Staying home, staying safe: tips to prevent unintentional injuries

Dad sits working at a desk at home while his baby son and young daughter play in the room behind him

We are all struggling against a novel threat to our health and well-being. Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption in our lives that few could have imagined just a few months ago. The virus is here, and it is scary, but we must also remember the threats that have plagued us for years before this pandemic – and will continue to do so long after the crisis passes. While we are fortunate that this epidemic has impacted children much less than adults so far, there remains a real and present danger to kids from a more traditional epidemic: unintentional injury.

Unintentional injuries have killed more children over the last several decades than any other cause, and are responsible for about 40% of all deaths among children and youth in the United States since 1999.

The key to decreasing the death rate from unintentional injury is prevention: Being prepared with necessary equipment, avoiding exposure to dangers and providing sufficient vigilance and supervision to prevent incidents in the first place.

Wondering how you can make your home safer? Call our Tom Sargent Safety Center team at 503-418-5666 or email them: safety@ohsu.edu.

For example, we know that every year, 50 or so children in our region will be seriously injured or killed falling from windows at home. We know that “falling season” starts with the few nice days we see in early spring leading families to open windows, and we have already had one child hospitalized after a fall in the last week. By contrast, as I write this, no children have been hospitalized at OHSU Doernbecher for COVID-19.

As a pediatrician and a father, I know how much work it takes to raise a child. Even on your best day, it is exhausting, and consuming. I also know that successfully raising that child requires a magic combination of lucky and good. Nowhere is that combination more important than in injury prevention. The pandemic has altered our routines, turning our homes into virtual classrooms and offices, and there is a real risk that existing preparations will no longer be sufficient as patterns of supervision and vigilance change.

With kids stuck at home for days on end, many parents and caregivers must juggle their work with unfamiliar and taxing roles as teachers and child care providers – this means preparation and vigilance are more important than ever.

That preparation means taking a few minutes to carefully look at the environment to remove or minimize risks: window stops or guards, furniture and TV wall straps to prevent tip-overs, ensuring that all medications and poisons are completely inaccessible, guns are stored locked and unloaded. The OHSU Doernbecher Tom Sargent Safety Center has information and resources for any family to help them prepare.

As we face an uncertain foe, we cannot neglect those that are more familiar. Unintentional injuries represent a real and present danger to children and youth, and it is one that all parents must be prepared to address. That is a crucial part of “good parenting.” While luck remains part of the equation, it is not a strategy on which we should bet our children’s lives.

 

Ben Hoffman, M.D.
Medical Director, Tom Sargent Safety Center
Professor of Pediatrics
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital

 

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