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January 24, 2013

Simple steps can keep youngsters safe at home

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

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Special locks for exterior doors can keep youngsters from venturing outside without adult supervision.

To make a place once exclusively occupied by adults suitable for tiny tots with super-sized curiosity, the best tactic is getting down to their level — literally.

That may mean taking it as far as crawling around on the floor to see what’s within a child’s sight and reach, and how it might become a hazard, said registered nurse Donna Bucciarelli, trauma prevention coordinator for Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.

“It’s mostly curiosity: ‘What can I see? What can I get into?’” said Bucciarelli, who’s also education program manager for Safety City U.S.A., a storefront operation that teaches kids about fire prevention, bullying, stranger-danger and other safety issues. “It’s certainly not a bad intention. They’re learning. And they learn by experiencing.”

Dr. Kunjesh Shah, of Utica Shelby Urgent Care in Utica, agreed that it’s a matter of contemplating the world from a child’s point of view, considering “what they can reach at — things that you might even ignore, that you might not think is important.”

One example is arranging heavier items closer to the ground on shelving units, which may make the difference between a piece of furniture staying upright or toppling when kids make a grab for something intriguing on the shelves, said Shah and Dr. Raymond Buzenski.

Buzenski — a Henry Ford Macomb Hospital-affiliated pediatrician with a private practice in Clinton Township, Clinton Preferred Pediatrics — said parents also often overlook the potential for items placed in cribs, like stuffed animals, to serve as boosting agents, allowing toddlers to crawl out or fall over the side.

Many household conveniences that seem mundane to adults could trigger kids’ inquisition — and injury. Open toilets are a prime example, and Bucciarelli and Buzenski recommended special locks that keep the seats closed.

Children’s heads are disproportionately heavy for their small statures, making it possible that they’ll topple into the bowl when peering inside, creating a drowning risk, explained Bucciarelli.

“It only takes an inch (of water), and if that inch is around your nose, you can’t get air,” she said.

Besides the safety hazard, parents also could “end up with a substantial plumbing bill because (kids) try to flush everything down the toilet,” quipped Buzenski.

Elsewhere on the bathroom front, Buzenski advised bringing hot-water-heater temperatures down to 120 degrees, as the typical 140-degree level can cause a second-degree burn on a child in two seconds. 

Grandparents watching grandchildren shouldn’t automatically haul out the old gear they relied upon when their children were young, as safety standards have intensified substantially over the years.

A prime example is in cribs, where drop rails are no longer considered safe, and the acceptable distance between slats has narrowed considerably, said Buzenski.

Walkers, routinely used decades ago, are “inherently dangerous,” he added, and old toys may contain lead-based paint. Also, Shah noted that child gates meant to bar access to parts of the home have significantly evolved in design for safety reasons, since their introduction to the market.

Buzenski noted that, depending on the product, the manufacturer can occasionally provide directions on how to alter it to make it safe for today’s standards.

Make sure carpet is tacked down firmly to prevent tripping, and reconsider throw rugs for the same reason, said Buzenski. He also recommended cushioning sharp edges of furniture with rubber or foam strips and considering eliminating glass-topped furniture altogether.

Due to potential strangulation risks, cords attached to window treatments should be tacked up high and kept away from cribs and bedding; if looped, they should be cut, he said.

Keep cleaning products and medications stashed up high, out of little hands’ reach, and use cabinet locks to bar access to the lower storage areas, said Buzenski.

Don’t let kids play with empty pill bottles or the like, as it may encourage them to engage with those items in other circumstances, as well, he added.

“Start at a very early age, telling kids what things are restricted,” he said. “It’s never too early to start educating.”

Even items like makeup should be locked up — “anything they could reach and either start eating or consuming or inhaling,” said Shah.

Bucciarelli and Buzenski both stressed the importance of firearms safety. If guns are present in the home, be sure to keep them locked away and equipped with trigger locks, they said.

And preventative devices are only as good as the people using them. Bucciarelli, Shah and Buzenski encouraged outlet covers that bar children’s access to electrical sockets. But if they’re temporarily removed for socket usage, parents must be careful not to leave the inserts lying around, as they can pose a choking hazard, said Bucciarelli.

Regardless of how diligent adults are at fostering a child-safe environment, Bucciarelli said there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned attentiveness.

“You can’t 100 percent childproof a house,” she said. “Supervision really is the key.”

For more information on childproofing, visit www.healthy children.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.