You might have noticed how easily babies and children can fall. Falls prevention is about watching your child’s development and adjusting your child’s home and play environment as he grows.
About falls and falls prevention
In Australia falls are the most common cause of injuries in every age group. As babies and children start moving around more, they’re more likely to have falls and bumps.
Injuries to children often happen when you don’t expect it, because children grow and develop new skills so quickly.
The best thing you can do to keep your child safe is to watch the new skills she’s learning, and the new places she can reach and get to – and then adjust your environment to suit.
Falls are part of the normal growing process. Most falls lead only to bumps and bruises, but they can sometimes lead to a trip to a doctor or the hospital.
Preventing falls around furniture
Even as young babies, children are at risk of falling. This is when they can’t control their movements.
If your baby is on a surface like a change table or bed, always keep a hand on him. As he grows, you might not even know he can roll over until he rolls off the bed or another piece of furniture. So it’s safest to change your baby on the floor.
If you use a bouncer for your baby, always put it on the floor when your baby is in it. Don’t put it on a table top or anywhere else above floor level. An active baby might move a bouncer and make it fall off a table top.
Check that all furniture is sturdy – your child shouldn’t be able to pull it down or knock it over. Brace furniture like bookcases and cupboards or attach them to the wall. Brace or strap modern flat screen televisions – they’re often unstable and can hurt a child if they fall.
Put the things your child wants to reach down low so she’s less tempted to try climbing up the furniture. Keep furniture away from other objects in the room to stop your child climbing from one piece to another, or climbing up high on shelving.
As a last resort, you can move furniture to a part of the house your child doesn’t use, or put a secure barrier in place so he can’t get to it.
Move furniture with sharp corners away from areas where children run around, like hallways and near doorways. If you can’t move the furniture, pad its corners with foam or corner protectors. You can buy these at hardware shops.
At home and when you’re out and about, prevent falls from high chairs by always using the chair’s five-point harness. Likewise, make sure you use the five-point harness in prams and supermarket trolleys.
Preventing falls around windows, glass doors and balconies
Many Australian children are treated in hospital each year after falling from windows and balconies. These falls often happen at home and can cause serious injury or death. There are lots of things you can do at home to help prevent falls from windows and balconies and around glass doors.
Lock windows or shield them with window guards so your child can’t fall out. In a multistorey house, make sure that you can lock windows with a gap of no more than 10 cm.
Move chairs, change tables and pot plants away from windows too, because children love to climb up to see outside.
Make glass doors visible using stickers, and place furniture in front of glass doors so your child won’t run into them. Consider using safety glass or shatter-resistant film on glass doors and windows.
Keep entrances to balconies locked. Always supervise small children on balconies. Install safety guards across the entry to any balconies, and make sure there are no horizontal bars or footholds children could use to climb on. Keep balcony furniture away from railings to prevent children climbing up and over the railings.
Balcony railings should be vertical and at least 1 m high. If the balcony is higher than 3 m off ground, the railing must be at least 1.2 m high. The gaps between railings should be no wider than 10 cm.
Preventing falls around steps and stairs
Once your baby can crawl, it’ll be hard to keep her away from steps and stairs.
Install safety gates on stairs, and keep them in place until your child is very good at walking up and down stairs on his own. And always open the gate rather than stepping over it – it’s easy to trip, and stepping over the top doesn’t set a good example for children.
Preventing falls in the bathroom and bedroom
The bath is a very slippery place, and even adults can fall quite easily. Encourage your child to stay sitting down in the bath. Have a non-slip surface on the bath or use a non-slip bath mat.
In the bedroom, remove toys from cot so your child can’t use them to climb on and then fall out of the cot. Toys, cot bumpers, pillow and doonas can also increase the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) (including SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents). The safest option for babies of all ages is not to have any toys in the cot.
Note that only children aged over nine years should use bunk beds.
Move, put away or lock up anything that might be unsafe for your child to climb, or that your child can use to get to unsafe places.
Falls prevention: removing trip hazards
Look for trip hazards on the floor and remove them. For example:
- Pick up rugs and electrical cords.
- Put away toys at the end of the day so all family members can go to the toilet at night without tripping over them.
- Wipe up spills as soon as they happen – they can make the floor slippery.
- Use anti-skid mats under your rugs and floor coverings, or roll rugs away.
Things that influence injuries from falls
There are three important things that can influence the seriousness of a fall:
- The height children can fall from: the lower the height, the lower the danger. Children under five years shouldn’t have access to heights over 1.5 m, and older children shouldn’t have access to heights over 2 m.
- What children fall onto: hard surfaces like concrete, ceramic tiles and even compacted sand are more hazardous to fall onto than softer surfaces. A bed of tan-bark or pine mulch under play equipment provides a softer landing. These beds must be at least 30 cm deep.
- What children might hit as they fall: sharp-edged furniture, like coffee tables and bedside tables, should be placed in areas where a child is unlikely to fall on them.
Child safety experts recommend that you don’t use baby walkers. Baby walkers can cause serious injuries. For example, if a baby walker tips over or falls down stairs, children can suffer head and other serious injuries like fractures. Find out more about baby walkers in our safe baby furniture checklist.