The lists of possible hazards to children inside and outside the home can seem endless. But by taking sensible precautions and knowing what to do in an emergency, the chances of injury or death are significantly reduced. We round up common risks.
Children are keen to explore the world around them, but this can lead to serious injuries if precautions aren’t taken. Dr Maurice El Khoury, specialist paediatrician at Healthpoint hospital in Abu Dhabi, says falls are the number-one cause of injuries in the home. "Children can fall from stairs and from or against furniture, including beds, sofas, chairs, coffee tables, and on slippery surfaces. Objects can also fall from a height, such as a bookshelf or table," says El Khoury.
Up-to-date figures from the UAE are lacking, but a 2008 study by UAE University reported that 10 children die from falls every year – the majority of whom are between the age of 1 and 4 – but added that "officially reported numbers probably underestimate the true situation".
According to the report, falls were also the most common cause of hospital emergency-department visits for injuries, with most occurring in the home.
The UAE has a shocking record of children dying after falling from tall buildings. In August, Dubai Police said 14 children have been killed in falls from balconies and high places since 2012. The average age was between 2 and 4.
This is the biggest concern among people who sign up for first-aid courses, according to Annie Browne, chief executive of Health & Safety Solutions, which runs courses across the UAE.
"Choking is a major worry, particularly for maids and nannies," she says. "This is something they come across often and are terrified of doing the wrong thing."
Foods such as grapes and whole nuts are particularly risky as they are just the right size to get lodged in a child’s throat. Raw vegetables, popcorn, sweets, coins, marbles, popped or deflated balloons, pen lids, Lego pieces and small batteries are also hazardous.
"Children will always put things in their mouths, ears and noses as they are curious," says Cecile de Scally, founder of Baby Senses education centre in Dubai. "And parents should be careful with giving their children foods that they cannot swallow if they are not yet chewing."
Local statistics are lacking, but in the United States, one child dies every five days from choking on food.
Browne says she often hears of incidents from her first-aid course graduates.
"The youngest baby saved was five months old when an older sibling gave the baby a piece of raw carrot. The baby put it into its mouth and choked," says Browne. "The 22-year-old maid immediately turned the infant face down over her knee and did five back slaps, then turned her over and did three chest thrusts and the carrot was dislodged."
Road and vehicle safety
Traffic-related injuries are the main cause of death during childhood and youth in the UAE, according to a 2013 study by UAE University.
Not wearing a seat belt is a significant factor. "In a crash at 50kph, an unrestrained child would be thrown forward with a force comparable to falling from a three-storey building," according to Thomas Edelmann of Road Safety UAE.
UAE law bans children under 10 from sitting in the front seat, but there is no car seat legislation.
"In the UAE, many kids roam free inside a moving vehicle and some parents believe that sitting quietly will suffice for travelling," says El Khoury.
Besides seat belts, common sense comes into play when trying to avoid injuries. Last year, two toddlers died after being hit by reversing cars in Ras Al Khaimah and Sharjah.
Another car-related risk is leaving children inside stationary, unattended vehicles. "A greenhouse effect takes place within the confines of the windows in locked cars, which store heat and raise the temperature inside the car very quickly," explains El Khoury. "Sadly we have seen this happen, in particular, in our region. The majority of these tragedies involve infants and children below the age of 2 who have fallen asleep in their rear-facing car seats."
Burns and electrocution
It’s not just pans of boiling water or cups of tea that caregivers should watch for. Hair straighteners and hair dryers also reach very high temperatures so it’s important to make sure they are switched off and out of reach when not in use.
The sun is also a burn hazard. In the summer, the UV index in the UAE reaches 11+, meaning there is an "extreme" risk of harm. Children should wear a high-factor sunscreen and avoid being outside between 10am and 4pm. Severe sunburn can cause blisters, pain and swelling.
Certain chemicals, such as bleach or cleaning products, can also burn the skin or do serious internal damage if ingested and should, therefore, always be locked away from children.
When cooking, all pan handles should be pointed towards the wall and not over the edge of the counter where a child could reach up and grab them. Use the back hobs whenever possible.
Damaged or unprotected wall plugs, too, can be dangerous, as can exposed wires.
El Khoury says although drownings are relatively uncommon, water is one of the main accident catalysts. A child can drown in just a few inches of water, and hence should always be supervised in the bath, swimming pool or paddling pool. It’s not just large containers that pose a risk; an 18-month-old Emirati baby died in October 2014 after falling into a bucket of water in her parents’ bathroom.
De Scally advises parents to keep the lids down on toilet seats, fence swimming pools and fit and maintain swimming pool covers properly.
5 hazards in the home
Medicines and cleaning products: Keep all medicines locked and off the ground, ideally in a medicine cabinet, and do not take medication in front of children. Cleaning products should be in locked cupboards as the bright colours can be appealing to children.
Blind cords, windows and balcony doors: Never leave long blind cords hanging, they can easily strangle a child. Never leave any windows or balcony doors open, and do not put any furniture in front of them.
Cars: Never buy a used child’s car seat without knowing its history: has it been in an accident or recalled? The safest place for a seat is in the back and rear-facing. Front-facing seats are only recommended for children over the age of 2.
Stairs: Stair gates should be installed on all stairs, even short flights. They are also useful in keeping young children in or out of rooms or areas that don’t have solid doors.
General: Go through your home from a child’s eye level to spot otherwise unseen hazards.
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