Posts tagged ‘parents’

14 January, 2016

How safe are baby slings for a newborn? A mother shares her tragic experience.

Marianne Matthews, from Harrow, was celebrating the birth of her first child Eric when, within weeks, he had died after having been carried in a baby sling. Marianne explains what happened.

I write this blog in memory of my first child Eric, and with the hope that this message will help prevent more tragedies like ours.

Baby Sling story Eric Matthews first days with parents Marianne and Bob Matthews

Parents Marianne and Bob Matthews with Eric when he was first born.

Eric was four-weeks-old when he became unconscious while I was carrying him in a stretchy wrap baby sling – soft fabric that wraps around the chest and waist and holds baby, allowing a parent to keep their hands free as they go about their everyday tasks.

As a new parent, you get marketed at relentlessly with baby products. I wasn’t fully aware of the risks involving baby slings, and you never think these kinds of tragedies are something that will happen to you. The dangers of slings were not mentioned in the antenatal classes we attended, or in any of the baby books we read. Maybe because baby slings are newly popular, safety warnings aren’t yet part of the standard information given to expectant parents.

I bought a stretchy wrap sling online. It came with minimal instructions and had no safety label.

baby carrier baby sling

The safest method is in a carrier that keeps the baby solidly against the parent’s body, in an upright position.

It was Christmas Eve 2013 and Eric was quite unsettled so I put him in the sling and took him out for a walk to the local shop. He started to get a bit hungry and I tried to breastfeed him whilst carrying him. I then decided to go home. At the time I thought Eric was just falling asleep.

Everything happened so quickly and quietly I didn’t realise that something was very wrong. He had either choked or got into difficulties. By the time I got back, he had stopped breathing.

We called 999 and tried to resuscitate him. Sadly Eric never regained consciousness, and passed away in our arms a week later on New Year’s Day 2014.

We loved Eric so much and wonder how things went so wrong. Eric was our first child, and as new parents, we were finding out what to do for the first time. Our inexperience was to have tragic consequences, sometimes love just isn’t enough.

Eric is now a big brother, our little girl Sola Eden was born in October 2014, and she really is a miracle for me and my husband Bob, especially as we had her when we were still grieving. I have learned a lot from Eric. I’ll never use a baby sling again. Safety is an absolute priority.

Baby sling story Marianne Matthews with husband Bob and daughter Sola Eden

Marianne and Bob Matthews have celebrated the birth of daughter Sola Eden since the tragedy.

My advice is not to use a baby sling for a newborn baby – wait a few weeks until they are stronger and have more neck control. Don’t be tempted to multi-task by feeding a baby in a sling and check for safety standards and warnings before choosing a product.

The part that concerns me most is that some slings are marketed as ‘breastfeeding slings’. In my opinion, the feeding position is unsafe for baby (particularly a newborn) to be carried in, as they need to be kept upright to keep their airways clear. A baby trying to feed may make similar sounds to a baby struggling for breath, or make no sounds at all, and tragedy can occur in a minute or so. Added to this, the use of a sling while out and about may mean there are more distractions, and parents may not be fully aware of what’s happening.

I hope other parents find our story helpful, and it can in some way prevent another avoidable death like Eric’s from happening.

Marianne Matthews.

You can read more on RoSPA’s detailed advice on baby slings at the RoSPA website.

amber teething necklace baby

RoSPA is aware of risks attached to these products because a sling’s fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking the baby’s airways and causing suffocation within a minute or two.  Suffocation can also occur where the baby is cradled in a curved or “C-like” position in a sling, nestling below the parent’s chest or near their stomach.

Because babies do not have strong neck control, this means that their heads are more likely to flop forward, chin-to-chest, restricting the infant’s ability to breathe. RoSPA advocates products that keep babies upright and allow parents to see their baby and to ensure that the face isn’t restricted. Your baby is safest travelling with you in a pram or pushchair in which they are lying flat, on their back, in a parent-facing position.

1 September, 2014

Back to school – Lifesaving tips for drivers and parents

Ah, September. The smell of diesel fumes hangs heavy in the air, the pavements overflow with sleep-deprived children, while commuters attempt to contort their bodies to squash sardine-like into creaking buses and trains. It can only mean one thing – school’s back! Whether you’re a parent or driver, it’s important that you take extra care on the roads this car_kidsautumn and encourage your children to do the same. With that in mind, here are a few simple tips to make the morning and evening commute that little bit safer!

For parents:

Using the car

• Check that your child is correctly restrained. If you’re planning to carry any extra children make sure that you have the age-appropriate child seat. Please see the RoSPA’s dedicated website – www.childcarseats.org.uk – for more car seats advice.

• Choose a safe place to drop your child off near to the school. Aim for somewhere where you won’t cause congestion and danger to those walking or cycling to school.

• Talk to your children about road safety on your way to school, stress the importance of wearing a seatbelt.

 Walking to school

• If you are planning to let your child walk to school on their own for    the first time, talk to them about the route they child_handwill use and the  dangers they may encounter. Watch your child so that you can judge whether they have the ability to cross roads safely on their route to school.

• Children learn by watching adults. If walking your child to school, talk to them about how they can keep themselves safe and always try to set a good example when crossing the road.

Cycling to school

Cycling is a fun and healthy way to get to school, especially if a few simple precautions are taken:

• If your child is planning to cycle to school, check that their bike is in good working order. Ensure the brakes work, the tyres are pumped up and the saddle and handlebars are securely tightened.

Family and friends cycling• Plan the route they will take and consider cycling it with them for the first time.

• RoSPA recommends that a helmet be worn at all times.

For drivers:

• Be extra observant and keep a watchful eye for children walking and cycling to school, they might be distracted and excited.

• Reduce your speed where you see lots of children, especially near to schools. If you are driving at 30mph and a child runs out, your stopping distance will be at least 23 metres.

• Rushing causes accidents – give yourself more time for your journey and never be tempted to speed!

For more vital health and safety guides, facts and advice, sign up to SafetyMatters, RoSPA’s free fortnightly newsletter!

Nick Lloyd, RoSPA road safety manager

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.

5 June, 2013

Let the buggy take the strain!

After the worst winter in recent memory we are all keen to get out and about in the sun. For those of us with new babies this can bring its own challenges as they can be heavy!

One of my previous blogs looked at baby slings and in this one I offer advice on the safe use of buggies and pushchairs.

Two mothers

It is fair to say that modern pushchairs and buggies are made to very high standards and provide a very high level of safety for babies, although injuries to children in the past have been caused by faulty brakes, flammable materials, unstable carriages and finger entrapments.

When buying new or second-hand, look for reference to a safety standard, typically BS 7409 or BSEN 1888:2003.  High street retailers are very good about ensuring that the products they supply meet the latest safety standards. Of course, as my blog on second-hand goods explained, not every parent can afford to buy products new.

RoSPA supports the supply of second-hand buggies and prams but advises parents to exercise caution before doing so.  For example, Maclaren recalled more than a million pushchairs in the US due to finger entrapment hazards a few years ago.  Here in the UK, safety packs were offered to parents. It is important to always check that the product you are buying is safe in this context and that it is marked as complying with the standard(s).

There are also some general rules for all parents who already own buggies and pushchairs:

  • Keep your child harnessed in at all times and never leave them unattended
  • If making adjustments, keep the child well away from moving parts
  • Buggies and pushchairs require regular maintenance
  • Overloading can be dangerous – don’t put coats and bags on top of the buggy as these can cause it to tip over
  • Handles are not for carrying shopping bags – these can also cause instability
  • If using a “buggy board” for older children to stand on while you push, please ensure that it is suitable for the buggy and fitted correctly
  • Incorrect folding can damage the product
  • Avoid using non-approved accessories which can cause damage
  • ALWAYS read the instructions before assembling and using the product.

Baby with soother

If family members or friends kindly pass on buggies or pushchairs that are no longer needed, parents also need to check that all harnesses have five straps.

Also, be aware that non-reclining seats are not suitable for children under six-months-old.

And before you put your child in a buggy or pushchair:

  • Check the brakes (lock and unlock them and then push)
  • Check that the product is properly unfolded and “locked” together correctly
  • Check that there is no damage, including sharp edges and torn fabric.

Most important of all, have fun out there this summer with your children and make the most of these special times when they are always with you – they grow up fast!

For more child safety tips, please go to the RoSPA website at: www.rospa.com/childsafety/

Philip LeShirley, RoSPA Product Safety Adviser

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

24 May, 2012

Baby slings – advice and information for parents

Babies are the most wonderful gift but they can be heavy! In situations where buggies and pushchairs are not suitable, parents are often faced with the prospect of having to carry their baby, which can lead to back pain and fatigue. Parents ideally want their babies as close to them as possible and often choose the aid of a baby sling to support their little one in a comforting way, meaning parents then have their hands free to go about their daily tasks.

baby carrier baby sling

The safest method of baby wearing is in a carrier that keeps the newborn baby solidly against the parent’s body, in an upright position. Parents should ensure that they keep their baby’s chin off their chest, thereby keeping the airway free for breathing.

While RoSPA fully under stands the attraction of using baby slings, we are very concerned about a worrying number of fatalities recorded by parents using certain types of baby slings to carry their children.

These slings are made of soft fabrics that wrap around the chest so that on-the-go parents can carry their babies or use it as another way to bond, keeping close contact between the child and the parent. They have become increasingly popular in recent years and slings have also been promoted by baby experts as a way to help babies feel secure and calm or as an alternative aid for mothers to use for breastfeeding.

It is important to mention that not all slings are dangerous and they have been in use for thousands of years. The safest method of baby wearing is in a carrier that keeps the newborn baby solidly against the parent’s body, in an upright position. Parents should ensure that they keep their baby’s chin off their chest, thereby keeping the airway free for breathing.

RoSPA is not calling for a ban on these products, nor urging parents not to use them.  Instead we are advising parents to be careful with their selection of the type of sling and to be aware that there are risks attached. RoSPA advocates products that keep babies upright and allow parents to see their baby and to ensure that the face isn’t restricted.

The Consortium of UK Sling Manufacturers and Retailers provided the following advice to baby sling wearers: Keep your baby close and keep your baby safe. When you’re wearing a sling or carrier, don’t forget the T.I.C.K.S:

  • Tight
  • In view at all times
  • Close enough to kiss
  • Keep chin off the chest
  • Supported back.

But what many parents may not be aware of is that at least 16 deaths across the world have been reported as a result of using baby slings. The US authorities have advised parents to be cautious when using infant slings for babies younger than four months. Slings can pose a suffocation hazard in two different ways:

  • A sling’s fabric can press against a baby’s nose and mouth, blocking the baby’s breathing and causing suffocation within a minute or two
  • The other scenario involves slings where the baby is cradled in a curved or “C-like” position, nestling the baby below the parent’s chest or near their stomach. This can cause a baby who doesn’t have strong neck control to flop its head forward, chin-to-chest, restricting the infant’s ability to breathe. In scenarios like this, babies may not be able to cry for help and could slowly suffocate, according to the US authorities.

Did you know that in 2010, over a million baby slings were recalled in the US by a manufacturer over fears that they could cause suffocation? It followed three deaths linked to The SlingRider and Wendy Bellissimo ranges, made by Infantino. As a result, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) urged parents to stop using the slings for babies under four months. The CPSC also stipulated that all products should be sold with clear safety instructions.

In the US, the case of one-week-old Derrik Fowler, in Oregon, is used by many safety advocates as an example of the suffocation risks associated with slings. Derek died in a sling of positional asphyxia or suffocation, according to court records. Derrik was carried in a “bag style” sling, in which the fabric wraps around the parent’s neck and cradles the child in a curved position.

RoSPA hopes that this advice is useful to new parents. If consumers have concerns about any products they have seen advertised, they should contact the Citizens Advice consumer service helpline on 08454 04 05 06.

Philip Le Shirley, RoSPA’s product safety adviser.

20 July, 2011

Babysitting: a hazardous occupation!

Babysitters can be absolutely invaluable to busy parents: like angels they swoop in, sometimes at short notice, to care for your children and relieve you of chocolate biscuits.

However, it’s not always possible to hire a babysitter from outside the family, especially if the requirement is urgent! So the oldest child is often drafted in to take care of the younger ones.

With media coverage earlier this year of the mother investigated for leaving her 14-year-old son in charge of his three-year-old brother, this is an issue likely to be at the forefront of many parents’ minds.

So, what does the law say? Well, not a great deal. While children who choose to work on newspaper delivery rounds, on farms or in retail jobs are covered and hopefully protected by general and specific health and safety law – notably the Health and Safety (Young Persons) Regulations 1997 – those who choose babysitting as a means of earning money fall outside these laws.

With this in mind, RoSPA and the NSPCC recommend that no one under the age of 16 should be left to care for a baby or toddler. The British Red Cross, which runs babysitting courses, states that participants must have reached their 14th birthday by the time of their final assessment.

However, parents usually know their children best, and will make their own judgements as to whether or not their eldest is mature and responsible enough to look after the young ones. We all know younger children who are wise beyond their years; and equally, we know those in their twenties who shouldn’t be left to care for a pot plant!

Will your babysitter spot the hazards?

So how can parents minimise the risks involved in leaving their older children to care for younger siblings? There’s a good deal of useful information on our freshly updated webpages, so head over there and take a look.

What’s particularly interesting, though, is a relatively new piece of research undertaken at the University of Guelph, Canada, and published in 2010. The original article appeared in the BMJ’s Injury Prevention journal, and the abstract can be viewed online.

The research, entitled “Please keep an eye on your younger sister”: sibling supervision and young children’s risk of unintentional injury took a look at how and why young children were more likely to suffer an injury while being cared for by older siblings than by their parents.

What did the research find?

The study explains why children are more likely to be injured when being supervised by a sibling or young sitter rather than a parent. The research shows how parents identify and remove hazards (such as small objects which could cause choking), while siblings left in charge of their younger brothers and sisters are more likely to play with the objects. This behaviour is then imitated by the younger child, with potentially harmful consequences.

Research objectives: Parental supervision reduces young children’s risk of unintentional injuries, but supervision by older siblings has been shown to increase risk. This study explored how and why this may be the case.

Methods: The supervision behaviours of mothers were compared to those of their older children when each was supervising a young relation in a setting having “contrived hazards”.

The researchers found that mothers were more proactive in supervising their children by actually removing hazards from the vicinity. Older siblings, however, tended to interact with the hazards in front of the children – effectively teaching them to do likewise.

It’s fairly well known that young children copy – particularly their older siblings. It’s how they learn, and the little ones tend to want to be “just like my big sister/brother”.

Indeed, the study found that this took place – children under the supervision of their older siblings were more likely to interact with the hazards in a similar way to their older supervisors.

Compounding this tendency of young children to behave in a more risky manner when supervised by a sibling, their older siblings were less alert to this behaviour than their mothers.

Everyone with younger brothers or sisters will be aware of the “you’re not my mom!” phenomenon; and again, the research bore this out. It showed how younger children have less respect for the authority of older siblings and are actually likely to behave in more risky ways when a parent is not present.

Could you keep your charges occupied?

The study concluded that the behaviour of both the young child and the supervisor contributed to increase the risk of injury when older children babysit for younger ones.

So it’s not necessarily a simple matter of raising awareness of risks among older children; it’s important for parents to also sit down with the younger child and explain that, in your absence, the older sibling is in charge.

It’s very common for older children to care for younger children within families, and this practice will not stop any time soon – particularly in such difficult economic times, when families can ill-afford to pay a babysitter.

However, research such as this is invaluable in helping parents to understand not only what the risks are when leaving older children to babysit younger ones – but why this should be the case.

Of course, the ideal solution is to employ a professional. But this just isn’t an option for many, so making information and guidance available to as many people as possible is vital. Parents should ensure that they know what they’re asking of their eldest – it’s a big responsibility, and providing them with as much information as possible will help to reduce the likelihood of injury occurring.

So parents: don’t be afraid of taking some time out, whether for work or for leisure – everyone needs time away from primary colours and Justin Bieber – but make sure you talk through what babysitting entails with all your children first.

RoSPA would love to hear from young babysitters about their experiences, especially examples where the intervention of a babysitter has prevented a serious injury to a child in their care. Please email Cassius Francis at cfrancis@rospa.com if you think you can help.

Jenny McWhirter, RoSPA’s risk education adviser

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

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