How to reliably child-proof your home
By Cris Carl, Networx
"What's new in baby-proofing has a tendency to reflect what new hazards exist," said Jeff Baril, president of the International Association for Child Safety. "Every year the question comes up about how to approach what's new in our lives (in terms of child-proofing)," said Baril.
In a talk with Baril and Joseph Canha, owner of Safe Start, in Westford, Mass., we discussed over-arching situations parents need to be aware of when child-proofing, as well as new and reliable products. Canha has owned his child-proofing business in the Boston area for the past 15 years. Canha said that in terms of child-proofing products, not a lot has changed over the years, but rather products have been improved upon.
One good example would be newer spring-loaded outlet safety plates. Instead of placing a plastic plug in all your outlets, if the child pulls a plug from its socket, a plate slides across the outlet, making it safe for the child and easier for adults.
In general, Canha said that when he goes into a home for an assessment, he looks at the structure of the home, areas that the child needs to be restricted from, where there are "pinching hazards," and where sharp or caustic items are stored. Canha said that one reliable method of baby-proofing is to watch the paths the child tends to take, and then rearrange furniture to create a clear path.
Televisions and child-proofing
Both Canha and Baril had a lot to say about the dangers to small children of flat-screen televisions. "Every child thinks there are people in the TV and they want to get up close and personal," said Baril.
"More than several children have been killed by televisions falling on them each year," Baril added. He described the main reason for the problem being the placement of the TV on inappropriate surfaces such as cardboard boxes, plant stands, and baker's tables. In addition, flat-screen televisions have a very small pedestal they rest upon. Both men recommended either wall-mounting televisions or buying and installing TV straps to anchor the TV.
"Older televisions were heavy and their weight was more evenly distributed," said Baril. Baril added that most people tend to have a TV in their nursery -- on top of a bureau, another unsafe location. "The straps work for both TVs and tall furniture, " said Baril.
Better baby gates
Improved versions of baby gates include self-closing, self-locking, retractable, and configurable gates. Baril said that gates are also taller now and getting taller. "Twelve years ago, they were 25 inches high, now they are 30," he said. Canha especially recommends self-locking gates that close with a gentle touch, but take an adult-sized person to open. "If the baby gate is too difficult to operate, they will tend to get left open a lot," said Canha. He added that "This is the most robust baby gate I recommend [self-locking]. I've had mine for 13 years and now use it as a pet gate." It's best to get a self-locking baby gate that is all metal as they tend to wear better over a longer period of time he said.
Baril said that gates used to be made to only work in doorways, but newer models can be configured to fit unusual shapes and come in panels.
Retractable gates are useful when you have children who only visit your home. "It can be slid away after the grandchildren have visited," said Baril.
Protection from power and electrical cords
Children are in danger from electrical and power cords not only due to contact with electricity, but they are also a strangulation hazard, according to Canha.
Baril said that one of the changes due to wireless technology has been a reduction in the number of cords most people have around their desk. However, for the people who haven't switched over yet, he said that products such as various types of cord hiders may work in an office setting, but are useless in a home with a child.
Baril got a great idea from a customer of an inexpensive and easy way to solve the cord problem. "If you have a proper desk, it has a back to it that hides the cords. If your desk doesn't have a back, just get a piece of foam core and some Velcro and glue and make a false back to your desk. It took about 10 minutes to do," said Baril.
Baril said parents need to be aware of power adapters that come with computer notebooks and some low-voltage lighting for example, as children may disengage the adapter and put it in their mouth.
If the idea of child-proofing seems daunting, you can hire a business such as Safe Start. Canha started the business after he and his wife had their first child and they both did a great deal of research. "I noticed this type of service was really hot in California, but at the time there weren't many services like this around the Boston area.