Accidents to children in the home

A - Z Health - Accidents to children in the home

Every year, 1 million children under the age of 15 are taken to accident and emergency (A&E) units after injuries occur in the home. Many more are treated at home or by their GP.

In the UK, injuries that occur in and around the home are the most common cause of death in children over the age of one. Children under five are most at risk from an injury in the home, and boys are more likely to be injured than girls.

The most severe injuries children are likely to experience are falls from height, or burns and scalds involving fire or hot water. Older children more often experience fractures such as a broken arm or wrist, while it is more common for younger children to go to hospital for suspected poisoning.

However, many of the injuries that occur in and around the home can be avoided. By identifying and understanding potential risks in the home, you can take some basic safety steps that will keep your children safe and give you peace of mind.

When should my child go to hospital?

Call an ambulance if your child:

  • stops breathing
  • is struggling for breath (for example, you may notice sucking in under the ribcage)
  • is unconscious or seems unaware of what's going on
  • won’t wake up
  • has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover

Take your child to A&E if they:

  • have a fever and are persistently lethargic despite having paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • are having difficulty breathing (breathing fast, panting or are very wheezy)
  • have severe abdominal pain
  • have a cut that won't stop bleeding or is gaping open
  • have a leg or arm injury and can’t use the limb
  • have swallowed a poison or tablets

If you’re worried about your child’s injuries and not sure if they need medical help, call NHS Direct on 0845 4647. If you’re unsure whether you should move your child, make sure they’re warm and then call an ambulance.

What causes injuries in the home?

Injuries can occur anywhere in and around the home, but common places include the dining room, kitchen, bathroom and the stairs. Injuries that occur in the kitchen and on the stairs are often the most serious.

There are potential hazards in every home, such as hot water, household chemicals, fireplaces and sharp objects. The design of some homes, such as those with balconies and open staircases, can also contribute to accidents.

Young children are not able to assess the risks all these things pose. Their perception of the environment around them is often limited and their lack of experience and development, such as their poor co-ordination and balance, can lead them to being injured.

Although childhood injuries can happen at any time, there are several factors that can contribute to an injury in the home, such as:

  • distraction and poor supervision
  • factors such as stress, a death in the family, chronic illness, homelessness and moving home
  • changes to the child's usual routine or being in a hurry
  • poor housing and overcrowded conditions
  • a lack of familiarity with surroundings, such as when on holiday or visiting friends or relatives

For more information and advice on injuries that occur in and around the home, visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and Child Accident Prevention Trust websites.