By CHOICE magazine
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Door and stair barriers can help keep young children safe, and keep them out of areas that might contain hazards. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Stair safety

While your child might be able to climb up stairs, this doesn’t mean he can manage coming down them safely. It might be safer to encourage him to come down backwards on his hands and knees before you teach him to walk down while holding the handrails.

Stairways of more than three steps should be guarded. Some flights of stairs might need barriers at both the top and bottom.

Door barriers

To keep your child safe, door barriers should be:

  • a minimum height of 60 cm
  • securely fixed to the door frame or wall
  • sturdy enough to support your child’s weight
  • made of solid material, such as chipboard, masonite, or clear perspex.

The barrier shouldn’t provide foot holds for climbing – for example, a wooden lattice used for gardens wouldn’t be a safe choice, as young children might be able to use it to climb over the top. And if making a hinged gate, don’t use horizontal bars.

It’s also a good idea to remove any nearby objects your child could stand on to help her get over the gate.

When your child is tall enough that the barrier height reaches her armpits, it’s possible for her to climb over the barrier. Most barriers are only suitable for children up to about two years of age.

There are many types of barriers available, with lots of different widths and heights. There are also removable gates, pressure-mounted gates and screwed wall-mounted gates. A wall-mounted gate is a good, secure way to block off high-risk areas like stairs – they can be screwed to a solid wall or post, or can be made to form angles to cover odd-shaped areas.

Try to avoid stepping over any safety gates or barriers while carrying your baby. It’s dangerous, and also sets a poor example for other children, who might try to copy you.

CHOICE guide to choosing safety gates and barriers

Like many other baby products, most safety gates have some safety issues.

In past tests, CHOICE has tested according to the British standard for safety gates and barriers, as there’s no Australian standard. The main hazards found when testing are:

  • Entrapments: If toddlers’ fingers can get trapped in holes, or limbs can get stuck between bars, this can be quite distressing and might bruise – although it’s unlikely to be life-threatening. But some gates have gaps which might allow a baby to get its torso stuck, or, even worse (especially at the top of stairs), pass through, leaving the head trapped. The British standard covers all babies and children from birth to 24 months, and the average crawler or toddler is likely to be too large to squeeze through such gaps.
  • Snagging or protruding parts: Clothing could get caught on them, possibly even strangling the child.
  • Footholds that allow a child to climb the gate.

What to look for

  • For most people, gates that swing open are more practical than barriers you have to step over – and are also safer.
  • Look for a model that can be opened by a foot pedal, or is at least easy to open with one hand.
  • Latches should either require a reasonable force to operate them, or at least two separate actions.
  • There should be no crossbars or mesh that provide footholds, no sharp edges or protrusions, and no detachable small parts that could pose a choking risk.
  • Check that the size of the opening to be gated is within the recommended dimensions for your preferred model. Many have extensions you can use for larger openings.
  • Models you can adjust without needing a spanner are more convenient, and are safe as long as the nuts are done up tightly.

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