Accidents to children in the home
Who's at risk
Accidental injuries are the most common cause of death in children over one year of age.
Children under five are most at risk from an injury in the home, with boys more likely to be injured than girls.
Older children are more likely to experience fractures, such as a broken arm or wrist.
Many accidents and deaths that occur in the home are avoidable. By identifying and understanding the potential risks and taking some basic safety measures, it's possible to keep your children safe.
Read more about preventing accidents and injuries in the home.
When should I take my child to hospital?
Call for an ambulance if your child:
- stops breathing
- is struggling to breathe - for example, if the area under their ribcage is 'sucked in'
- is unconscious or seems unaware of what's going on
- won’t wake up
- has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover
Take your child to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if they:
- have a fever and they're lethargic (lacking in energy), despite having paracetamol or ibuprofen
- are having difficulty breathing (breathing fast, panting or they're very wheezy)
- have severe abdominal pain
- have a cut that won't stop bleeding or is gaping open
- have a leg or arm injury and they're unable to use the limb
- have swallowed poison or tablets
After an accident such as a fall from height, if you’re not sure whether you should move your child, make sure they’re warm and then request an ambulance.
What causes injuries in the home?
Most non-fatal accidents are caused by falls from height, with most deaths occurring as a result of fire.
A child can be injured anywhere in or around the home, but the most common place for accidents to occur is in the living or dining room. The most serious accidents occur in the kitchen and on the stairs.
There are potential hazards in every home, such as hot water, household chemicals, fireplaces and sharp objects. The design of some homes, such as those with balconies and open staircases, can also contribute to accidents.
Young children are unable to assess the risks that these things pose. Their perception of the environment around them is often limited and their lack of experience and development, such as poor co-ordination and balance, can result in them being injured.
When do accidents happen?
Accidents can occur at any time of the day, but they're more likely to occur in the late afternoon and early evening. Most children have accidents during the summer, at weekends and during school holidays.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to an injury in the home, including:
- distraction and poor supervision
- changes to the child's usual routine or being in a hurry
- poor housing and overcrowded conditions (childhood accidents are closely linked to social deprivation)
- being unfamiliar with surroundings, such as when on holiday or when visiting friends or relatives
Preventing accidents to children in the home
There are several ways to help prevent injuries to children in the home, including supervising your child, being aware of the risks, creating a safe environment and using safety equipment.
Your child’s development
The types of childhood injuries that occur in the home are often linked to a child's age and level of development. It can sometimes be difficult for parents to keep up with their child’s capabilities.
From an early age, babies are able to wriggle, grasp and roll over. Between 6-12 months old, they may be able to stand, sit, crawl and put things in their mouth.
As children get older, they're able to walk and move about, reach things that are higher up, climb and find hidden objects. With their new-found sense of freedom and movement, toddlers can move quickly and accidents can happen in a matter of seconds.
Below are some of the most common types of injuries that happen to babies and young children, and advice about how you can prevent them.
Falls are the most common type of accident in the home, accounting for 44% of all childhood injuries.
For babies, the biggest danger is rolling off the edge of a table, bed or sofa. Toddlers quickly learn how to climb and explore and it's very easy for them to fall off a piece of furniture, down stairs or out of a window or balcony.
It's likely that young children will fall over and get knocks and bruises while learning to walk, but serious injuries can be avoided. Below are some tips to prevent falls in the home.
- Make sure your baby cannot roll off the changing surface.
- Don't put a bouncing cradle or similar piece of equipment on a table or worktop - they can easily bounce off the edge.
- Fit restrictors to upstairs windows so they cannot be opened more than 10cm.
- Keep chairs and other climbing objects away from windows and balconies.
- Fit safety gates approved by safety standards at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Don't leave anything on the stairs that might cause someone to fall over, and ensure there is enough light on the stairs.
- Check there is no room for a child to crawl through any banisters at the top of the stairs. Board them up if there's a risk of your child falling through them or getting stuck.
- Keep balcony doors locked to prevent your child from going on to it alone - if it has railings your child could climb through, board them up or fit wire netting as a guard.
- Secure any furniture and kitchen appliances to the wallif there's a risk they could be pulled over.
Suffocating and choking
Babies and young children can easily swallow, inhale or choke on small items such as marbles, buttons, peanuts and small toys. The steps below can help prevent this happening.
- Keep small objects out of the reach of small children.
- Choose toys designed for the age of your baby or child - encourage older children to keep their toys away from your baby.
- Beware of clothing with cords, dummies on necklace cords and bag straps - they can easily get caught and pull tightly on the neck.
- Lay your baby on their back in a cot to sleep - don't let babies sleep in an adult bed or on the sofa and don't use pillows as they can suffocate.
- Keep plastic bags away from young children - they can pull these over their heads and suffocate.
- Nappy sacks, used to dispose of soiled nappies, can also pose a risk - keep them out of the reach of babies and young children.
- Curtain and blind pull cords should be kept short and out of reach of children.
- Keep animals, particularly cats, out of your bedrooms - if they jump into cots or beds they could suffocate your child. Attach a net over prams if necessary.
Domestic fires pose a significant risk to children. Children playing with matches and lighters frequently start house fires. The youngest children often hide from the danger and may not be found until it's too late.
The following points are important safety precautions to prevent a fire starting while you sleep and ensure you and your child don't breathe in poisonous smoke.
- Fit smoke alarms on every level of your home.
- Test smoke alarms regularly and change the batteries every year. Even better, get alarms that have 10-year batteries or are wired into the mains or plug into light sockets.
- At night, switch off electrical items before you go to bed and close all doors to contain a potential fire.
- Work out an escape plan for your family and tell your children what to do in case of a fire. Practise the plan regularly.
- Always use a fireguard on an open fireplace and make sure it's attached to the wall. Don't lean or hang anything from it.
- Keep matches and lighters out of reach of children.
- Extinguish and dispose of cigarettes carefully,particularly at night.
Burns and scalds
Hot drinks cause most burns and scalds to children under the age of five. A child’s skin is far more sensitive than an adult’s, and hot water can scald for up to 15 minutes after it has boiled. Hot bath water is the biggest cause of severe and fatal scalding injuries in young children.
Children can also get burns from open fires, cookers, irons, hair straighteners and tongs, cigarettes, matches, lighters and other hot surfaces.
The following advice can help prevent these accidents occurring.
- Switch off heated appliances immediately after use and, if possible, place them out of reach - this includes irons, hair straighteners and curling tongs. Keep the cord safely out of reach as well.
- Always place hot drinks out of children's reach. Keep them away from the edges of tables and surfaces, and don’t use tablecloths that children can pull at.
- Don't drink anything hot with a child on your lap or in your arms.
- Use a cordless kettle or one with a coiled lead that can be kept short.
- Use the back rings on the cooker whenever possible and turn saucepan handles away from the edge.
- If possible, keep young children out of the kitchen.
- Before bathing your baby or child, check the water is not too hot - a good test is to put your elbow in first. When filling the bath, run the cold water first before adding hot water. As your child gets older, teach them to test the water first too.
Most poisoning injuries involve medicines, household products and cosmetics.
The points below will help prevent your child being poisoned.
- Keep anything that may be poisonous out of reach, preferably in a locked cupboard - this includes all medicines and pills, household cleaners and garden products.
- Use containers with child-resistant tops - be aware that by three years of age, many children are able to open child-resistant tops, although it may take them a little longer.
- Keep all dangerous chemicals in their original containers - for example, don't store weedkiller in an old drinks bottle because a young child may mistake it for something safe to drink.
- Dispose of unwanted medicines and chemicals carefully.
- Discourage your children from eating any plants or fungi when outside - some are poisonous and can be fatal. Avoid buying plants with poisonous leaves or berries.
Glass can cause serious cuts. Many children end up in hospital every year because of injuries caused by glass around the home. Many are also injured when glasses and bottles break.
- Use safety glass at a low level, such as in doors and windows. Safety glass is glass that's toughened and laminated and passes specially designed impact tests. Normal glass shatters more easily.
- Make existing glass safe by applying a shatter-resistant film.
- When buying furniture that incorporates glass, make sure it's safety approved.
- Always dispose of broken glass quickly and safely - wrap it in newspaper before throwing it in the bin.
- If you own a greenhouse or cold frame (a structure to protect plants from the winter cold), make sure it has safety glazing or is fenced off from children.
- Don't let a toddler hold anything made of glass or anything sharp - such as scissors and sharp pencils.
Children can drown in a few centimetres of water. They should be supervised at all times when near water. Make sure you:
- Never leave a baby or child in the bath unsupervised, not even for a minute - this includes in a bath seat.
- Don't leave uncovered containers of liquid around the house.
- Empty paddling pools and store them away when not in use.
Almost all incidents where a child drowns in a garden pond occur after a breakdown in supervision. Follow the advice below to keep your children safe.
- Preferably, fill in garden ponds when your child is young and before they're mobile. If this isn't possible, cover ponds with a rigid grille or fence them off securely.
- Be careful when your children visit other gardens that have ponds or lakes nearby.
- If you decide to keep a garden pond make sure children are supervised closely and constantly while they're in the garden.