Parents take extra care when making their homes safe for babies. We cover electric outlets, cushion corners, and put chemicals out of reach—however a new study in the journal Pediatrics revealed today that many of us are overlooking a major threat.
Every six minutes a child younger than 5 falls down the stairs and is rushed to the hospital—nearly 100,000 children a year, according to findings from the Center for Injury Research and Policy. Researchers found the most serious injuries are to babies being carried downstairs; when the parent carrying them falls, the child is three times more likely to be hospitalized reports The TODAY Show.
Three major dangers of standard staircases contribute to the accidents that many families experience. The first is referred to as the “top of the flight flaw.” In many homes, the top step is longer than all the others, often because staircases are built off-site and then attached to the top floor later in the building process. (You can tell if this is the case in your home by measuring the diagonal distance between the edges of the steps.)
“So, as a parent, you take [that first] step, and your mind is tricked into thinking that all the remaining steps will be the same length,” explained Tracy Mehan, from the Center for Injury Research and Policy, to TODAY, “which is particularly bad when you're carrying a child.” And while uneven stairs are a building code violation, many builders are unaware of it and the code is not well enforced. Mehan advises parents to talk to a contractor about adding an extra piece of wood to the step to fix the problem, but also to simply be aware of the problem and take sufficient time getting down the steps.
The next flaw common in most household stairways involves the railing. If the railing in your house is extra chunky you may have a hard time gripping it when you need it most—as you’re slipping on the stairs. Mehan suggests replacing it with a thinner option or adding an additional thin rail to the other side of the wall.
The “gate flaw” is the final danger that Mehan warns against. Many parents use a pressure-mounted gate instead of a safer wall-mounted gate at the top of stairs. Pressure-mounted gates are often inexpensive and seem easy to install but “the problem is, many homes aren't designed to make it flush and be tight against the wall,” says Mehan.
Does your stairway have any of these common flaws? Have you ever slipped or fallen down the stairs while holding your baby?