By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Parents consider their home safe for their children, but evidence indicates that unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in children under age 14, and half of these injuries occur at home. Parents can avoid, or at least minimize, such accidents by taking the following preventative steps and giving children basic safety guidelines beginning in their preschool years.

For safety indoors:

· Teach your child the difference between indoor and outdoor toys. For example, learning that your furniture is not playground equipment will not only help your furniture last longer, but your children are less likely to break any bones if they are not leaping from a chair to the sofa.

· Don't allow children to play in the kitchen or bathroom. Both rooms are full of multiple dangers for children. Top-heavy toddlers can drown in toilets and buckets of mop water. Lock away hazardous items, such as knives, cleansers, matches, razors, shampoo and alcoholic beverages. Keep trashcans locked in a closed cabinet or pantry, because items that you throw away are potential dangers for your child.

· Install guards on windows to prevent children from opening a window and falling out. (Make sure the guards don't interfere with your fire escape plan.) Install gates with child-proof latches at both the bottom and top of stairs. Lock doors that lead outside and install locks out of your child's reach.

· Secure and stabilize bookshelves and televisions so that your child cannot pull them down and get pinned underneath.

· Teach older children which toys are potential choking hazards for their younger siblings.

For safety outdoors:

· Supervise young children at all times when they are playing outside.

· Check your yard for poisonous plants or mushrooms, and tell your child that he should not eat these.

· If you have a yard, fence it in completely and keep your gate locked if children are playing there.

· Put gardening and yard tools in a secure place, out of your child's reach. Also, keep children inside when an adult is using a power mower or weed whacker and do let your child ride with you on riding mowers because a child can easily fall off and get run over.

· Don't allow children near gas grills even when not in use.

· Make sure that playground equipment installed in your yard is secured to the ground. Cut off the ends of bolts that stick out and close open "S-hooks," because clothing may get caught on them and cause serious injury.

· More than 70 percent of playground injuries are caused by falls. Make sure that the surface under playground equipment is soft. A 9-12- inch layer of mulch or sand under playground equipment is recommended. Children should only play on age-appropriate playground equipment. Teach your child how to properly play on outdoor equipment.

It only takes a little time to look for and remove potential dangers that may cause a lifetime of regret.
 

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children's special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.