In an old German folk tale, two young children named Hansel and Gretel find themselves in a bind after a particularly neglectful set of parents leaves them to fend for themselves in the woods without even enough food to fill a Lunchables box. By a stroke of luck only possible in fairy tales, the pair of waifs come upon a gingerbread house and, rather more predictably, start chewing on it. When their luck turns sour, Gretel is able to save her brother and herself from the cannibalistic inhabitant of the gingerbread house by pushing the old witch into the oven that was being heated up for Hansel.
“Hansel and Gretel” is as much a terror to parents as it is a cautionary tale to children whose parents would not abandon them in the forest. To a dedicated caretaker, the very idea of their children in such a dangerous situation is unthinkable. However, because the threats children face today tend to be more subtle than witches in the woods, many parents unwittingly put their children in harm’s way—12,000 young people (ages 19 and younger) die from accidental injuries each year.
Now that summer is approaching, and children are about to leave the protective confines of the classroom, they will be exposed to more risks. However, the most serious children’s accidents can almost always be sidestepped by those who know what the risks are and how to take precautions against them. For your convenience, both are listed below:
1. Playground Equipment
Unsupervised children on a playground not inspected by parents may be subjected to burns on hot slides, falls from the monkey bars, strangulations on open “S” hooks on swing sets, and any number of other injuries as diverse as the uses children find for playground equipment. It isn’t just public parks, either: 70% of fatal playground injuries take place on playground equipment at home. Parental guidance, as well as an assessment of playground risks, are key to playground injury prevention.
2. Bodies of Water
Each day, 2 people below the age of 15 fall victim to accidental drowning, making it the second leading children’s accident. Very young children unable to resist the allure of attractive nuisances are the most common victims: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “A four-sided isolation fence…reduces a child’s risk of drowning 83%.” Unattended water, furthermore, is not the only danger. Even when at the pool or lake with family members, water wings and life preservers are not a substitute for supervision. Drowning can happen quickly and quietly; watchfulness is the best guarantee of a child’s safety.
3. Bicycles and Riding Toys
Riding toys are more liable to cause injury than any other kind: the most recent statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission indicate that there are approximately 59,000 riding toy incidents per year. Most of these injuries are lacerations that could be drastically reduced with the use of protective pads and helmets.
Bicycles, on the other hand, are less toys than alternatives to cars. Young children do not often have the skills to scan the road ahead and divine possible hazards. Currently, they comprise 60% of bicycle injury victims who receive emergency treatment. Until they understand the risks involved, children should ideally be accompanied by adults on bicycle excursions.
Setting off fireworks may be a fun, long-established family activity to commemorate several summer holidays, but can cause injury when used improperly (as the 9,000 people injured in 2009 can attest). Considering the number of fires that started on a dime last summer and the predicted dryness for the coming year, this may not be the time to initiate junior into the exciting world of pyrotechnics. The Center for Injury Research and Policy recommends taking children to professional shows, rather than setting off amateur fireworks at home. Those who opt for home fireworks anyway are advised to keep a hose on hand and to avoid giving sparklers, which can reach 2,000° Fahrenheit, to children.
5. Heat Exposure
To those who have never suffered from heat exhaustion or other forms of hyperthermia, these conditions may sound trivial—little different from the annoying side effects of dehydration. However, prolonged hyperthermia can lead to fainting, seizures, and even death faster than you might think, particularly in Utah, where dehydration can happen so quickly. To prevent your children from evaporating into thin air and/or frying, limit their time in the sun and promote fluid intake, even when they’re sitting still.
6. Contaminated Food
Bacteria grow most quickly between 40-140° Fahrenheit; this region is known to food handlers as the “danger zone.” In the summertime, when food is prepared outside on barbecue grills or eaten on picnics, it takes very little time for food formerly refrigerated to enter the danger zone. When eating outside, make sure to put unclaimed food away quickly after it has been prepared.
7. Lawn Mowers
Lawn mowing may be one of the quintessential “teach-kids-about-responsibility” chores, but this rite of passage should probably be reserved for those who are already responsible: 2,000 children 5 and under are injured each year by blades or flying debris. When they do reach an age at which lawn-mowing is appropriate (12-16), they should wear close-toed shoes and stop completely for obstructions.
8. Barbecue Grills
When responsibly operating a barbecue grill (while, of course, properly hydrated and 10 feet away from the nearest building), children should be kept 3 feet clear of the grilling area. Because
children are known for darting about quickly, and barbecue grills are known for producing vision-obscuring smoke, it might be beneficial to have several adults on duty to enforce this rule.
9. Creepy Creatures
The Lord God made them all, but not necessarily for contact with humans. Rattlesnakes, black widows, and brown recluses are just a few of the venomous creatures that inhabit Utah (and, like humans, like to come out in the summertime). To avoid bee stings, wear light colors and eschew heavy perfume and floral patterns. Monsters like spiders and snakes like to hide in shaded places under woodpiles and rocks, so approach such areas with care.
10. Traffic Accidents
What with construction projects, vacationers, and emancipated teenage drivers, summer traffic is even more dangerous than icy winter commutes. Motor vehicle crashes are the most common children’s accidents worldwide. Whether transporting children or encountering them outside the car, always use extreme caution when operating a machine with deadly power.
As vital as it is that parents be engaged with their children, even the most devoted parent cannot anticipate all risks or prevent all injuries. If your family is at pains to cope with a children’s accident, you probably have more options for compensation and recovery than you realize. For legal advice on children’s accidents in Draper, call Christensen & Hymas at (801) 506-0800.
Image courtesy of Sue Clark