campaign has been launched this week in Northern Ireland to raise awareness of the dangers hair straighteners can pose to children, causing burns which can require hospital admission and surgical intervention, including plastic surgery.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and Home Accident Prevention Northern Ireland (HAPNI) are working in partnership with the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust on the Too Hot to Handle campaign, funded by the Electrical Safety Council (ESC). It follows a rise in the number of children attending A&E at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children with hair straightener burns.

Figures from the Children’s Hospital show that 17 children aged between three months and nine years attended A&E at the hospital in 2009-10 with hair straightener burns. This represented nine per cent of the 187 children who attended with “thermal injuries” during that year. The average age of the children admitted with hair straightener burns was 18 months.

Nicola Vance, 25, from Northern Ireland, had never really considered hair straighteners to be a risk to her child, that was until an accident occurred leaving her son with a permanent scar.

Alfie Vance Too Hot to Handle hair straighteners Northern Ireland RoSPA

“Alfie was lucky that he didn’t lose his eyes, although he has been scarred for life. If the hair straighteners had been hotter, they would have peeled off his forehead” – Nicola Vance.

On September 8, 2011, Nicola was at home and busy straightening her hair in her bedroom with her son Alfie, then aged seven months, sat beside her on the bed. After switching the hair straighteners off and placing them on a heat resistant mat on the bed, what happened next just took a matter of seconds.

As Alfie tried to move himself along the bed, he fell face first onto the cooling straighteners and was picked up almost immediately by his mother, but a couple of seconds was all it took for Alfie’s delicate skin to be burnt between the eyes and on the forehead. Children’s skin can be 15 times thinner than adults’ skin and while the most common location for a child to sustain a serious hair straightener burn is on their hand, injuries have also been sustained to the head, arm and foot.

Nicola said her son, now 19 months, was lucky the damage caused by the straighteners hadn’t been more serious, although Alfie has been left with a permanent scar between his eyes.

“Alfie was lucky that he didn’t lose his eyes, although he has been scarred for life. If the hair straighteners had been hotter, they would have peeled off his forehead,” she said.

Since the accident, Nicola has ensured that her hair straighteners are switched off straight away and kept in a heat resistant bag, out of the sight and reach of Alfie, in a separate room where he doesn’t have access.

Hair straighteners can take as long as 40 minutes to cool down and are capable of frying an egg, as this video demonstrates:

Remember, it doesn’t always take a flame to burn, but burns caused by hair straighteners ARE preventable!

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager in Northern Ireland

6 September, 2011

Shopping for safety with RoSPA and dbda

RoSPA’s partner in safety, dbda, has launched a shiny new website to showcase our range of products. Visit www.rospashop.com to take a look at what’s on offer.

Resources cover a vast range of topics and safety areas, from workplace safety to safety at home, on the road, in and around water, and at leisure.

Also on offer is an exceptional variety of safety education materials aimed at teachers and schools, as well as posters, books and activities for parents and governors. In fact, we’ve just released a new set of resources aimed at teachers – if you want to build safety into your lessons, your first stop should be RoSPA.

Posters, books and videos are a great way of supplementing and illustrating safety messages, helping to bring safety to life. Go and visit, and take a look around: there’s something for everyone and plenty of ideas to inspire a safer way of life.

1 September, 2011

The not-so-noble gas that kills

At this time of the year our attention turns to the prospect of long dark nights. And when the clocks fall back an hour, many of us think about turning up the central heating and start to enjoy the prospect of sitting beside a glowing fire while watching our favourite programme on television.

Everyone’s focus tends to be on the children starting or returning to school or students moving into digs – but how many spare a thought for the last time fuel-burning appliances, chimneys and flues were serviced and cleaned?

RoSPA continues to raise awareness of home safety throughout the year to the people of Northern Ireland, but in the autumn we begin to remind you once again about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

What we don’t want is to distress or scare you about the dangers that lurk in and around your home – we want to keep reminding you to take preventative measures to keep yourselves and your families safe.

This year we are bringing forward our plans to raise awareness of the “silent killer” with help from the Gis A Hug Foundation, who by now have almost become a household name. The foundation was established in memory of Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson who died last year as a result of CO poisoning. With the help of the foundation we aim to target those who are deemed most at risk from the silent killer, in particular students and older people.

In Northern Ireland last year there were five deaths in a four month period as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, with possible casualties from other CO-related incidents that may have gone unreported. What we do know is that since the terrible tragedies from last year, lives most certainly have been saved because of the tireless campaigning by the Gis A hug Foundation.

The Foundation has donated 300 CO alarms to RoSPA and the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT) which is running 10 carbon monoxide awareness workshops enabling around 300 people to take home a free detector. The CO warning devices were delivered to RoSPA and the SHSCT for distribution among the most vulnerable in society.

Neil’s mum, Catherine McFerran, said that the pain of losing her son is always there but that something positive has come out of it the tragedy. She explained how the Gis A Hug Foundation raises money to purchase and supply free alarms to students, older people and other vulnerable members of society.

We continue to support of the foundation and are delighted to have been instrumental in making important introductions to the group. Mr McFerran told us that the foundation has received lots of feedback from people who told them that the alarms have saved lives.

As a parting message on this subject, I encourage you to cultivate new habits by being inquisitive about home safety – in particular about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. So please take the time to read the important safety steps mentioned below and to explore the RoSPA website:

  • Have gas appliances serviced annually by a gas engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register
  • CO is not just a by product of burning gas, but of all fossil fuels. So if you have wood, coal or oil burning appliances, have these regularly serviced by professionals too
  • Keep rooms adequately ventilated, never block air vents and have chimneys and flues swept regularly
  • Remember: CO detectors and alarms are a last resort in the prevention of CO poisoning. They are not a substitute for proper maintenance and servicing.

Advice for preventing CO poisoning applies equally to caravans, boats and holiday homes with fuel-burning appliances, such as heaters or stoves. And following three tragic incidents across the UK this summer, it is vital that people know that they should never take barbecues or stoves into tents to keep warm.

If you live in rented property, ask your landlord to show you the Landlord’s Gas Safety Record. This is something that students in particular should bear in mind at this time of year, when they are looking for accommodation.

Know what you’re looking for when it comes to symptoms: if you, your family, or even your pets show signs of prolonged flu-like symptoms, or if your appliances’ pilot lights burn with an orange flame rather than blue, it could be time to get your home checked.

For more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide and other home safety concerns please visit www.rospa.com.

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager in Northern Ireland

15 July, 2011

A childhood scald can be a life sentence

We were recently made aware of a good video by North Bristol NHS Trust called “Hot Drinks Harm”, produced to highlight the scalding risk to children posed by hot tea and coffee.

Every 90 seconds someone in the UK is burned or scalded in an accident. That’s quite a shocking statistic, particularly when you realise just how serious it can be.

Most people are well aware that a scald or burn is extremely painful when it happens. However, not many know that a serious scald in childhood is a life sentence for the individual – and one that can be easily avoided.

It’s relatively well known that hot bath water is the number one cause of serious scalding injuries among young children. Every day, at least one child under five is admitted to hospital with serious scalds caused by bath water. Thankfully, the fitting of thermostatic mixing valves (TMVs) is reducing the incidence of bath-time scalds.

Less well known, though, is the fact that many children go to hospital each day with scalds caused by hot drinks.

Under-fives make up six per cent of the population but receive a much larger proportion of scald injuries. Given children’s smaller size, they are more damaged, proportionally, than adults by the same amount of hot water. Children’s skin – and particularly babies’ skin – can be up to 15 times thinner than adults’, making it far more delicate and susceptible to damage. Did you know that a hot drink can still scald a child up to 15 minutes after being made?

So what are the costs?

Scalds make up around 70 per cent of all burns injuries to children. From a purely financial point of view, the cost to the NHS is an average of £1,850 per child scalded – in really severe cases, up to £250,000.

However, the implications of a childhood scald go far beyond monetary costs: a burn injury takes seconds, but stays for life. A child who receives a burn or scald can look forward to years of painful treatment; and in the most serious cases, they face hundreds of operations to release the scar tissue as they grow.

With serious burns, it’s not just a case of patching up a child with protective bandages and antiseptic – skin grafts are required, and a toddler may need further grafts until they stop growing 15 or 20 years later.

The psychological impact of a burn injury is also immense, particularly when children reach their teenage years and have to cope with their scarring alongside the usual teenage image and self-confidence issues. Some children are disfigured for life, with their parents experiencing a prolonged sense of guilt.

Support is available for families who have experienced scald injuries; but it’s far better to prevent them occurring in the first place.

What can be done?

A few simple precautions can prevent a lifetime of pain:

  • Don’t hold a hot drink and a child at the same time
  • Never leave young children alone in the bathroom
  • Put hot drinks out of reach and away from the edges of tables and worktops – and beware of tablecloths! A drink in the middle of the table can quickly be a danger to a toddler grabbing at the edge of a tablecloth
  • Encourage the use of a coiled flex or a cordless kettle
  • Keep small children out of the kitchen whenever possible
  • Run the domestic hot water system at 46°C or fit a thermostatic mixing valve to taps
  • When running a bath turn the cold water on first and always test the water temperature with your elbow before letting a child get into the bath or shower
  • Always use rear hotplates and turn the panhandles away from the front of the cooker
  • Keep hot irons, curling tongs and hair straighteners out of reach even when cooling down – or use a heat-proof bag.

We need to make people understand that these are largely preventable injuries, emphasising that the cost of treatment is far greater than the cost of prevention. Nobody wants their child to come to harm, so in most cases, a little education goes a very long way.

Jane Trobridge, home safety officer for RoSPA

1 July, 2011

Falling for accident prevention

“The NHS treats elderly patients with broken hips as a ‘low priority’ by failing to give them prompt and high-quality treatment that could extend their lives,” reported the Daily Telegraph on June 22.

This may be true – indeed, this information was provided by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) – and it’s worrying that the older population is growing, so the problem is not going to go away.

However, on this issue, the media appears to have missed the obvious – in that scant, if any, mention is made of preventing these injuries in the first place.

According to NICE, up to 75,000 people suffer hip fractures each year. This figure is expected to rise to 100,000 by the end of the decade – a consequence of an ageing population.

To put the issue into perspective: broken hips affect more women than breast cancer does.

People’s quality of life is vastly reduced following a fall-related fracture, and older people’s independence is often curtailed. Health problem follows health problem, and about 10 per cent of people with a fractured hip die within one month – and around a third will die within 12 months. Add to this the stress and worry to family and friends, and the increased burden of care, and we have human tragedy on a massive – and increasing – scale.

If the human costs of fall-related injuries aren’t enough to convince you that things need to change: in terms of financial costs – at the forefront of everybody’s minds at the moment – hip fractures are estimated to cost £2 billion a year in medical treatment and social care.

What about preventing the fall in the first place? Accident prevention can and should play a starring role in the UK’s public health plan.

At the moment, accident prevention advice and information is being delivered by numerous smaller, extremely dedicated and hard-working organisations around the country.

There have been some great examples of successful working between local NHS organisations and local authorities. In Dudley in the West Midlands, for example, a falls prevention initiative, the £158k a year costs of which were funded by the Primary Care Trust and the council, saved £3 million over five years due to the corresponding reduction in hip fractures.

The problem of falls among older people was highlighted during Northern Ireland’s recent Home Accident Prevention Week (June 6-10).

Accidental falls claimed the lives of 155 people across Northern Ireland in 2009, of whom two thirds (103 people) were aged 65 or over. The most serious accidents usually happen on the stairs and injuries can have long lasting and life limiting effects – as we have seen.

We know that the risk of falling in the home and of suffering a serious injury as a result increases with age. We hope the simple prevention tips shared below will be shared among communities and families and reach as many people as possible.

  • Keep landings, stairs and hallways well lit
  • Insert a dual handrail on stairs where possible
  • Replace worn carpets and remove loose rugs and mats (or use non-slip backings)
  • Wear suitable footwear
  • Remove clutter from floors and stairs
  • Use stepladders for household jobs instead of climbing on chairs
  • Store everyday items in easy-to-reach places
  • Review medication with your GP/pharmacist
  • Wipe up spills straight away, and use bath/shower mats
  • Ensure you get your eyes tested
  • Keep active!

These last two points deserve to be expanded upon a little.

The Daily Express reported last week that two million over-60s have not taken advantage of free eye tests, even though 270,000 older people have had falls as a result of poor vision in the past two years. These figures came from a study to mark Age UK’s Falls Awareness Week.

Age UK is rightly concerned that many older people are not aware that they are entitled to free eye tests. Their study found a range of reasons were given for not going to the optician: 42 per cent felt there was nothing wrong with their eyes, nine per cent were concerned about the cost of buying glasses, and six per cent simply said they forgot to go and have a sight test.

Raising awareness of the connection between poor eyesight and falls may encourage more older people to take advantage of this free service.

As far as keeping active goes: this is extremely important in improving mobility and balance among the older population. However, it goes deeper than that. Keeping fit and active from a young age and throughout life will help to ensure that you stay fit and healthy into old age.

These issues highlight the fact that accident prevention is intimately linked to many other areas of healthcare – and could save a lot of pain in the long run.

So why is it underreported? Why is the media missing the obvious when reporting on falls, and ill health relating to accidents? I guess it’s not “sexy”, not headline grabbing enough. Perhaps. Then it’s down to accident prevention charities and organisations to make the subject newsworthy – spread the word.

Everyone has parents and grandparents or elderly friends and neighbours – not to mention the fact that we are all (hopefully!) going to live to a ripe old age, and reap the benefits of this type of accident prevention advice ourselves.

Ita McErlean, RoSPA’s home safety manager for Northern Ireland

6 June, 2011

Safe at Home: A Two-Tier Success

Following on from Michael Corley’s recent blog post – Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics – about accident prevention, it seems that the topic of today’s blog post is entirely appropriate as an illustration of how accident prevention can work.

In 2009, RoSPA launched the Safe At Home scheme (funded by the former Department for Children, Schools and Families), which had the aim of reducing accident rates among under-fives through targeted support for families in 141 areas in England with the highest accident rates.

Support included the provision of home safety information and safety equipment, such as safety gates, fireguards and window restrictors, through a network of new and existing local home safety equipment schemes. RoSPA also trained staff working at the local schemes.

The scheme has been incredibly successful, exceeding its target of supplying safety equipment to 60,196 families. The final figures show that the total number of families to receive free equipment by March 31, 2011, when the scheme came to an end, was an impressive 66,127.

This type of venture is a great example of how the Government’s “Big Society” could work at its best. It’s also a great antidote to those who wail about the “nanny state” and “busybodies” – those who have benefited from the scheme tell a very different story

You see, raising awareness of risk is NOT the same as telling people what to do in their own homes. If you’re a new parent, or are not around small children very often, it’s unlikely that you’ll know about the hazards toddlers face in the home.

Getting down on your hands and knees and looking at the world from their point of view paints a very different picture – and reveals a multitude of hazards that were not apparent before.

For instance, before I started working at RoSPA, I had no idea that blind cords could pose any risk to children (or my cats!) – and why would I, without being told? I’ll always make sure I tie cords away with a cleat in the future – which is all that is required if, like me, you like blinds that require cords.

Accident prevention is not about banning things left, right and centre and it’s not about stopping people from having fun; it’s about raising awareness of the risks and taking reasonable steps to mitigate them – as well as improving industry safety standards. Our blind cord safety campaign is a good illustration of the type of work we do.

Presenting people with good advice and information, and allowing them to make their own choices about how to protect their families, enables them to take responsibility for their own safety without having outside “experts” tell them what to do.

All accident prevention work should be based on sound data, to ensure that time, money and resources are not wasted on interventions that target the wrong people, or are simply unlikely to work.

The statistics mentioned earlier enabled us to target the Safe At Home scheme at those who needed it most. In order to qualify to receive equipment, families with children aged 0-5 must have been living in an area covered by a participating project, and must also have been in receipt of certain benefits.

The evidence shows that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be injured or killed in accidents. And in fact, shockingly, children of parents who are long-term unemployed or who have never worked are 13 times more likely to die as a result of unintentional injury and 37 times more likely to die from exposure to smoke, fire or flames than children of parents in higher managerial or professional occupations.

By installing a few simple safety measures such as smoke alarms, stair gates and window restrictors, the quality of life for these families could be vastly improved at no cost to themselves, and little cost to society – compared with the vast amount of money accidents and injuries cost us all.

It is hoped that the Safe At Home project has enabled local communities to run their own sustainable projects now the national scheme has come to an end.

More details about the achievements of Safe At Home will be announced when the project’s evaluation report is published in the next few weeks.

In the end, accident prevention advice and information could save the life of one of your family members. If you talked to someone who had lost a child in a home accident, you would probably find they had a very different perspective from the “elf ‘n’ safety” myths whipped up by some sections of the media.

Prevention is always better than cure. This applies to accident prevention as much as anything else. Join the debate – and support our campaign today.

Vicky Fraser, RoSPA’s Press Officer/Web Editor

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