More than 18,000 children a year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by the use and misuse of common household items like bunk beds, televisions, fridge magnets and backyard swings, according to a new report.
"There are certain stories that I've heard 100 times," said Angelo Mikrogianakis, an ER doctor at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
"Kids aren't playing with dad's chainsaw. What's bringing them to hospital - often with serious injuries - is regular daily activities involving things we take for granted like furniture and TVs," he said.
Dr. Mikrogianakis, himself the father of three young children, said he is in no way suggesting that children should not be doing "fun stuff like jumping on the bed," only that parents should be aware of the risks and try to minimize them.
The new report, from Safe Kids Canada, notes that almost half of all pediatric injuries are "product-related," meaning they involve common household items. The risks, and the injuries, are clearly delineated by age group:
Age 0 to 4 years is the time in which falls from furniture pose the most common danger. Toddlers and young children like to get up on tables, chairs, sofas and beds. Bunk beds are one of the most common causes of injury in young children, and it is recommended that children not be on the top bunk before age 6.
Age 5 to 9 is the developmental period when children like to climb and they will sometimes climb on dressers, wall units, book cases and water coolers, all of which can topple. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in children being injured by toppling big-screen TVs. Televisions should always be on low, sturdy furniture and bookcases secured to the wall.
Age 10 to 14, when children are more independent and mobile, sees them injured principally on backyard play equipment like swings and slides. It is recommended that such play structures be surrounded by soft surfaces such as sand or wood chips to cushion falls.
"Children are a lot more vulnerable than most parents think," said Pamela Fuselli, executive director of Safe Kids Canada. "There are a lot of hidden dangers in and around the home."
Ms. Fuselli said the injury-prevention group is not suggesting that children live in a protective cocoon, but rather that parents should try to look at the home through a child's eyes and take simple precautions to eliminate temptations that could lead to injuries.
"We're not suggesting that children are never going to have bumps and bruises - of course they are. What we're talking about is preventing deaths and serious injuries that land children in emergency rooms," she said.
Ms. Fuselli said many parents wrongly assume that household products are all regulated and inherently safe.
Noreen Popelas describes herself as the "kind of mom who was very safety-conscious - I even had the Kiddie Proofers come in and do an assessment of my home."
But in December, 2007, she turned her back for a moment and her then five-year-old daughter Maia climbed up onto a chair to grab something from the mantelpiece that had caught her eye.
The little girl tumbled and landed on the glass window of the gas fireplace, suffering second-degree burns on her hands.
Like many parents whose children are injured in the home, Ms. Popelas was racked by guilt over the incident. "Things like fireplaces become part of the scenery. You don't see the risks that are right in front of your nose," she said.
Ms. Popelas is now actively lobbying to have the standards for fireplace glass changed so that, like kitchen stoves, there is no risk of a child being burned. She is also urging parents to reassess the risks around their home routinely as their children grow.
"I don't pretend to be the poster mom for safety, but we can at least try to reduce the risks for our kids."