Each year, more than 9 million children are seen in U.S. emergency departments, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in children. An estimated 7 million of those children suffer accidental injuries, which are the leading killer of children and adolescents.
“Warm weather and no school make for lots of fun, but also often result in more injuries for children,” said John K., M.D., associate professor of pediatric surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Responsible adult supervision is probably the most important single factor to keeping our kids safe.”
Petty noted that falls, motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents and all-terrain vehicles cause the most common injuries that are seen in the ED at Brenner Children’s Hospital, Wake Forest Baptist’s pediatric hospital, and he provided some tips on how to prevent them.
Falls are a leading cause of kids ED cases. Parents can help prevent falls by ensuring that surfaces under playground equipment are safe, soft and well-maintained (such as wood chips or sand, not dirt or grass). Children should also be made to wear protective gear during sports. Indoors, devices such as guards on windows that are above ground level, stair gates and guard rails should be installed.
Motor vehicle injuries are a surprisingly common cause of death among children. Buckling children in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats and seat belts reduces the risk of serious and fatal injuries. Infants should be secured in rear-facing child safety seats and toddlers should be secured in forward-facing seats. Booster seats, typically for children under 4-foot-9, position the seat belt by “boosting” the child so the lap and shoulder belt fit properly. Older children should always use conventional seat belts.
Pedestrian accidents involving children spike 16 percent during the warmer months. Close to 10 percent of child pedestrian injuries occur in driveways during the summer, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Parents should always walk around the back of their car before backing up and ensure that children are accounted for when operating a vehicle. Parents can also teach their children to use sidewalks and pedestrian crossings correctly and stress the importance of looking left, right and then left again before crossing driveways or roads. A child who is alert and proactive about road safety will be less likely to get in an accident.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) result in more than 30,000 annual injuries in children under the age of 16. Petty said parents should strongly discourage children from riding ATVs and encourage them to participate in a non-reckless activity such as riding bicycles. Parents who do allow their children access to ATVs should ensure that their kids wear a helmet, goggles, long sleeves and pants, over-the-ankle boots and gloves while operating an ATV. Children also should only ride an ATV that is appropriate for their size and age and be operated on designated trails and at a safe speed. Single-rider ATVs should never carry a passenger and no more than one passenger should be on an ATV specifically designed for two people.
“The value of the right safety equipment for each child cannot be overemphasized,” said Petty. “A certain amount of risk is part of life, but we can help guide our kids away from reckless activities.”