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Be Wary of the Poisons You May Carry!

Child Safety Link is a Maritime wide child and youth injury prevention program located at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, NS. Partially funded by the generosity of donors, the Child Safety Link aims to reduce the incidence and severity of injury to children and youth. Julie Harrington, Coordinator with the Child Safety Link, provides some helpful tips to keep your young ones safe.

Child going through purseAs it is for many, my handbag is a catch-all necessity that I take everywhere I go. It’s full to the brim with stuff that helps make my day go more smoothly—keys, phone, wallet, lipstick, extra toothbrush, hand sanitizer, travel bottle of ibuprofen, phone charger, pack of gum—and the list goes on and on.

For small children however, “Mom’s Purse” –or anyone’s for that matter—can seem like an amusement park full of wonders! What many don’t realize is that most handbags contain at least one item that can seriously harm a small child.

Writing this blog made me curious as to what was in my own bag, so I dumped the contents out on my desk. To my surprise, it contained 7 items that could be considered poisonous! These items are everyday, ordinary things I would never have thought twice about. But, by definition, a poison can be any drug or non-drug substance that can cause illness or injury after ingesting it or coming into contact with it.

In Atlantic Canada, poisoning accounts for 7% of all childhood injuries that require hospitalization. Not surprisingly, children aged five years and younger account for 79% of these hospitalizations due to their hand-to-mouth habits. One common place young children are accessing poisons is from purses that have been left within reach.

According to the IWK Regional Poison Centre, there are five items commonly found in purses that we purse-carriers need to be especially careful with:

  • Toothpaste: Toothpaste can be appealing to kids, especially those with candy-like flavours and packaging. Many types of toothpaste contain sodium fluoride, which is meant for topical purposes to prevent tooth decay. However, if it is swallowed, this mixes with stomach juices to create a poison that can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or in more extreme cases, low blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
  • Medication: Kids can be attracted to pills because they can look or taste like candy, with bright colours and sugary coatings. However, young children are especially vulnerable to medication because of their smaller size and weight, and can be seriously injured by even common medicines (i.e. acetaminophen) or supplements (i.e. iron pills).
  • Nicotine: Cigarettes, nicotine gum and some electronic cigarette refill bottles can be a poisoning risk for children. Even mild nicotine poisoning in a child can result in nausea and vomiting, weakness, tremors or seizures. Nicotine gum is especially scary as it is packaged just like regular bubblegum, which many kids love.
  • Alcohol:  That peach-scented hand sanitizer?—not so “peachy” after all. Perfumes, hand sanitizers, mouthwashes—these cosmetic items all contain concentrated alcohol, and can be attractive to small children because of their colour or scent. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning can range from drowsiness and vomiting, to difficulty breathing.
  • Coins: Swallowing a coin could be harmless, if it passes through the digestive system, but can become VERY dangerous if it becomes lodged at any point in the digestive tract.

What can we do to help prevent unintentional poisonings? Because we are always going to carry these necessities in our purses, it is of the utmost importance that handbags be kept away from small children whether you are at home or visiting another home. Be aware of what Grandma does with her handbag when she comes to visit your home, too.

As for the contents of the purse, it’s a good idea to always keep medication in its original, child-resistant container, NOT in a plastic baggie or pill container. Keep in mind that “child-resistant” packaging does not mean “child proof”—even children as young as one have managed to open these containers!

March 16-22 is Poison Prevention Week across Canada, and the public can visit the Child Safety Link website at www.childsafetylink.ca for these and more tips on keeping children safe from unintentional poisonings. Please share this message and help keep our children safe!

Make a gift to the IWK Foundation.

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Another Way TV Can Harm Your Kids

Julie Harrington is a public relations coordinator at the Child Safety Link, a Maritime-wide children’s injury prevention program based at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia

We bought a new TV for the family room recently, and the old “clonker” TV wasn’t even in the storage closet for an hour before my kids came to me with a “brilliant” idea: could they move it into their bedroom? They wanted to watch movies and play Wii on it.

“We’d put it right up there on top of the high dresser,” said my son, “so you can see it from every part of the room.”

Working at Child Safety Link, the children’s injury prevention program at the IWK Health Centre, I immediately saw a problem with this plan.

“Even if I let you have a TV in your room,” I said to them, “it could never go on top of the dresser.” And then I told them about the growing phenomenon known as “Toppling TVs.”

picture tube tvWe all know that there are better things for the health of children than too much television. Regardless, TVs are everywhere—in 98% of Canadian homes, with the average home containing two or three. What people don’t realize is the serious physical hazard that such a common household item can pose to children—especially small children. In fact, there has been a growing trend across North America of televisions toppling over onto children, causing serious and sometimes even fatal injuries. In the U.S. in 2011, children injured by falling TVs visited hospitals 17,000 times!

Why are toppling TVs a “growing” trend? Because as technology advances, more people are replacing their picture tube or “CRT” (cathode ray tube) television sets in their living rooms with lighter, flatscreen TVs.  Often, these older sets are moved to rooms where children are more likely to play, such as bedrooms or playrooms. CRT televisions are not only heavy and bulky, but are easy to tip over because they are so front-heavy, and some of them can weigh up to 100 pounds! Often, these older sets are placed on top of bureaus or other furniture not designed for a top-heavy load. It’s all too easy to imagine: a child would only have to open one or two drawers of the bureau for it to tip over, sending the heavy television—and probably the piece of furniture too—onto the child.

Toppling injuries happen most commonly to children between the ages of 1 and 4 years—the age where kids start exploring and climbing. The most common type of trauma sustained in these incidents is a head or neck injury. Although my older boys wouldn’t be climbing on a bureau, they probably wouldn’t think twice about opening two or more drawers in the daily hunt for socks and underwear. The thought of what could happen is truly chilling! 

There are some pretty easy things we can do to make sure our television sets—and other pieces of heavy furniture—stay safety upright: 

  • Make sure that your television set is placed on stable furniture with a low, wide base, and that the set is pushed back as far as it can go. Never place TVs on bureaus or shelves that aren’t designed for top-heavy weight.
  • While you are at it, verify that all furniture in your home is stable. For storage units like dressers and cabinets, place heavier items in lower drawers or compartment so that the unit is bottom-heavy, and therefore more stable. Avoid putting CRT televisions in rooms where children often play. 
  • Use anchors or safety straps for all entertainment units, TV stands, bookcases, shelving and bureaus. Anchor these pieces to a wall or to the floor using hardware like brackets, screws, and toggles. Your local hardware store should be able to provide advice on your options for securing furniture, and tips for installation.
  • Don’t put the remote control, toys or anything else a child might want, on top of the TVMany children have toppled TVs trying to reach these things. 
  • Supervise children while they play in the home and teach them not to climb on the furniture. 
  • Make sure any electrical cords are kept tucked away behind the furniture and out of reach of children. 

Check out Child Safety Link’s new Public Service Announcement on how to safeguard your home from falling tvs and furniture, which will be airing for the next few months on CTV Atlantic.

 For more information on children’s injury prevention for all ages and stages, visit the Child Safety Link website at www.childsafetylink.ca .


When should I let my child sit in the front seat?

Julie Harrington is a public relations coordinator at the Child Safety Link, a Maritime-wide children’s injury prevention program based at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia

crash test dummies with airbags

crash test dummies with airbags

The other day I picked my 11-year old son up at the rink from hockey practice. But instead of climbing into the back seat like he always does after he stows his gear bag in the trunk, he opened the front passenger side door, hopped in, buckled the seatbelt, and—very casually, not looking at me—said “Alright, let’s go.”

“Get back in the back seat;” I said, “You are not old enough yet to be sitting in the front.”

An argument thus ensued. He pointed that out in EVERY car around us in the parking lot, there were kids his age sitting in the front of the car with their parents. I wondered, was I the only one with a large sign on the passenger side sun visor that very visibly says: “Warning! Children can be killed or seriously injured by the air bag—the back seat is the safest place for children under the age of 13.”

I explained to him that there was a very good reason for the back seat until age 13—that I wasn’t just being a “car seat nag” because I work at a place that promotes child passenger safety for kids of all ages, every day.

Yes, it’s a safety recommendation and not a law but, it’s also a hard fact: Front-seat riders are more at risk in a front-end collision (the most common and deadly type of collision), and, ironically, children can be seriously injured by the very feature designed to save adult lives: the air bag. Air bags offer great protection to teens and adults, but can endanger smaller, lighter people (kids, that is). Why? Because they inflate with such incredible force that they can cause severe head and neck injuries to a child who is sitting lower down in the passenger seat.

Another sobering fact: More than a hundred children have been killed by front air bags in recent years in North America, and many of these deaths were in slow-speed collisions that should have been minor.

Once I explained these facts to my son, he was pretty convinced to head back to the back seat for another year or two.  He “got” my point: the back seat of the car is simply a more protected area for a young person to be, because it is shielded both from the front airbags and the dashboard in the event of a crash.

CSL LogoAt Child Safety Link, our team has noticed a growing trend to rush kids from one stage of car seat to the next. Sometimes, it’s the kids that are putting on the pressure to sit like their elder sibling. Sometimes, it’s the parents urging the change, excited to introduce another “rite of passage.”

What many folks don’t realize is this: every stage of car seat is actually a little less safe than the stage before. The safest place your child will ever be in a car is when he is an infant in his rear-facing car seat. Rear-facing is THE safest position to be in the event of a car crash, and is actually safer than a forward-facing car seat. In turn, forward-facing car seats provide more protection in a crash situation than the next phase, the booster seat. Child Safety Link recommends that as long as your child fits within the weight and height of the seat, consider using that seat rather than rushing on to the next stage.

It’s an epidemic…so many parents and caregivers these days are hasty to move their child from the rear-facing to the forward-facing seat to the booster seat, to the seatbelt in the back…and then to the seatbelt in the front. There are so many exciting milestones to celebrate as your child grows up—don’t make the car seat one of them!

This week is Child Passenger Safety Week across the Maritimes (September 15-21). Please help the children in your life be safer on the roads by forwarding this information to parents and caregivers that you know.

Safe travels everyone!

For more information on child passenger safety for all ages and stages of babies, children and youth, visit our website at www.childsafetylink.ca .

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Not All Poisons Come in a Bottle

Brittney Gavin is a health Promotion Intern for the Child and Safety Link at the IWK Health Centre. March 17-23, 2013 is Poison Prevention Week, and Child and Safety Link would like to bring attention to up and coming poisoning issues. 

Not all poisons come in a bottle.

Not all poisons come in a bottle.

When you think of poisonous household products, what comes to mind? Maybe a few of the cosmetics in your bathroom or the assortment of cleaning products kept locked up under the kitchen sink? While you should certainly always keep these typical products in mind when safe-proofing your home for children, it is so important to also be aware of the not-so-obvious threats. A poison is defined as anything that can make you sick if you swallow it, taste it, smell it, get it on your skin or in your eye. March 17-23 is National Poison Prevention Week and Child Safety Link would like to raise awareness about up and coming poisoning issues. New products are constantly being introduced to the market, and we want to keep you up-to-date on those tricky toxins that could be potentially poisonous if handled or swallowed by a child.

Button Batteries

Everyone has these in their home; in remotes, watches, small toys, singing greeting cards, small electronics, etc. Swallowing any button battery could be a potentially dangerous situation; however, the 20mm button battery in particular is wide, which increases the chance of it getting stuck in your child’s throat. A swallowed button battery could pass through the digestive system without causing any damage, but if it gets lodged in the throat, it can begin to leak and burn in as little as two hours. Make sure these items are either out of reach of children, or that the cells are secured inside the battery compartment with a tool.

Laundry Detergent Packets

No wonder these items are appealing to children with their bright colours and delightful squishiness—as an adult, I am secretly fascinated by them too! However, these single-dose capsules contain highly concentrated detergents and as they increase in popularity and pop up in more households, increasing numbers of children have been poisoned by them. Last year, the IWK Regional Poison Centre received several calls from worried parents/caregivers of a child who had swallowed or burst one of these packets. Reported effects seen in these children included vomiting, sleepiness, trouble breathing and eye or skin irritations. Like other household cleaners, these packets should be kept locked in a cabinet, away from children.

Magnetic Beads

Although they are banned in the U.S., these small, powerful magnetic balls are still available in Canada and are advertised as a desk toy for adults. There have been reports of children eating the magnetic beads, thinking they are candy. There have also been reports of older children using the beads to mimic tongue or nose piercings, and unintentionally swallowing them. If a child swallows two or more beads, the magnets can create holes in the intestine, causing blockages, blood poisoning or even death. It is recommended to keep these away from children.

For more information on poison prevention visit http://www.childsafetylink.ca or http://www.iwkpoisoncentre.ca. The IWK Regional Poison Centre is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and takes calls about possible poisonings for people of all ages. If you think your child may have been poisoned, please call the Poison Centre at 1-800-565-8161, or call 911.


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Playing safe in the snow.

Julie Harrington is a coordinator at the Child Safety Link Child Safety Link, a Maritime-wide children’s injury prevention program based at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

008Now that the storm is over and we are all (mostly) “dug out,”  many Maritime children are now gazing out their windows at a very tempting sight—high, fluffy, white snow banks and snow piles as far as the eye can see. While this major snowfall has been a major pain for many adults (i.e. extra shoveling and traffic jams), children see it as a great time to climb, build and slide on mountains of white stuff.

Parents love seeing their children playing in the snow, cheeks rosy and pink, smiles wide, having a blast! And why not: it’s fantastic see our kids being active and creative outside for hours on end, particularly after being cooped up for days inside.

However, it is important for all parents and caregivers to be aware of the potential hazards of snow play involving snow forts, tunnels and tall snow banks.

There are no national statistics on the types and number of childhood injuries that occur annually in Canada, but health officials say at least one Canadian child suffocates each year after being trapped in a snow structure. The children are usually school-age and generally old enough to play outside by themselves. Children who suffocate in the snow are also often playing by themselves when they become trapped in a snow structure.

Child Safety Link would like to remind parents and caregivers of the following tips that will help your children to be safe while they are having fun outside in these wintery conditions:

  • If children want to build snow structures in the yard, they should not make roofs or form a tunnel that could collapse on them. Encourage them to have fun by being creative—perhaps they could make a house with walls (instead of a ceiling) and fill it with “snow furniture.”
  • Active supervision is important when young children are playing outside in the snow. School-aged children should play outside with a friend who could call for help if a situation arose.
  • Children should never play in or on snow banks that border roads, as snow plow operators and other drivers may not know there are children on/in them.
  • Children should keep well away from snowblowers (both the machine itself and the snow plume that is ejected from it), as well as snow plows.

Please visit Child Safety Link’s website at www.childsafetylink.ca for these and more tips on winter safety for children of all ages and stages.

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Book bags and Beyond: Back to School with Safety in Mind

Another summer has passed, but don’t let back-to-school safety slide by like the last few warm and wonderful days of summer! Here are a few refresher tips to help your child have a safe and healthy start to a great school year brought to you by the IWK Child Safety Link.

The Book bag

When you add up the weight of books, school supplies, gym clothes, lunch bag, sneakers, various pieces of art, birthday invitations, random show and tell items…you can end up with one hefty backpack! Although children have more youthful and limber bodies, they can still be susceptible to physical injuries from carrying too much weight. When packing your child’s book bag, make sure it weighs no more than 10% of their body weight.  Heavy items like textbooks should be packed close to your child’s body, and he/she should wear both shoulder straps of the book bag, to carry the weight evenly.

The Lunch

Tuna sandwiches, cheese strings, fruit and pudding cups are welcome additions to your child’s lunch bag…salmonella and e-coli are not! When making school lunches, make sure to wash your hands, cooking tools and food surfaces often with warm soapy water. Do not use meat, eggs, dairy products or mayo in lunches if the food can’t be kept cold with a freezer pack. Remind your child to wash his/her hands before diving into the food. If you think little Johnny might forget to do this, pack him a hand wipe.

The Commute

What great news that the speed limits in school zones in Nova Scotia have been reduced this year! But there are still many pedestrian safety tips to keep in mind. Teach children who are walking to school to look left, right, then left again before crossing the street. Children under age 9 should not walk to school without the help of an older child or an adult.  Consider organizing a “walking school bus” in your neighbourhood, where a group of children walk with adults along a pre-determined route. Children over age 9 should walk facing traffic, in groups if possible, and use sidewalks or stay far to the shoulder of the road when walking to school. Children who ride bikes to school should wear a properly fitting helmet.

The Playground

Falls are the most common cause of playground injuries. Injuries happen most often on the playground in September, when children are just starting or returning to school. Wherever Little Suzie is at a playground, make sure that the material under the play structure is soft sand or pea gravel, rubber or wood chips—grass is not considered cushiony enough to prevent injuries. Let your child know to keep things like skipping ropes and pet leashes away from play equipment, and make sure long scarves and drawstrings are removed from her clothing before she goes on the equipment. Teach your child never to jump from a moving swing, and to only go “down” and not “up” the slide. If you see any unsafe conditions or behavior on a playground, it is important to contact the owner/operator of the playground.

For more information on these and other children’s injury prevention topics, and to download our wide range of new educational resources, visit www.childssafetylink.ca or call us at 1-866-288-1388. We wish you a fun, safe and healthy school year!

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Is Your Backyard as Safe as it Should Be?

Sarah Blades is a Health Promotion Specialist with Child Safety Link at the IWK Health Centre

The next time you send your children outside to play, you may want to consider the hidden dangers that exist in your own backyard. There are some important ways you can protect your children – and your neighbours’ kids – this summer.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for young children in Atlantic Canada. If pools are enclosed by a four-sided, self-locking, self-closing gate, many toddler drownings could be prevented.

It is also important to empty any temporary water from things such as kiddie pools or buckets when you’re not using them. A child can drown very quietly and very quickly in a small amount of water.

They may be pretty to look at, but some annuals and perennials are toxic to children. Parents should pay special attention to the plants growing on their property, know the names of them and eliminate anything poisonous. If poisonous plants are consumed, the result can range from a burn on the mouth to the child becoming very sick. If a child does come into contact with a toxic plant, parents in Nova Scotia and PEI should call the IWK Regional Poison Centre at 1-800-565-8161. In New Brunswick, call 911.

Backyard play sets are fun for kids of all ages, but you might be surprised to hear your lawn is not the best ground surface for swings and slides. In fact, soft sand, wood chips, pea gravel or rubber material are all safer options for your outdoor play space because they absorb impact much better than grassy ground.

Here’s a quick playground checklist for your backyard:

  • Surfacing such as pea gravel, wood chips or soft sand should extend at least 1.8 metres (6 feet) in all directions from the play equipment.
  • Spaces in equipment should be less than 9 cm (3.5 in) or greater than 23 cm (9 in). Look for and eliminate spaces that could trap a child’s head or body.
  • Platforms should have ramps and guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Watch for sharp points or edges that can catch children’s clothing.
  • Swing seats should be made from soft material such as rubber or canvas.
  • Play equipment should be firmly anchored to the ground.
  • Watch for tripping hazards such as exposed concrete or tree roots around play equipment.
  • Remove anything that could choke your child such as drawstrings on clothing or helmets.

Important safety tips for all stages of childhood can be found at childsafetylink.ca.

View a piece of the interview with Sarah Blades.