Child safety devices fact sheet

What do you need to make your home toddler-safe?
 
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01 .Introduction

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CHOICE looked at a range of home safety devices, including cupboard and drawer locks, door stoppers and latches, door handle covers, oven door latches, toilet seat locks and more.

When you have a child, you can begin to see potential danger everywhere. Poisons, electrical sockets, climbable furniture – your home seems suddenly full of dangers for your inquisitive and mobile toddler.

All the products we looked at are potentially useful, but you probably won’t need most of them – a few key devices together with some common sense and good safety habits will ensure your home is safe enough.

In the end, there’s no substitute for keeping an eye on your kids and teaching them about safety.

Before you begin thinking about what sort of cupboard lock to buy, there are more basic safety steps to consider.

Basic home safety

Safety switch

Also known as a Residual Current Device (RCD), a safety switch is a must for any home, with or without children. It helps prevent electrocution by tripping the switch when it detects an imbalanced current, such as when a person has accidentally touched the live circuit. These are mandated for homes in some states and territories, but not all. You should protect each power circuit with one, and preferably lighting circuits too.

Smoke alarms

A must for every home and a legal requirement in most cases. Mains-powered alarms are preferable, and photoelectric alarms are the best type for homes, as shown by our tests and as recommended by most fire authorities. As well as smoke alarms, consider other fire safety equipment such as a fire blanket and extinguisher, and have an escape plan.

First aid kit

A good home first aid kit need not be expensive and should include:

  • antiseptic cream and insect bite treatment – particularly important for kids
  • burn gel may also be useful – though cold running water should be the first treatment.

Read the first aid instructions so you know what to do. It’s worth learning CPR and other first aid skills such as how to treat burns, cuts and insect or spider bites.

Window and door glass

Any glass within easy reach should be safety glass, which is tempered to resist breaking and, if broken, shatters into small chunks rather than jagged pieces. Modern windows and doors are usually made with safety glass; old glass should be replaced with safety glass, or treated with a safety film. Window and glass door panes should be securely fitted to resist coming loose on impact – such as when a toddler drums on them.

House and garden

Pool fence

Pools and spas must be adequately fenced to prevent children gaining unsupervised access. Even with laws in place since the early 1990s, children still find their way into pools with often tragic results. Don’t leave pool gates open and always make sure there’s a competent adult to supervise kids in the pool. Choice tests have found some pool fences don’t meet the standard.

Windows and balconies

Flyscreens aren’t enough to stop a child falling from a window. An external security grille will prevent falls, but these aren’t practical or desirable in many cases. A lock that allows the window to be locked while it’s partly open in order to let the breeze in, but stop a child climbing out, is a good option. For balconies, the railing or wall should be high enough in most cases, but you should cover in any gaps a child might squeeze through. Mesh on the railings might be worth considering. A  heavy planter box might be an option for blocking gaps but also make sure it (or any other object) can’t be easily used to climb the railing. In any case, young children shouldn’t have unsupervised access to a balcony.

Stairs

Safety gates or barriers are a must for any home with stairs or fireplaces. Banisters too should have no large gaps that a child could squeeze through.

Household chemicals and medication

Cleaning fluids, polishes, insecticides and rat baits are all hazards and – as their labels usually state – should be kept out of reach of children. When there are kids in the house, store chemicals in high cupboards where they aren’t just out of reach, but out of sight too. Likewise, medication should be kept out of reach or in locked cupboards. Keep chemicals and medication in their labelled containers – never in an old drink bottle or other container that might be attractive to a youngster.

Sharps

Knives are an obvious hazard for inquisitive youngsters, but so are the serrated edges on cling film boxes. These and any other sharp items should be stored out of reach, just like household chemicals. It’s worth considering putting a lock on the cutlery drawer. Crockery is also best stored out of reach as it can shatter if played with roughly.

Dishwasher

Knives, glassware and other potential hazards are often left in the dishwasher until it’s full. In the meantime, they may be accessible to toddlers so make sure the door is kept firmly shut. Don’t leave detergent in the dishwasher door dispenser; only put it in when about to turn the dishwasher on.

Power cords

These can be a tripping, strangulation and electrical hazard. Keep them hidden behind furniture or under rugs. Don’t let a cord dangle over a bench or table edge, where a child might grab it and pull the appliance down.

Curtains and blinds

Blind cords are a strangulation hazard. Looped cords are especially dangerous, so use split cords and a cord winder or cleat to stow them out of reach. Newly installed blinds must have the cords restrained to the wall or window architrave.

Updated 31 Mar, 2014:

From January 1 2015 a new standard will take effect (complementing the existing supply standard), which requires suppliers to provide consumers with warnings about the risks associated with these products, installation instructions and safety devices when they purchase these products.

The new requirements follow the death of three children in the last six months from corded blinds.

If you already have corded blinds, curtains or other window fittings take a close look at them to check that they are safe. You can find tips on how to do this at Product Safety Australia.

Bathrooms

Non-slip mats in and out of the bath are worth considering (for adults as well as children).

Garden sheds

Usually contain hazards such as tools, nails and screws and weed killer; a lockable door is the best solution here.

 
 

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If you need a safety device to secure a cupboard, door or other area, choose one that’s too hard for your toddler to operate but easy for you. As far as possible, don’t let your child see how to operate the lock; they’ll learn faster than you think!

Two brands dominate this market: Safety 1st and Dreambaby. Another brand, Perma, can be found in Bunnings.

We don’t recommend any particular brands or models, since all of them are potentially useful in the right circumstances. A device that’s ineffective on one cupboard may work well elsewhere. One child may figure out how to overcome a given lock, while another can’t. Choose devices to suit your needs.

Note: If you rent your home, ask the landlord or agent for permission to install any permanent locks or other devices. They shouldn’t refuse reasonable requests, but may require you to uninstall the devices when you leave.

Adhesives

Many locks and latches are attached with adhesive fasteners rather than screws. We found some that didn’t stick on securely, possibly due to the product having been on shelves for some time and the adhesive deteriorating. Check the device is firmly attached by pushing and pulling in all directions once attached. The flipside is that some aren’t easy to remove, should you decide to do this once the kids have grown up enough; the adhesive pad can be left behind or mark the surface. Removable adhesive pads could be a good option, especially in rented homes.

Cupboard door locks

Types include sliding ratchet locks that loop around door handles, and locks that fasten to each door and connect with a flexible or rigid bar or loop. Choose one that suits the handle or door design; if you can detach the lock with a bit of determined jiggling or pulling, so might a toddler. The lock should require some strength and dexterity to operate; enough to make it too hard for a child but not so it’s too annoying for you. Locks that require multiple separate actions, such as pressing and sliding, are best. Watch out – most of these locks will still allow the doors to open a little, creating a gap that could pinch little fingers.

 04-CS-sliding-lock13-safety-1st-cabinet-lock 02-CS-Cabinet-latch 14-S-1st-cabinet-lock 03-CS-L-Uni-flexie-lock 08-DB-gen-purp-latch 26-safety-1st-Secure-Close-Handle-Lock

Drawer locks

These are internal catches that are usually installed with screws. Angle locks can be used as either door or drawer locks, depending on the design and location of the cabinet. There are several drawer lock designs available, including ones with magnetic handles. With these, a magnet is fastened to the inside of the drawer and the drawer handle removed; a separate magnetic handle is used, which can be kept out of reach of children. Drawer locks can be fiddly to install and may take some getting used to for the adult, but are a secure option.

 01-CS-Angle-lock09-DB-mag-lock 10-DB-mag-lock 29safety1stUltraSecureCabinetDrawerLatches

 

Door guards and latches

There are lots of latches and doorstoppers available. The simplest type is a C-shaped foam piece (which you could easily make yourself) that grabs onto the door edge and prevents it closing fully, to prevent slamming on little fingers. These can be especially useful on sliding doors. In other cases it may be just as simple to use a heavy stopper. However, many children like to demonstrate their new-found mobility and motor skills by opening and closing doors, so a latch installed out of reach can be useful to prevent any accidents with pinched fingers (or worse).

 17-safety-1st-Finger-Pinch-Guard11-DB-slide-door-lock 23-safety-1st-No-drill-Top-of-Door-Lock 27-safety-1st-Sure-Grip-Door-Latch

Door handle covers

These make handles hard to operate for children but unfortunately can have the same effect for adults. Some are also fiddly to install.

 19safety1stGripTwistDoorKnobCovers20-safety-1st-Lever-Handle-Lock

Window latches and locks

A normal security lock is your best bet, with multiple locking positions so you can have the window a little ajar to let in a breeze.

Fridges

A latch on the fridge door (placed high up) can be useful, but a toddler might overcome the basic Velcro latch we looked at, with a little determination.

 05-Dream-baby-appliance-latch21-safety-1st-Lock-Release-Fridge-Latch 22-safety-1st-Multi-Purpose-Latch

Ovens

The chief risk from an oven is its heat when turned on, but if your child shows too much interest in playing with the oven, consider an oven door latch and control knob covers. Toppling ovens are also a serious risk.

 25-safety-1st-Oven-Front-Lock15-S-1st-stove-knob

Washing machines

Door locks are available for these, but always leave washing machine and dryer doors shut. If possible, prevent access to the laundry altogether.

 18-safety-1st-Front-Load-Washer-Dryer-Lock

Toilets

Seat locks aren’t likely to be needed in most homes – toddlers have been known to fall into toilets but this is fortunately rare. Keep the bathroom off limits to toddlers.

 28-safety-1st-Swing-Shut-Toilet-Lock12-DB-toilet-lock

Furniture anchors

Bookcases can be climbed, as can cabinets with drawers pulled out. Anchor them to the wall if possible with a bracket or anchoring cable. Consider removing any unstable furniture such as coat stands or plant stands.

 07-DB-furniture-anchor

Televisions

Toppling TVs can be a serious hazard – children have been killed by toppling TVs. Put the TV on low, sturdy, stable furniture designed for the purpose. We also recommend anchoring the TV to the wall.

Power point covers

Plastic plugs are cheap and help keep kids out of power sockets. If you’re building or renovating, consider power points with rotating safety covers.

 24-safety-1st-Outlet-Plug-Protectors

Furniture corner guards

These protect toddlers' heads from sharp table corners, but if your table has very pronounced corners, consider replacing it completely.

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