Child-proof your home

More people are injured at home than anywhere else in New Zealand. Children factor highly in our home injury statistics. You can help reduce these numbers by making each area of your home safer for your children.

Did you know?

  • A quarter of child pedestrians who end up in hospital are run over in their own driveway
  • 40% of New Zealand households have dangerously hot water. About two classrooms of children end up in hospital each year with burns from hot tap water
  • Each year 700 children cut themselves badly enough at home to be admitted to hospital
  • Doors account for 65% of children’s hand injuries
  • For under-fives, 40% of drownings happen at home. Baths are the most common cause of drowning in infants under 12 months old.

Making bathrooms and laundries safe

Medicines

Take unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. Keep all medicines, pills, ointments and aromatherapy oils out of reach and out of sight of children. Don’t give medicine intended for adults to children.

Detergents and chemicals

Keep all poisons and chemicals, such as laundry detergents, bleaches and cleaners, in their original containers. Never keep chemicals in old drink containers – they may look tempting to children.

Store these items out of sight and reach of children, preferably in a locked container or cabinet.

Baths

Supervise young children in the bath at all times - children can drown quickly and silently.

Phone calls can be a distraction and take your attention away from your children. While a cordless phone is a great asset (you can take it into the bathroom and keep an eye on your child without missing calls), it is not recommended that you talk on the phone while supervising children unless it is absolutely necessary.

Taps

Prevent hot water scalds by running the cold water first when filling a bath.

A safe temperature for hot water is 55 degrees Celsius at the tap, but it needs to be at least 60 degrees in your cylinder. A tempering valve on your hot water system adjusts the temperature so that while the water in your tank is hot enough so harmful bacteria can’t grow, it’s cool enough not to scald you or your children when it comes out the tap.

Install child-resistant tap attachments. These can be easily fitted to most standard taps and prevent toddlers from being able to turn them on. Tap attachments can be purchased from hardware stores or plumbing retailers.

Childproof latches

Install childproof latches on low cupboards. Several types are available, many of which can be bought cheaply from supermarkets or hardware stores. A latch that requires two actions, eg a push and a twist gives the best protection, especially for children under three years old.

Make sure adults can use them without too much difficulty or they may stop using them. It can be a good idea to vary the style of childproof device to lower the chance of your child mastering it.

Buckets

Put buckets or other containers of water out of reach in a laundry tub or similarly high place. Ensure containers have well-fitting lids. Babies and small children can drown in a very small amount of water.

Safe kitchen and living areas

Sharp objects

Put pins, scissors and other sewing equipment away after use to prevent cuts or piercing.

A plastic toolbox is a good secure place to store these items during a short-term project. Do these jobs when you can give them your full attention, such as while children are asleep or being supervised by another adult.

Utensils

Keep knives, scissors and sharp utensils stored high and away from children to prevent cuts.

A knife block or magnetic strip is a safer way to store knives than in a drawer, and is also better for the knives.

Childproof latches

See Making bathrooms and laundries safe.

Electrical cords and sockets

Teach children about the dangers of electricity.

Keep all electrical cords out of the reach of small children and put safety plugs in all electrical sockets to prevent burns and electrocution.

Keep metal objects, such as keys and scissors, out of reach so they can't be poked into sockets, heaters or other electrical outlets.

Keep multi-boxes out of sight and reach of children.

For more information, see:

Placemats

Use placemats on the table instead of tablecloths so children are less likely to pull hot food or drinks down on top of themselves.

Hot liquids

Put hot liquids in the centre of the table out of the reach of children.

Guard rails

Secure a guard rail around the heater or fire. Guard rails should be stable and unable to be climbed by children. See Superior Safety Guards (external link) for examples.

Follow the 'heater metre rule' and keep heaters at least one metre away from bedding, clothes, curtains, rugs and furniture.

Always keep young children away from heaters and fires and never leave them unsupervised in a room where a heater or fire is on.

Toys

Toys appear to have a way of multiplying in any house that has children, so keeping the place tidy can certainly be a challenge!

By spending a few minutes each day tidying up, you could prevent one of your family taking a nasty tumble and injuring themselves, just like the nearly 1500 New Zealanders who are injured by toys each year.

While no house with children can be perfectly tidy all of the time, slips, trips and falls because of toys that are left lying around are a very common cause of injury, so it certainly pays to make sure your floor is kept as tidy as possible throughout the day.

Tips:

  • having a dedicated toy box, bin or carton where toys are stored is a good way to start keeping things tidy. Encourage your kids to help; the earlier you get them picking up after themselves the better
  • make it fun. Time your children to see how fast they can put their toys away, or how many they can pick up in a minute. Test their number and colour skills as you go, and play a game where you pick up five things, then they pick up five.

Of course, not all toy accidents are about tripping over discarded play things. Choking, cutting and even poisoning are all dangers some toys can present.

Tips:

  • before you give a toy to your child, check it over and make sure it is appropriate for their age. Are there any small parts that could fall off and become a choking hazard? Are there any sharp edges you need to be aware of? Is the paint chipping off? If you’ve answered yes to any of these things perhaps the only bin the toy should go in is the rubbish bin
  • regularly check your child’s toys for signs of wear and tear. What was once a perfectly safe toy may have become unsafe through even a few weeks (or hours) of rough and tumble
  • check that toys don't have small, removable parts that a child could swallow or choke on. These include buttons or plastic eyes on soft toys
  • clear away other small objects that children could choke on. Anything small enough to fit into a match box is a hazard. Remember, the smaller the child the bigger the toy should be.

For more information on choosing toys for small children and product safety, see:

Beanbags

Make sure that children can't unzip bean bags and play with the polystyrene balls, as these can be particularly hazardous.

Plastic bags

Keep empty plastic bags away from children – they can cause suffocation.

Child-safe bedrooms

Changing a baby

Stay with a baby at all times when they are on a bed or change table.

Change your baby on the floor rather than on a high surface.

If you have to put your child on a high surface such as a bed or change table, keep one hand on them the whole time. Put everything you will need for the baby change (cloths, cream, fresh clothes) on the table before the baby.

Information on buying a change table is available on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website (external link).

Electric blankets

Don't use electric blankets for young children – bedwetting can cause electrocution.

Use a hot water bottle filled with hot (not boiling) water instead of an electric blanket. A pillowslip or cover will guard against burns.

Never use a hot water bottle in combination with an electric blanket.

Hot water bottles sold in New Zealand must bear the safety standard mark BS1970:2001.

Guardrails on bunks

Ensure that there are adequate guardrails and ladders on bunk beds.

Guardrails should be on each side of the bed, including the wall side.

We recommend that a child under the age of six does not use a bunk bed.

Fire-resistant clothing

Choose fire-resistant nightwear and clothing for children.

There are special rules for manufacturing children’s nightwear and the labels on them can help you make safer choices for your children.

For more information, see:

Floors

Keep floor areas clear of toys and clutter to prevent falls.

Heaters

Keep all bedroom furniture away from heaters and power points.

Observe the 'one metre heater' rule – the heater must be at least one metre away from all furniture and curtains.

Bedroom furniture should not be pushed up hard against power points.

Bed size

Make sure your child's bed is appropriate for their age.

Bassinets are suitable only for very young babies with limited movement.

Cots need to be deep enough so that a young child cannot climb out.

More information on what to look for when you are buying a bassinet or cot is on the Ministry of Consumer Affairs website (external link).

Pillows

Do not use pillows and toys in bed as they may suffocate your baby.

Place babies on their backs to sleep. Babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to get their faces accidentally covered by sheets and bedding.

Pillows are not recommended for children under two years old.

More information is available from:

Sheeting

Avoid using plastic sheeting, pillow covers or mattress covers in a cot.

To prevent suffocation you should use a material that is breathable, eg cotton or wool.

For more information about organisations that provide services, advice and publications about child safety, see Child safety organisations.

Last updated: 17 June 2014

Last reviewed: 10 June 2014