How safe is your home?
When you have a child, you begin to see potential danger everywhere. Poisons, electrical sockets, climbable furniture – your home is suddenly full of dangers for your alarmingly inquisitive and mobile toddler, and baby stores seem to have hundreds of safety gadgets you never even knew you might need.
You'll find cupboard and drawer locks, door stoppers and latches, door handle covers, toilet seat locks and more. All these are potentially useful, but you probably won't need most of them – a few devices together with some common sense and good safety habits will ensure your home is safe enough. In the end, though, there's no substitute for keeping an eye on your kids and teaching them about safety.
Important emergency contact phone numbers
- Ambulance, Fire and Police: 000.
- If you are deaf or have a speech or hearing impairment, make a Text Emergency Call to 106.
- Poisons Information Centre: 13 11 26.
House and garden: the safety essentials
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 are 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 well as smoke alarms, consider other fire safety equipment such as a fire blanket and extinguisher, and have an escape plan.
If you have gas heating of any sort, it's also important to install a carbon monoxide detector, to help protect you if the heater develops a fault and emits too much of this dangerous waste gas.
First aid kit
A good home first aid kit need not be expensive and should include:
- plenty of bandaids of different sizes and shapes (colourful bandaids are more fun for the kids)
- antiseptic cream and insect bite treatment – particularly important for kids
- burn gel – though cold running water should be the first treatment
- dressings and bandages for more serious cuts and scrapes
- good first aid instructions, so you know what to do.
It's also worth learning CPR and other first aid skills such as treating 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, blunt 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 bangs on them.
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.
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. A heavy planter box might be an option for blocking gaps but make sure it (or any other object) can't be used to climb the railing. Mesh to completely secure the balcony opening might be worth considering. In any case, young children shouldn't have unsupervised access to a balcony.
Safety gates or barriers are a must for any home with stairs or fireplaces. Banisters shouldn't have large gaps that a child could squeeze through.
Household chemicals and medication
Cleaning fluids, detergents, polishes, insecticides and rat baits are all hazards and – as their labels usually state – should be kept out of reach of children. 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.
Knives are an obvious hazard for inquisitive youngsters; 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 and glassware is also best stored out of reach.
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. See more about the dangers of detergents here.
And make sure your dishwasher is anchored to the wall so it won't tilt if climbed on.
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 down the appliance.
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 and away from cots. Newly-installed blinds must have the cords restrained to the wall or window architrave.
Non-slip mats in and out of the bath are worth considering for adults as well as children.
Usually contain hazards such as tools, nails and screws and weed killer; a lockable door is the best solution here.
It's rare for kids to be poisoned by garden plants, but it can happen. Some mushrooms and berries, and the flowers, leaves or seeds of some plants are toxic. Some toxic plants are well known - deadly nightshade and oleander for example - but you might be surprised that the Arum lily is also poisonous. See the list at Kidsafe's Grow Me Safely site and avoid putting any of these poisonous plants in your garden if you have children.
Cupboards and drawers
You don't need to lock every cupboard as long as you store hazardous items out of reach. If you do need to secure a cupboard, choose a lock that's too hard for your toddler to operate but easy for you. As much as possible, don't let your child see how to operate the lock; they'll learn faster than you think!
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.
Many locks and latches are attached with adhesive fasteners rather than screws. Check the device is firmly attached by pushing and pulling in all directions once attached. 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 when pulled off.
Cupboard door locks
These 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. Locks that require multiple separate actions, such as pressing and sliding, are best. Be aware that these locks can still allow the doors to open a little, creating a pinching gap for little fingers.
These are internal catches that are usually installed with screws. There are several drawer lock designs available, including ones with magnetic handles. Drawer locks can be fiddly to install and may take some getting used to for the adult, but are a secure option.
Doors and windows
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).
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.
Window latches and locks
Window locks are important, especially on floors above ground level. 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. Flyscreens aren't necessarily 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.
Kitchen, laundry and bathroom
A latch on the fridge door (placed high up) can be useful, but a toddler might overcome the basic Velcro latches commonly available.
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, so if yours is freestanding or not fully integrated under your countertop, see what action you can take to keep it stable.
Door locks are available for these, but always leave washing machine and dryer doors shut. If possible, prevent access to the laundry altogether.
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.
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.
Toppling TVs can be a serious hazard, even though many models are getting thinner and lighter – children have been killed by having one fall on them. 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 installing power points with built-in rotating safety covers.
Furniture corner guards
These protect toddlers' heads from sharp table corners, but generally aren't essential. If your table has very sharp and protruding corners, consider replacing it completely.