As the Met office updates it weather warnings due to heavy snow, strong gales and intense rain on their way, it is worth reminding ourselves of the seasonal risks to child safety at this time of year.
Shorter daylight hours and colder and unpredictable weather patterns mean changes in routine and behaviour. By thinking about how these factors affect their everyday lives, parents may be more open to essential seasonal safety messages.
1. The days are shorter (only a month to go until the clocks spring forward!)
Parents and carers should make sure that children can be seen at this time of year, especially on the way to and from school – journeys that they may make in the dark or twilight.
The most common time for child pedestrians to be involved in a road accident is mornings or afternoons on weekdays in the winter.
We recommend that children wear or carry something to make them more visible. As a rule, this should be something bright or fluorescent during the day and something reflective at dusk and in the dark (fluorescent clothing is not so visible in the dark) – “be bright be seen”.
2. The weather is colder
So you’re going to need the heating on! Any appliance that burns any fuel (the process known as combustion) can be a carbon monoxide poisoning risk.
Carbon monoxide can kill and children are more at risk. Also, it’s undetectable. Read more about carbon monoxide.
When it comes to winter readiness, the important thing for anyone with appliances that burn gas, oil or solid fuel is to make sure they’re regularly checked and properly maintained by a qualified and registered engineer. If you have an open fire, chimneys need to be swept and kept clear of debris.
We strongly recommend installing an audible carbon monoxide alarm.
Antifreeze and screenwash
If you’re a car owner, antifreeze and screenwash are winter essentials. However both are highly poisonous to children and it’s important for parents and carers ensure that they’re kept well out of children’s reach at all times. Accidental poisoning can happen in an instant, even if you’re there but have been distracted momentarily.
Like other household products, we recommend you buy ones with Bitrex® added to them for a ‘belt and braces’ approach to child safety.
3. We spend more time indoors (except for when we don’t!)
Home safety is important all year round, but even more so in winter simply because we spend more time at home. It’s vital that parents know the risks and the simple steps that they can take to protect their children.
The most common and most serious accidents are falls (particularly in snow and ice), fire, burns and scalds, accidental poisoning, choking and strangulation and perhaps unexpectedly – drowning.
Most young children love the snow, and fingers crossed, it won’t be long before we’re all safely out of our homes and bombing down the slopes on our toboggans!
Serious accidents are rare, but it’s not without risk, especially for young children. Our advice:
- Choose a slope that’s not too steep – an ideal slope ends with a long flat run
- Don’t sledge on slopes that end near a road, pond or lake, line of trees, fence or wall
- Make sure the slope is free of obstacles such as trees and rocks
- Only sledge during the daytime when obstacles are visible
- Only let children sledge individually when they know how to stop
- Consider a helmet – ideally a ski helmet, but a bike helmet is better than nothing
Finally, make sure that children, especially those under the age of three, are wrapped up warm, and that they changed out of wet clothes as soon as they get home.
Ice is more of a risk. Over the last decade, 20 people have drowned after falling through ice on frozen lakes or waterways, and many others have been rescued and resuscitated. Because of their inquisitive nature, children are especially at risk.
There is no way of telling how thick the ice is, so the advice is to simply stay off it. It can crack at any time, and if it does, the risks are compounded by the temperature of the water underneath. Even strong swimmers are unlikely to survive for long in the freezing water.
Several people have died trying to rescue a pet dog which has fallen through the ice. Sadly the outcome of many of these cases was better for the dogs, which managed to scramble out of the water to safety. If older children are walking dogs unsupervised, the advice is to keep them on the lead and never throw a stick or ball out onto the ice.