Household Safety: Preventing Burns, Shocks, and Fires
From overly hot faucets to tipped-over coffee cups, burns are a potential hazard in every home. In fact, burns (especially scalds from hot water and liquids) are some of the most common childhood accidents. Babies and young children are especially susceptible — they’re curious, small, and have sensitive skin that needs extra protection.
Here are some important ways to protect kids from burns — as well as electrical shocks and household fires — in your home.
- Make a fire escape plan with two ways out of the house, plus a designated meeting place once out of the house. Practice the fire escape plan regularly.
- Keep an emergency ladder on upper floors of your home in the event of a fire. Keep the ladder in or near the room of an adult or older child capable of using it.
- Make sure you have a smoke alarm on every level of your home and in each bedroom. Test smoke alarms monthly and remember to change the batteries twice a year.
- Replace smoke alarms that are 10 years or older.
- Install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it.
- Put child-safety covers on all electrical outlets.
- Get rid of equipment and appliances with old or frayed cords and extension cords that look damaged.
- Bind excess cord from lamps or other electrical equipment with a twist-tie to prevent injury from chewing on cords. You also can purchase a holder or spool specially designed to hide extra cord.
- Position television and stereo equipment against walls so small hands don’t have access to the back surfaces or cords.
- Make sure all wires to seasonal lighting, such as holiday tree lights, are properly insulated (for example, make sure they don’t have exposed or broken wiring). Bind any excess cord and unplug lights when they’re not in use.
- Check electronic toys frequently for signs of wear and tear; any object that sparks, feels hot, or smells unusual must be repaired or discarded immediately.
- Choose sleepwear that’s labeled flame-retardant (either polyester or treated cotton). Cotton sweatshirts or pants that aren’t labeled as sleepwear generally aren’t flame-retardant.
- Make sure older kids are especially careful when using irons or curling irons.
- Make sure any nightlights aren’t touching fabric like bedspreads or curtains.
- Keep electric space heaters at least 3 feet (91 centimeters) from beds, curtains, or anything flammable.
- If you use a humidifier or vaporizer, use a cool-mist model rather than a hot-steam one.
- Screen fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Radiators and electric baseboard heaters may need to be screened as well.
- Teach kids never to put anything into the fireplace when it is lit. Also make sure they know the glass doors to the fireplace can be very hot and cause a burn.
- Make sure to have all chimneys cleaned regularly.
- Clean the clothes dryer vent of lint after each use.
- Don’t use fireworks or sparklers.
- Keep matches, lighters, chemicals, and lit candles out of kids’ reach.
- Don’t smoke inside, especially when you’re tired, taking medication that can cause you to be drowsy, or in bed.
- Don’t run electrical wires under rugs or carpet.
- Don’t overload electrical sockets.
- Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to 120ºF (49ºC), or use the “low-medium setting” — a child can be scalded in 5 seconds in water at 140ºF (60ºC). If you’re unable to control the water temperature (if you live in an apartment, for example), install an anti-scald device, which is relatively inexpensive and easily installed by you or a plumber.
- Always test bath water with your elbow before putting your child in it.
- Always turn the cold water on first and turn it off last when running water in the bathtub or sink.
- In the tub, turn kids away from the faucet or fixtures so they’re less likely to play with them or accidentally turn on the hot water.
- Unplug all bathroom appliances (hair dryers, curling irons, electric razors) when not in use.
- Teach children that curling irons or irons can be hot after use, even if unplugged.
- Ideally, you should install grounded circuit breakers in the bathroom.
- Have a 3-foot “no play” zone around the stove where children are instructed they are not allowed to be.
- Don’t let a child use a walker in the kitchen (the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages the use of walkers overall).
- Don’t drink hot beverages or soup with a child sitting on your lap, or carry hot liquids or dishes around kids. If you have to walk with hot liquid in the kitchen (like a pot of soup or cup of coffee), make sure you know where kids are so you don’t trip over them.
- Don’t hold a baby or small child while cooking.
- Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove every time you cook.
- Block access to the stove as much as possible. (It’s a good idea to install a stove lock and stove knob locks.)
- Don’t warm baby bottles in a microwave. The liquid may heat unevenly, resulting in pockets of hot breast milk or formula that can scald a baby’s mouth.
- Keep hot drinks and foods out of reach of children.
- Avoid using tablecloths or large placemats. A small child can pull on them and overturn a hot drink or plate of food.
- Unplug all kitchen appliances when not in use and keep cords far from reach.
- Make sure to use cabinet locks on cabinets containing cleaning products. Many can cause burns. Always store cleaning products in their original containers, never in milk or plastic jugs.
Outside/In the Car
- Use playground equipment with caution. If it’s very hot outside, use the equipment only in the morning, after it’s had a chance to cool down during the night.
- Remove your child’s safety seat or stroller from the hot sun when not in use because kids can get burns from hot vinyl and metal. If you must leave your car seat or stroller in the sun, cover it with a blanket or towel.
- Before leaving your parked car on a hot day, hide the seatbelts’ metal latch plates in the seats to prevent the sun from hitting them directly.
- Don’t forget the sunscreen when going outside. Use a product with an SPF of 15 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours or more often if in water. Do not use sunscreen on infants under 6 months — kids this age should be kept out of the sun.
Whether you’re expecting a baby or you already have kids, it’s wise to:
- Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the Heimlich maneuver.
- Keep the following near the phone (for yourself and caregivers):
- toll-free poison-control number: (800) 222-1222
- child’s doctor’s number
- parents’ work and cell phone numbers
- neighbor’s or nearby relative’s number (if you need someone to watch other children in an emergency)
- Make a first-aid kit and keep emergency instructions inside.
- Teach your kids how and when to call 911 or other emergency numbers for help.
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Maintaining a Safe, Kid-Friendly Environment
To check your childproofing efforts, get down on your hands and knees in every room of your home to see things from a child’s perspective. Be aware of your child’s surroundings and what might be potentially dangerous.
Completely childproofing your home can be difficult. If you can’t childproof the entire house, you can shut the doors (and install doorknob covers) to any room kids shouldn’t enter to prevent wandering into places that haven’t been properly childproofed. For sliding doors, doorknob covers and childproof locks are also great for keeping little ones from leaving your home.
Of course, how much or how little you childproof your home is up to you. Supervision is the very best way to help prevent kids from getting injured. However, even the most vigilant parent can’t keep a child 100% safe at all times.
Whether you have a baby, toddler, or school-age child, your home should be a haven where your little one can explore safely. After all, touching, holding, climbing, and exploring are the activities that develop your child’s body and mind.
Reviewed by: Mary Mondozzi, MSN, PNP-BC
Date reviewed: January 2012