Posts tagged ‘Sheila Merrill’

18 December, 2013

Have yourself a safe little Christmas

“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening…”

Never leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed.

Never leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed.

Oh yes, Christmas is nearly here! And amidst the chaos of present wrapping, food shopping and house decorating, I can see many a parent tearing their hair out over the never-ending “to do” list…

But where there’s a will, there’s a way…Good preparation is key to ensuring that your festivities are not cut short by an accident, because, let’s face it, no-one wants that! It may surprise you to know that you are 50 per cent more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. Why? Well, a combination of smoking and drinking alcohol are well-known risk factors, but candle fires also claim many lives. According to the latest Fire Statistics Great Britain, in 2011/12, there were around 1,000 candle fires in homes across Great Britain, resulting in nine deaths and 388 casualties. Christmas trees, decorations and cards were also shown to be a fire risk and responsible for 47 house fires. This is why it’s important to do the following:

  • Keep decorations and cards away from fires and other heat sources such as light fittings
  • Don’t leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed
  • Never put candles on Christmas trees
  • If you have old and dated Christmas lights, now is the time to consider buying new ones which will meet much higher safety standards
  • Don’t underestimate the danger of overloading plug sockets. Different electrical appliances use different amounts of power, which is why you should never plug into an extension lead or socket, appliances that collectively use more than 13 amps or 3,000 watts of energy. Otherwise, it may overheat and cause a fire.

And don’t forget those smoke alarms! Is yours working? Have you tested it recently? It could just save your life. But think twice before deciding to remove its batteries to kick-start that new gadget or toy you’ve just opened – find a safer alternative – buy batteries for your gifts in advance.

On the big day itself, it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and momentarily forget about the bags of opened presents left at the bottom of the stairs or the mulled wine warming on the stove. But the kitchen is a hotbed of activity, particularly on Christmas Day, which is why cooking should not be left unattended. Likewise, children should also be kept out of the kitchen and away from items such as matches and lighters. Did you know that falls remain the biggest cause of home accidents – involving all age groups? Simple things, such as keeping staircases free of clutter and making sure extension leads and cables are not strewn across the living room floor can help limit the risk of someone tripping over and injuring themselves or others.

Take a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. This will help you to spot potential hazards.

Take a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. This will help you to spot potential hazards.

It is also worth taking a moment to look around your home from a child’s point of view. Not only will this allow you to see potential dangers from a new perspective i.e. a hot drink balanced on the edge of the coffee table, but it is also a reminder to “think ahead” to keep little ones safe in your home this Christmas.

There have also been cases where children have swallowed bulbs from Christmas tree lights, so it is not a good idea to let them play with items on the tree. Young children are particularly at risk from choking, because they examine things around them by putting them in their mouths. Peanuts, for example, should be kept out of reach of children under six. Even a burst balloon or button cell battery could be a choking hazard to a baby or toddler, which is why you need to buy toys that are appropriate for your child’s age range.

It might be tempting to let a child play with Christmas novelties around the home, but these are not toys, even if they resemble them, and they do not have to comply with toy safety regulations. Give careful thought to where you display them; place them high up on Christmas trees where they are out of the reach of young hands.

No-one’s saying to go over the top and take the fun out of your Christmas, but these are just some of the things you can do to help ensure that your festivities are not cut short by an accident.

Be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow this winter.

Be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow this winter.

If you head over to our Twitter and Facebook pages, you can help us to share some of our top Christmas safety tips with family and friends. Each picture features some of the many members of staff which make up the RoSPA family – and one very familiar face! We are currently running a “12 days of Christmas” countdown to Christmas day, so why not take a look?

And if you’re heading outdoors this Christmas (fingers crossed that we might get some snow), take note of the driving conditions and be aware of slips, trips and falls on ice or snow. See our winter safety hub for more details.

Have a happy time and enjoy the festive songs! “Our finest gifts we bring Pa rum pum pum pum…”

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

4 November, 2013

The countdown is on, November 5 here we come!

The big night is nearly upon us and soon the cold night sky will be lit up by spectacular fireworks of all colours, shapes and sizes.

Fireworks show on Independent DayIt’s a family occasion full of whizz-bangs and excitement that keeps everyone entertained, and while many of you will be attending an organised firework display, there will be others who will be holding their own at home. This is why it is a smart move to brush up on the Firework Code – essential reading for adults who are going to be handling fireworks.

Planning a firework display should not be rushed. There’s a lot to consider both before and after the fireworks have been set off! Ask yourself, is your garden big enough for the fireworks you are buying and seriously consider if your garden can cope with having a bonfire? Lighting it too close to a fence or shed could spell disaster. Do you have a safety plan in place in the event of an emergency? Have you set up an appropriate cordon? Young people should watch and enjoy fireworks at a safe distance and follow the safety rules for using sparklers. Remember, sparklers should not be given to children under five-years-old. All fireworks are explosives which have the potential to cause injury and damage if they are misused. This is why adults should help children and young people understand the dangers and share the important message that fireworks are not toys or missiles.

Each year, RoSPA hears about people being injured by fireworks and the traumatic experiences victims have gone through, including lifelong scarring and years of treatment. This is why it’s important that families ensure that fireworks are handled only by adults and treated with respect.

About half of these injuries happen at family or private parties and about a quarter in the street or other public place. A much smaller proportion – around 10 per cent – of the injuries happen at large public displays. Strictly speaking, attending an organised firework display is the safest option.

A rogue firework exploded from inside Ben's jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. Ben has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

A rogue firework exploded from inside Ben’s jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. Ben has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

Amy McCabe, whose son Ben was injured at a street firework display, has called on the public to choose the safer option of attending an organised display. Ben was four-years-old when he was left with permanent scarring after he was hit by a firework at the display held in a residential cul-de-sac in Cumbernauld, near Glasgow.

The rogue firework exploded from inside his jacket, setting his shirt on fire in the process. The firework, which had fallen over in the wet grass after being lit, flew off into the crowd at such speed, that initially spectators were none the wiser. It was not until Ben started screaming in pain that people realised he had been hit. Despite Ben’s jacket being zipped up to his chin moments earlier, the firework had somehow found its way inside. Surgeons told Ben’s mother Amy, 37, that her son would be scarred for life after suffering third degree burns to his chest, neck, under his right arm and behind his left ear. Ben who is now six-years-old has since undergone seven skin grafts and is continuing to receive steroid injections to help stretch and soften the skin.

Data collected across Britain in previous years shows that, on average, around 1,000 people visit A&E for treatment of a firework-related injury in the four weeks around Bonfire Night, with half of the injuries being suffered by under-18s. The minimum age for buying fireworks is 18 across the UK. Only buy fireworks from a reputable retailer and ensure the packaging carries the ‘CE’ mark or is marked with ‘BS 7114’.

RoSPA’s fireworks website – – provides details on UK law, tips for setting up a display and the Firework Code:

  • Plan your fireworks display to make it safe and enjoyable
  • Keep fireworks in a closed box and use them one at a time
  • Read and follow the instructions on each firework using a torch if necessary
  • Light the firework at arm’s length with a taper and stand well back
  • Keep naked flames, including cigarettes, away from fireworks
  • Never return to a firework once it has been lit
  • Don’t put fireworks in pockets and never throw them
  • Direct any rocket fireworks well away from spectators
  • Never use paraffin or petrol on a bonfire
  • Make sure that the fire is out and surroundings are made safe before leaving.

Have a wonderful time and wrap up warm! I hear it might be a chilly one!

Sheila Merrill, RoSPA’s public health adviser

19 February, 2013

Getting to grips with an indoor mobility scooter – one man’s first-hand account

How many of you own a mobility scooter? RoSPA believes that outdoor mobility scooters fulfil a valuable and important function. However, as with all forms of transport, using mobility scooters create some risk, for both the users and for other people. We occasionally receive calls from people concerned about being nearly knocked down by mobility scooters in the street, and although these calls are relatively low in number, they do occur regularly.

mobility scooter injuries accidents

RoSPA believes that outdoor mobility scooters fulfil a valuable and important function. However, as with all forms of transport, using mobility scooters create some risk, for both the users and for other people.

There is little hard evidence about the extent of accidents and injuries involving outdoor mobility scooters, beyond occasional reports, and this makes it difficult to identify the most effective ways at preventing mobility scooter accidents. The Government recently committed to collecting more data and this is welcomed, as it will help to develop current initiatives to be more effective at preventing mobility scooter-related injuries and accidents.

We spoke to 87-year-old Dennis Brooks, who got in touch to share his experience of using indoor mobility scooters. This is his story:

“With the growing preponderance of elderly people in our population today, I would imagine statistics would show a matching increase in the number of accidents in the home.

Certainly I, an 87-year-old semi-invalid, now recognise the necessity for greater mental awareness in simple manoeuvres such as getting up from a chair, but many of us have also to consider various illnesses such as diabetes which can affect one’s balance or other abilities.

In recent years, this coming to terms with an ageing body has been accompanied with a desire to compensate: if I can’t move like I used to, let’s find some form of transport. And while we’re at it lets have some fun.

There are a wide range of scooters available today and the market is of course growing, especially in the second-hand section! I chose a lightweight model which enables me to get around the house as well as the garden and can be dismantled into four sections which can fit in the car boot. It cost £400 second-hand when new models were around £1,400. Today, I see it is available at £400 new. From the safety viewpoint, the first priority is to recognise that scooters, especially the lighter, nippier ones are more like a motorcycle to ride than a car: you have to be aware of your bodyweight, and there are no brakes, unless you have a class III which can be driven on the road under license, but those are not so suitable for home use.

Scooters are battery driven, and there is a very noticeable difference in handling them when the battery is freshly charged. The torque in the driving wheels can be quite surprising so that an unthinking driver might feel he’s had a good push in the back. This dissipates after a while, but it’s in a very dangerous state. More important I feel is the design of the forward/reverse controls. Looking along the handlebars from the side view of my scooter, these controls are around the ‘five o’clock’ position immediately in front of the user. When I want to reach a cupboard on the wall say, I sometimes stand up on the platform of my mobility scooter and l have been in a position many times when my clothing has touched the forward control. Yes, yes, of course. I should have switched off the controls, but as many people keep telling me: “You’re getting on a bit now, your memory’s going!” True. Which is why I feel the designers should take another look at this.”

Some guidance from our public health adviser Sheila Merrill:

It is important that professional advice is sought before buying any type of mobility scooter. If you intend to use an indoor mobility scooter, look around your home beforehand to make sure that you have the room to move around on it safely and that it will not be blocking any obvious escape routes. Walkways and main movement areas will need to be kept clear of clutter, it may also be best to remove rugs to allow for easier movement.

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

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

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

22 March, 2011

The multi-billion pound burden of accidents at home

As safe as houses: our homes are supposed to be the safest places in the world. Somewhere we can feel secure, and keep our families safe from harm. Right?

Hopefully, most of the time, yes – but what most people don’t realise is that more accidents happen in the home than anywhere else.

Around 2.7million people will go to A&E this year as a result of an accident at home; some 5,000 people are likely to die as a result of an accident at home; and many more uncounted Britons will visit their GP as the result of an accident at home.

The cost to society is enormous. You may want to sit down before you read on…

The total annual cost of home accident casualties who are treated for their injuries at hospital – around 2.7million people each year – is estimated to be £45.63billion (£45,630million), based on an average cost of £16,900 per victim.

That’s £45.63billion. And that’s probably a gross underestimate.

This figure does not include the cost of home accident deaths, which, according to mortality figures from 2009, number in excess of 5,000 a year, and for which the cost per fatality is estimated at £1.61million.

So the total cost of fatalities is estimated to be £8billion. Each year.

And it does not include the cost of people who seek GP treatment after a home accident.

The multi-billion pound cost of home accidents is, quite simply, staggering. It would go some way towards reducing general government debt – put at £1000.4billion in 2009-10 – if we could stop all home accidents tomorrow.

It is a sad fact that overall accidental deaths have increased in recent years. Accidents typically associated with the home, such as falls, account for some of this rise. It is time to get serious about accident prevention, particularly in the home, which has been the Cinderella of safety for far too long because injuries are suffered behind closed doors.

This is not just about saving money – a strong argument, but one that will not stand by itself – but is a way of halting the misery that accidents inflict on so many in our communities. Some of the uncounted costs are to families who are damaged by accidents: they may lose their main wage earner; a family member may have to become a full-time carer for someone who has had an accident; and grief can be devastating and destructive, tearing families and communities apart.

RoSPA commissioned the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to conduct this latest valuation research, which updates a previous report from 1996, when the cost of home accidents resulting in A&E visits was estimated to be around £25.62billion.

The cost findings are based on: lost contribution to the economy (lost output); the value of avoidance of injury (the amount the community would be prepared to pay to avoid the chance of an injury happening); and the cost of medical, Social Security and other support services. Costs to the individual and long-term care are not included.

To put the home accident valuation in context: a report published by the Department for Transport earlier this year estimated the value of preventing road accidents in 2009 to be £30billion (when accidents reported and unreported to the police were considered).

Take a look at the TRL’s report: Re-valuation of Home Accidents and have a think about what we can all do to save lives and money at home.

Sheila Merrill

RoSPA’s Home Safety Manager for England

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