Safe as Houses

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It would seem that no matter how relaxed and laid back you are before you have kids, the moment the first child is on the scene each and every parent loses the relaxed gene and turns into a worryguts, fretting night and day about potential hazards their offspring might come across. With some of those potential hazards located inside the home, it’s worthwhile taking time to ensure you’re aware of what they are and that you’ve taken measures to prevent your child getting hurt.

Some potential home hazards simply require minor adjustments, but others may need a bit more planning. Especially given that many of us rent our home and are somewhat limited with the changes we can make. But it is possible and, when it comes to safety, worth it. 

Windows

The hazard

Living on the 42nd floor of a gargantuan building can bring with it glorious views without the worry of nosey neighbours spying on you as you tiptoe to the kitchen in your underwear, BUT it does bring with it a potential deadly hazard. Just the thought of a youngster opening a window at such a height or getting out onto a balcony unsupervised is enough to send shivers down your spine … it’s just not something to leave to (bad) luck. In addition, incidents of windows falling from buildings have highlighted another terrifying danger.

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What’s the solution?

You can try your luck and ask your landlord to fit a window lock for you; the odd tenant might be granted this request. For many people, however, you will have to get permission from your landlord to fit the lock as well as pay the bill yourself. Many of the fittings on the market will do permanent damage to the window frame. Bubba Safety sells UK made key-locking window restrictors that can be fitted between the frames, meaning no unsightly attachments are fixed to the main window, which may keep your landlord happy. It may not be a great look, but you can also have bars fitted to all the windows. The plus side is it allows you to open the windows to let in some fresh air without any safety issues, as long as the bars are of a good quality and correctly spaced. If possible it’s best to discuss your concerns and the above options with the landlord before you sign the tenancy agreement.

When it comes to the actual window, make sure you check the condition of your windows regularly, specifically the bar hinges, screws and rivets for rusting. The government offers guidelines on window maintenance, which is useful to both tenant and landlord.
Visit www.bd.gov.hk.

Also check out our previous article on window safety on www.playtimes.com.hk/tag/window-safety-locks-hong-kong/

Fire 

The hazard

Fire may be one of those things that you think only happens to other people but if you do happen to have an unlucky accident lighting a birthday candle or leaving something flammable next to the gas hob, it’s bad; really bad. So it’s best to be prepared so you can act quickly and minimise the impact.

Solve the problem 

For families who live up many flights of stairs, escaping a fire (when you are instructed not to use the elevator) is somewhat challenging, so it’s best all around if you can put it out instead. Basically your fire prevention kit should include a fire blanket to throw on small fires and a fire extinguisher to spray on large fires. You should install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, to alert you to fires you haven’t seen. If you live in a first- or second-floor property, you may want to consider purchasing a portable fire escape ladder, which can be hung from a window or balcony in the event of a fire. Even if you have your home kitted out with all of these items, it’s worth talking to your children (if they are old enough to understand) and your helper about what they should and should not do in such an emergency. 

Avoid electrocution

The hazard

Electrical sockets are pure temptation for inquisitive fingers looking for cracks and crevasses to explore, while teething youngsters long for soft and accessible things to chew on, and electrical wires are very alluring. 

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What’s on the market?

Electrical socket covers are a must for any sockets not in use – buy lots of these cheap life-savers and make sure no sockets are unprotected in your home. Most baby shops will stock them. Wires should be kept safely behind furniture or wrapped up and kept in a wire holder. It’s also worth having the electrical wiring in your apartment checked by an expert. 

Cupboards, drawers, fridges, freezers …

The hazard

So, little ones are curious – if they’re not putting things in their mouths to see what they taste like, they’re ripping them apart or banging them on the floor to see what noise they can make. When your baby gets to this stage, you may be keen to keep their little hands out of adult cupboards and drawers. 

What’s on the market?

Fridge latches would have saved the eight eggs I found smashed on the kitchen floor by my fun-loving two- and three-year old boys, (but then I wouldn’t have the awesome picture of the two of them getting caught in the act, thick as thieves, guilty as sin and a floor covered in a gooey mess and shattered shells!). You can also buy multipurpose latches which are particularly useful for securing cupboards, drawers, fridges or freezers. Alternatively, drawer locks can keep little hands out of drawers not intended for little people.

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Cabinets

The hazard

Children like to climb, and some furniture can seem like the perfect climbing frame to young ones. Larger items of furniture such as cabinets, wardrobes or wall units can be pulled over, be it through toddlers pulling themselves up against them or even just from pulling out a drawer.

Solve the problem

All cabinets, wardrobes, toy storage units etc. should be fixed to the wall by yourself or by a handyman, or by the store you purchased the item from, which is the case with Ikea. “At Ikea, we are committed to creating a safer life at home and the best way to deal with hazards is to make sure you take appropriate precautions. We believe that chests of drawers are safe to use when anchored to the wall. Ikea has for many years provided tip-over restraint kits with all chests of drawers over a certain height, and wall attachment is an integral part of the assembly instructions. To reinforce this Ikea also launched a global awareness campaign called Secure It!”. 

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Blind cords/curtain ties

The hazard

Between 1999 and 2014 there were 27 fatalities involving babies and young children becoming entangled with window blind cords and chains in the UK. This resulted in the introduction of regulations across the European Union requiring all existing blinds to be made safe using a retrofit safety device, and all cords and chains to be fitted with a safety device at the point of manufacture. The regulations also ban the use of cords and chains that could create a hazardous loop in premises where children up to 42 months are likely to be present. Sadly no such regulations are in place in Hong Kong, but that is no reason to overlook the danger these cords pose and invest in safer options.

Solve the problem

Install blinds that do not have a cord, especially in a child’s bedroom. Do not place a child’s cot, bed, playpen or highchair near blinds or curtains. The pull cords on curtains and blinds should be kept short and out of a child’s reach (cutting is not recommended, however). Tie up the cords or use cleats, cord tidies, clips or ties to secure them.

Sharp corners

The hazard

Once your baby is rolling, crawling or tottering around your home, any innocent piece of furniture with sharp corners can cause damage. In order to avoid bumps, bruises or tears, it’s worth thinking about alternatives to literally bubble-wrapping the contents of
your home.

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What’s on the market?

Thankfully there are plenty of items you can buy to protect your child from sharp corners. Corner guards, corner cushions, corner protectors, table-edge protectors; they all basically do the same thing. You attach them to the offending furniture to provide a soft barrier between sharp edges and corners, and your baby’s soft head and eyes. They may not always be pretty but they will give you peace of mind as your mini-explorer rolls around the floor, under chairs and in-between cabinets and tables. 

On the move

The hazard

When babies first come home from the hospital, they spend most of their time nestled up in a cocoon of blankets, snoozing the day away (if not the night!) What harm can come of them, you may well ask? But these little bundles soon become more alert, start to roll around, pull themselves up and are on the move, and then it’s a whole different story. Babies and toddlers are small and adventurous. They can get just about anywhere.

The solution

As much as we like to encourage our babies and children to reach the next developmental stage, once they are crawling it is very hard to turn your back on them for even a minute. So, depending what your home set-up is like, you may want to consider fitting gates in front of stairs or setting up a play pen so that you can run to the bathroom, safe in the knowledge that your baby can play for a minute without getting into any trouble. Alternatively, you can set up a door-knob lock to keep your baby out of a room that is particularly unfriendly for babies.

Medicines

The hazard

Medicines and cleaning products present a health hazard to little ones if swallowed or in some cases if they come in contact with skin or eyes. Many of them, though toxic, come in alluring shiny packets and to young children with a sweet tooth may resemble sweets. Keeping pills and potions out of the reach of our little ones’ hands should be a no-brainer but unfortunately in the busy and sometimes exhausting days of parenthood these very obvious dangers can be overlooked.

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Solving the problem

Keep potential harmful medicines and pills off-limits in a lockable first aid box or cabinet. Cleaning products (including laundry and dishwasher pods) and medication should also always be stored out of sight and out of reach in securely locked cabinets.

The whole point of considering all of these possible dangers is not to worry you senseless, but rather the opposite; to remove some worry. By being aware of some of the common potential problems, you can deal with them, relax, and enjoy your children, safe in the knowledge that you have done your best to remove as many hazards as you can.

Freya Paleit

Freya Paleit