Think child safety

Childhood injury in South Africa is an unrelenting public health problem of epidemic proportions. During National Child Accident Prevention Week, which takes place from 11-15 August, this issue is placed under the magnifying glass.

Injuries destroy the health, lives and independence of thousands of children, yet prevention of injuries receives scant attention.

Recent South African statistics
Each day more than 10 children under the age of fifteen years die of motor vehicle accidents, drowning, poisoning, burns, violence and other physical hazards present in an environment created by adults. At the Red Cross Children’s Hospital alone, more than 10 000 children were treated in one year for various injuries.

More than 75% of accidents suffered by children occur in the home. The home environment is where children should feel safest and if they don’t, how then can they expect to face the world outside with any confidence?

The latest National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (conducted in 2001 by the Medical Research Council) shows that among infants and children younger than five years, burns were the main cause of death. Among children aged 5-14 years pedestrian injuries claimed the most lives.

From an economic perspective, childhood injuries presently impose a far greater financial burden on the health system compared to other diseases, which have more successfully penetrated the national consciousness.

Aim is to raise awareness
With National Child Accident Prevention Week the Child Accident Prevention Foundation (CAPFSA) and other role-players aim to raise awareness and promote action to reduce South Africa’s unacceptable high rate of childhood injuries and deaths. This health week is set aside to remind people that childhood injuries are preventable and that keeping children safe is not just due to “good luck”.

Child safety messages
The following are just some of the safety messages that CAPFSA emphasises during the Child Accident Prevention Week:


  • It is estimated that more than one child drowns in South Africa every day. Most drownings occur in rivers and dams followed by swimming pools.
  • Always supervise small children near water even if they can swim.
  • Swimming pools should be fenced or covered with a safety net.
  • Never leave small children alone in the bath and always empty nappy buckets or close firmly with a lid. Too many children have drowned in buckets filled with water.
  • Children should learn to swim as soon as possible and also be taught water survival skills.


  • A burn takes a second to occur but a lifetime to heal. When children are seriously burnt they might require multiply surgery over extended periods of time, and have to deal with the consequences of possible disfigurement for a lifetime.
  • The Red Cross Children’s Hospital annually treats an average of 900 children for burn injuries. The majority of these ‘accidents’ could have been prevented.
  • Most children burn with hot fluids such as water, oil, food, coffee and tea.
  • Never handle small children and hot substances at the same time.
  • Place paraffin appliances on a stable, safe, out of reach area.
  • Always guard open fires.
  • Always put the cold water in the bath first and then add the hot water.
  • Set your hot water cylinder to a safer temperature of 50 degrees Celsius.
  • Keep pot handles pointing to the back of the stove.
  • Keep electrical cords out of reach of small curious children.
  • Teach children not to experiment with fire, matches or lighters.
  • If your clothing catches fire, "stop, drop and roll" to put out the flames.
  • In the event of a burn injury, cool the burn with cool water from the tap for 15 minutes.


  • Medication, paraffin or household cleaning substances that are stored within the child’s reach is the cause of most poisoning incidences.
  • Children under the age of five years are particularly vulnerable to poisoning accidents. Caregivers should therefore store dangerous substances out of reach in a locked cupboard or in child resistant containers if available.
  • Always read labels and dosage instructions on medication.
  • Always use a child resistant closure (safety cap) on your paraffin, petrol and turpentine containers.
  • Never store poisonous substances with food.
  • Know what to do in the event of an emergency and keep the number of the nearest poisons information centre next to the phone.


  • More than 40% of injuries treated at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital are due to falls. Most of these injuries can be prevented with a bit of forethought.
  • Babies should never be left alone on any high surface such as a changing table or bed.
  • Be aware of playground safety. Too many children are injured falling from playground equipment.
  • Use safety gates on stairs.

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