Did you know that unintentional falls are the number one cause of non-fatal injury among children? Every year, 2.8 million children are treated in emergency department for fall-related injuries.
The risk is not the same for all children. Approximately 80 percent of fall-related injuries for children age four or younger occur in the home. For children age five to fourteen, only about half of fall-related injuries occur in the home.
What can you do to help prevent fall related injuries?
For children age four and younger, making environmental changes to your home, or “baby-proofing,” is a great way to prevent falls.
- Use window guards or stops to prevent children from falling through window openings. The maximum opening for a window should be less than four inches. Studies have found most children under six years of age can fit through a six inch opening.
- Use approved safety gates at the tops and bottoms of stairs and attach them to the wall, if possible. Falls from stairs most commonly occur with children between the ages of six and eleven months. It is important to actively supervise toddlers when they are on the stairs. If you can, hold their hands when walking up and down the stairs. When using safety gates, remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels to make sure you have the right gate for your needs. Not all gates are safe for use at the top of stairs.
- Try limiting potential trip hazards around your house. Throw rugs can be secured to flooring with double-sided tape, foam backing, or a rubber pad. Keep stairways clean of objects, even if it’s something you are going to take up stairs on your next trip. Teach your child to help pick up toys after playtime to keep floor spaces cleared.
- Never leave an infant unattended on furniture. Infants, especially when they begin rolling over, can easily fall from changing tables, beds, and high chairs. While the heights may not seem high to an adult, for an infant, it is like being several stories up! Additionally, if baby is in a carrier or bassinet, place it on the floor and not on top of a table.
For older children and teenagers, have a conversation around the proper way to use play ground or sports equipment.
- Encourage them to wear proper protective equipment for their activity of choice. Helmets can protect their heads in case of falls from bikes, scooters, ATV, snowmobiles, snowboards, skis, and rollerblades. Plus, most sports come with their own list of required or recommended protective equipment.
- Avoid trampolines unless under the guidance of a trained professional.Even with constant adult supervision and protective features, falls-related injuries are a real and present danger. The risk of injury increases if multiple children are jumping at the same time, ad usually it is the youngest and smallest child that is hurt.
- Bunk beds should have guard rails at least five inches above the mattress with gaps 3.5 inches or smaller.
These railing guidelines not only help prevent falls from the top bunk, but can limit the risk for accidental strangulation. Additionally, adding a night light near the ladder and keeping the floor around the base of the bed clear of objects can keep older children and teens even safer.
Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and Children’s Hospital.