With children at home over the coming weeks and the NHS overwhelmed, many families are likely to be worried about their child having a serious accident (rightly so when you think 80% of accidents to under 5’s happen at home!).

There is so much on social media, it can be really hard to know where to focus. To help you, here at CAPT we focus on the accidents that are the most serious and the easiest to prevent.

The most serious preventable accidents to the under-fives fall into five main areas:

  1. Threats to breathing – choking, strangulation or suffocation
  2. Falls
  3. Poisoning
  4. Burns and scalds
  5. Drowning

1. Threats to breathing – chokingsuffocation or strangulation

“There is a reason why healthcare professionals say don’t let a little person sleep in a car seat for more than two hours. It’s because they’re not strong enough to support their own head and they can cut off their airway.” - Mother

The accident that can fill parents with dread – given the chances of it being fatal. These accidents most often happen when babies and young children:

  • Choke on food or vomit
  • Get strangled on things like blind cords when exploring
  • Suffocate on a nappy sack or when sleeping on a sofa or bed, sling or carrier.

Think of a 2 pence piece – get one out now and take a look. The diameter is roughly the size of a child’s windpipe. Imagine the windpipe is also soft and far more delicate than an adult’s.

Consider also that babies have large, heavy heads and it takes time for their neck muscles to strengthen. And that babies and younger children lack dexterity, strength or motor skills to get themselves out of trouble.

Then it’s easy to see why food needs to be cut up so small, dangling blind cords can be deadly and cot toys or bedding can be a danger for a lone baby.

Small children’s windpipes are a similar size to 2 pence piece and are soft and delicate. So breathing can be prevented more easily than for an adult.

2. Falls

One of the areas where parents are most likely to switch off from advice. It seems so obvious. And we tend to think of falls as a part of growing up. To some degree they are.

But what is less obvious is that the damage to delicate, developing brains can be significant even with a fall from a relatively low height.

“Depending on the age of the child, it can take months and quite possibly years for the injury to become apparent. It is only when the injured part of the brain develops that the extent of the brain injury can be known.” The Child Brain Injury Trust

Now imagine if your head was twice as big as it is. At birth, a baby’s head is between a quarter and a third of their total body length, while an adult’s head is just one eighth. This changes their centre of gravity and makes them top-heavy.

Then add the element of surprise. Even very little babies can suddenly roll and fall off the bed or changing table. Older babies can start to crawl or shuffle towards the stairs when you least expect it. Toddlers are immensely curious and can be fearless climbers.

Babies’ heads are twice as big as ours, which makes them top-heavy. Developing brains are delicate. Add to that the element of surprise and you can see why falls can cause serious head injury.

3. Poisoning

Babies and young children explore the world around them by putting things in their mouths. As they start to move around and pull themselves up on furniture there’s no limit to what they can find.

Unfortunately they are more likely to suffer serious consequences if they swallow something harmful because they are smaller, have faster metabolic rates and their bodies are less able to neutralise harmful chemicals. And products that are helpful to us can be unexpectedly harmful to small children. The top culprits for accidental poisoning are:

  • Everyday painkillers left in handbags on the floor
  • Laundry and cleaning products. Washing tabs/pods are harmful if children bite into them and we know that parents don’t realise just how much damage they can do.

Everything goes in the mouth. Small bodies process poison differently. And unexpected dangers such as painkillers and washing tabs/pods can lie around the home.

4. Burns and scalds

Burns can be horrifying for children and their families. With skin 15 times thinner than an adult’s, it’s easy to see how much damage can be done to a baby’s body.

Doctors and nurses working in burns units see children coming in every day with horrible burns from hot drinks. The peak age is 8 to 18 months.

While far less common, bath water scalds are horrendously damaging – small children lack the strength and dexterity to get themselves out of hot water if they’ve fallen in or turned on the hot tap.

Hair straighteners and curling wands can get as hot as your iron. So you can imagine the burns they can cause to babies or children when they sit on straighteners on the floor, pull them off the dressing table or even put them in their mouths.

Treating burns quickly can make all the difference to how deep the burn goes. So first aid advice is really important.

A small child’s skin is thin and delicate. Even a hot drink can seriously burn. Share key first aid advice for burns.

5. Drowning

It takes very little water for a baby or young child to drown. They don’t make a noise or splash about either.

So a parent who’s stepped out of the bathroom to grab a towel, or adults around the pool or inside the villa may not realise until it’s too late. Garden ponds are a risk for the same reason.

As children grow up, they can still get into difficulties in the water. They may over-estimate how strong a swimmer they are. Or may simply not realise when they are at risk, for example by taking inflatables into the sea or swimming in reservoirs, rivers or canals.

Unlike in the movies, drowning is silent. Babies and small children can drown in just 5cm of water. Older children who can swim can still get into difficulties. Share advice on keeping safe around water.


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Next steps:

  • Click on the hyperlinked titles above for further advice

  • Follow CAPT on Facebook and Twitter at  for advice for families you can simply share to help

  • Share this information widely with families directly or colleagues who have access to channels to disseminate essential child safety advice to local families so that they can register for their free resources

  • Sign up to Child Safety Week to gain access to resources that may help over the coming weeks

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