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Is Your House Home to Hazardous Situations? 

This column originally ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Jan. 14, 2008.


We all want the best for our children, and that’s especially true of their safety.  As parents, we take responsibility for ensuring our children are safeguarded from any type of injury. It may surprise you, however, to find that many of the most hazardous situations our children face exist at home.

Each year, 33.1 million people are injured by consumer products in the home. To keep Americans informed of dangers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has identified the Top Five Hidden Home Hazards – associated with products that people may be using everyday, but are unaware of the dangers that they can cause.

            "This list is really helpful. It should be a reminder to parents that even though they're at home, they still should be cautious to avoid accidents," says Cathy Hogan, coordinator of Safe Kids St. Louis.  "Every child deserves a healthy, safe environment."

            The list of hazards posted by the CPSC ( may surprise you. It includes:



More than eight million magnetic toys have been recalled since 2005. During that time, one death and 86 injuries have resulted from accidents with magnets and magnetic toys.

Today's rare-earth magnets can be very small and powerful making them popular in toys, building sets and jewelry. As the number of products with magnets has increased, so has the number of serious injuries to children. In several hundred incidents, magnets have fallen out of various toys and been swallowed by children. Small intact pieces of building sets that contain magnets have also been swallowed by children. If two or more magnets, or a magnet and another metal object are swallowed separately, they can be attracted to one another through intestinal walls and get trapped in place. The injury is hard to diagnose, except with the use of X-rays.

Parents and physicians may think that the materials will pass through the child without consequence, but magnets can attract in the body and twist or pinch the intestines, causing holes, blockages, or infection, if not treated properly and promptly.

Watch carefully for loose magnets and magnetic pieces and keep away from younger children (younger than 6 years). If you have a recalled product with magnets, stop using it, call the company today, and ask for the remedy.


Recalled Products

            CPSC is very effective at getting dangerous products off store shelves, resulting in about 400 product recalls each year.  Included among these items are toys, clothing, children's jewelry, tools, appliances, electronics and electrical products. But product recalls do not protect against hazards from products that have already been purchased. Parents should be aware of the latest safety recalls to keep dangerous recalled products away from family members.

            To promote awareness of dangerous products, the CPSC has launched a "Drive To One Million" campaign, an attempt to sign up consumers for its free e-mail notifications of product recalls.  Sign up at .



            Pratfalls may be funny in the movies, but it’s no laughing matter at home.  Each year, an average of 22 people die and 3,000 people are injured when furniture and other large objects tip over onto them. 

            Furniture, TVs and ranges can tip over and crush young children. Deaths and injuries occur when children climb onto, fall against or pull themselves up on television stands, shelves, bookcases, dressers, desks, and chests. Televisions placed on top of furniture can tip over causing head trauma and other injuries. Items left on top of the TV, furniture, and countertops, such as toys, remote controls and treats might tempt kids to climb.
            Parents should make sure that furniture is stable on its own. For added security, anchor unstable furniture to the floor or attach it to a wall. Free-standing ranges and stoves should be installed with anti-tip brackets.


Windows & Coverings

            Windows present a double threat to children. Twelve children die each year in accidents with drapery cords.  Nine children die and an estimated 3,700 more are injured each year in falls from windows.

            Children can strangle on window drapery and blind cords that form a loop. Parents should use cordless blinds or keep cords and chains permanently out of the reach of children. To prevent strangulation, cut looped cords and install a safety tassel at the end of each pull cord, or use a tie-down device. Never place a child's crib or playpen within reach of a window blind.

            The dangers of windows don't end with window coverings and pull cords. Kids love to play around windows. Unfortunately, children can be injured or die when they fall out of windows. Do not rely on window screens. Window screens are designed to keep bugs out, not to keep kids in.


Pool & Spa Drains

            Most people are aware of the dangers associated with young children and swimming pools or spas.  An additional hazard is posed by the powerful suction of pool and spa drains, which were to blame for two deaths and 15 injuries from 2002-2004. This is mainly a problem with commercial pools, which have more powerful pumps.

            The suction from a pool drain can be so powerful that it can hold an adult under water, but most incidents involve children. The body can become sealed against the drain, or hair can be sucked in and tangled. Missing or broken drain covers are a major reason for many entrapment incidents. Pool and spa owners can consider installing a Safety Vacuum Release System, which detects when a drain is blocked and automatically shuts off the pool pump or interrupts the water circulation to prevent entrapment. Parents should check to make sure appropriate drain covers are in place and undamaged.


Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a child health question for Dr. Wilmott, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at

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