tampabay.com

Childproofing keeps kids safe

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published June 22, 2007


A few years ago, Debra Smiley Holtzman took her two children to the bookstore looking for information on childproofing her home.

What she found was rudimentary and almost nonexistent, Holtzman recalls. Eventually, she went on to write a book on the topic, The Safe Baby: A Do-It-Yourself Guide to Home Safety.

Years ago, childproofing meant little more than keeping cough syrup out of a curious toddler's reach, installing wooden gates in front of the stairs and plugging the electrical outlets with little plastic covers.

Times have changed, so has the typical home.

Today's houses are more adult friendly than ever: Plenty of HGTV-inspired parents opted for unpolished marble floors, sharp-edged modern furniture and bathtubs big enough for baby's first swimming lesson.

These things are easy enough to remedy and the advice is pretty straightforward.

Childproofing tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission include safety latches and locks for cabinets and drawers, safety gates, doorknob covers and locks, antiscald devices, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, window guards and safety netting, corner and edge bumpers, as well as outlet covers and outlet plates.

But Holtzman, a lawyer and occupational safety expert who lives in South Florida, wants you to take it a step further: "It's not just about putting a safety gate up. It's about creating a safe and healthy environment for your whole family, " she said last week.

"I don't want to scare people. I want to enlighten and empower them, " says Holtzman, who has a master's degree in occupational safety and has appeared on the Today show and the Discovery Health Channel. "They need to have a focus and a game plan."

Carpeting is often a hidden source of toxins. Parents should pay attention to food safety, recalls, radon, and even hang chimes or bells on doors so they can hear little ones coming and going.

They should know that a child can drown in a bucket containing just an inch of water, that 140-degree bathwater can cause third-degree burns in just three seconds and that a child can fall from a window open wider than 4 inches.

"(Childproofing) doesn't have to cost a lot of money, either, " Holtzman said. "You can buy a lot of things at a home improvement store. You can even use strong rubber bands to keep cabinets closed."

If a glass coffee table has sharp edges or it just makes you uncomfortable, "it's okay to get rid of it, " she said. "Just eliminate it until the kids get older."

Creating safe zones within the home is also a good idea, so that a parent can get away for a few minutes to grab a glass of water or use the bathroom.

Stefanie Alt, a senior child advocate with St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa, defines it as "a central area in the home where everything top to bottom is babyproofed."

It's hard to do the entire house, Alt says, but a child's room or family room that's gated off works perfectly.

Another good resource for parents is www.safekids.org the first and only international nonprofit organization devoted solely to preventing unintentional childhood injury.

The most unexpected culprits?

"Cosmetics, " said Chrissy Cianflone of the Washington, D.C.-based Safe Kids Worldwide program. "Facial products like cleansers, toners and astringents - even hair products. It's not just the bleach under the kitchen sink that you need to worry about."

Other unexpected hazards to watch out for, according to Holtzman: latex balloons, which pose a choking hazard; stuffed toys with ripped seams or small parts that could be swallowed; automatic garage doors without sensors; disc batteries; window cords; antifreeze and window washer fluid; large and heavy appliances and furniture that's not secured; and household plants such as dieffenbachia and philodendron.

Then there's the pool. St. Joseph's Children's Hospital recommends the following "layers" of protection.

Install and maintain an isolation fence that completely separates the swimming pool/spa from the house and play yard.

The fence should be at least 4 feet high, with horizontal supports at least 48 inches apart. Equip doors from the house with self-closing, self-latching mechanisms. Doors and windows leading to the pool should be alarmed.

Door, window and motion detector type alarms offer an additional layer of protection.

A poolside phone is an essential part of a safe environment. Many drownings occur when a caretaker leaves a child alone in a pool to answer a phone call.

Post CPR, safety instructions, and the 911 emergency phone number. To sign up for St. Joseph's pediatric CPR classes, call 870-4747.

For a free kit from St. Joseph's on making your home more child-safe, call 615-0589.