PM Pediatrics
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Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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A small cottage style home sits surrounded by tall green trees, shrubs, flower gardens, hedges and a green lawn.

Summer Household Safety

Just like the holidays, injuries and hazards have a seasonal aspect to them. In the winter there are sledding injuries and car crashes due to snow and ice (obvi), and in the spring and fall as kids’ activities are in full swing there are lots of sports injuries like sprains and fractures. Summer is no different and has its own set of dangers; dangers that don’t even require you to leave your house. How convenient.

I write this with 15 years of working in a large, urban, children’s emergency department and trauma center under my belt so it may be that I’m writing with the slightly skewed perspective of someone who has been around for an awful lot of “worst case scenarios,” but aside from being able to share some stories that should go into Ripley’s “Believe it or Not,” I’d like to share a few lessons learned that I’ll admit I never gave much thought to until my pediatric emergency training and experience working in acute care.

If I had to guess, I’d say that I’ve seen about 50 kids over my career who have fallen out of a window at their house or apartment building.

I’m not talking about children who weren’t supervised or were left alone or neglected, these were kids who were simply doing their kid thing: climbing on stuff, reaching out as far as they could, leaning against something. Without giving details I’m pleased to say that the majority of kids who fell out of windows at their homes amazingly did quite well with minimal injuries, nearly all recoverable. What I learned after watching these scenarios play out, summer after summer, is the following:

  1. Windows were wide open with screens covering them; easy for kids to lean against and push through and fall out, and in most cases-
  2. Furniture was very close to the windows, making it quick and simple for a kid to climb up and make it to the window in the first place.

A couple solutions to these innocent appearing hazards:

  1. Window guards can be applied to windows to ensure that they cannot be opened wide enough for a child to fit through and fall out.
  2. Make sure furniture is far enough away from any windows that climbing up won’t give window access.

Windows are really a danger zone, and not just the window itself. The blinds too. Because the blinds have those long cords. This isn’t totally seasonable but still is relevant in the summer: when cribs are placed near windows with access to the blind cords lots of injuries can happen- from arms and legs getting twisted and causing spiral fractures to tragic strangulation around a toddler’s neck. Keep the cords out of reach. No other way to say it. One more thing- if you have fans, window or otherwise, make sure that little fingers can’t insert into the grill and get stuck or worse, cut by the blades.

16,827: The estimated number of window blind–related injuries just in children under age 6 from 1990-2015 .

source: The American Academy of Pediatrics

Also related is ensuring that heavy furniture is bolted to the wall so it can’t topple over onto a child. Perhaps it seems like there are more of these types of injuries during the warm weather months because that’s when it’s easier for families to move, but whatever the reason,  every summer there’s always a toddler or two who somehow pulls over a gigantic clothes dresser and sustains a significant head injury. So if you have small children, please make sure your heavy furniture is secured to the walls so this trauma can be avoided.

Anchor your TVs! A falling TV can be 10x more forceful than being hit by a NFL lineman.

source: anchorit.gov

Let’s head outside now.

Summertime equals gardening and lawn work for a lot of people. That also often means that gardening tools, chemicals, and pesticides are left out in the open, with easy access for curious little ones who like to taste everything, or pick things up and then drop them. I’ve seen cuts from sharp edges of gardening spades, and I’ve had many conversations with the National Poison Center (1.800.222.1222) about a variety of different ingestions.  It’s worth it to spend those extra few minutes at the end of your yard work securing the leftover containers and storing them on high shelves.

each year, approximately 3 million people - many under age 5 - swallow or have contact with a poisonous substance

source: healthychildren.org

Lawnmower safety deserves attention to detail as well.

In the spirit of safety as well as the longevity of your expensive machines, make sure you know the answers to these questions:

  1. When was the last time your mower was serviced?
  2. Do you always wear closed toe shoes and eye protection when you mow?
  3. If you have a riding mower, are you careful not to let kids ride on it like a toy?
  4. Do you walk around your yard looking for large sticks and rocks prior to mowing, since these can act like a ballistic and cause injury?
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends children be at least 12 years old before operating a push mower, and 16 years old before using a riding lawn mower.

source: orthoinfo.aaos.org

Who knew that simply living in your home and carrying out routine upkeep could pose so many potential hazards. I’m definitely feeling like a jaded ER doctor by writing this. I promise I don’t live my life just looking for what could go wrong, and I don’t encourage you to do so either, but I think it’s worth it to learn from the experience of others, and I hope that sharing this triggers your own systematic review of home safety. In the end it could save some time and heartache.

Stay safe out there (at home), friends.

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