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Consumers : Building In Child Safety

August 16, 1989|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

Two years ago, Calabasas businessman Robert Sacks decided he needed to take a hard look at child safety in his home--and beyond--after his 2-year-old son, Brandon, almost electrocuted himself by sticking a nail into a wall socket.

"I thought we had been pretty careful," Sacks recalled last week. But the accident "made me aware we had a problem in the house. I started looking into child safety in the home. But I found no information, no booklets, no agency in existence dealing" with the problem.

Citing figures showing that last year almost 8,000 of the nation's children age 14 and younger were killed and 50,000 were permanently disabled in accidents, Sacks asked: "Why do homes have to be a deathtrap for children? Let's do something with foresight rather than after-sight."

Better and Cheaper

He explained that it is better and cheaper to add safety features while building a home rather than adding them later.

That's precisely the point of three new Calabasas houses to be displayed in the upcoming California Showcase '89, an exhibit emphasizing "baby safe" architecture, interior design and landscaping.

Among safety designs featured in the homes will be: bull-nosed (rounded) wall corners and fireplace mantels; staircases with rounded dual railings--one for adults, a lower one for children; and intermediate landings so children, if they do fall, tumble a few steps, not the length of an entire stairway.

The homes also have tempered glass windows that won't shatter if accidentally struck; fireplaces with protective glass; oven doors out of a child's reach; temperature-controlled water faucets; wall sockets with sliding safety panels; and special (GFCI) wiring systems that shut off the current if an object is stuck in a socket.

The homes have such exterior safety features as balcony walls 44 inches high, too high for a small child to scale. Some models have wrought iron balconies with rounded tops and bottoms and rails no farther apart than four inches, so children can't get their heads stuck between them.

The models will include safety fences; covers and warning systems to help prevent swimming pool accidents; and landscaping with low-toxicity trees and plants and non-protruding lawn sprinkler heads.

Sacks hopes the show homes, which will be open for tours from Sept. 17-Oct. 15, will "teach and educate American builders" that child safety measures can be incorporated into homes "without compromising the integrity of the design."

"I've never been an activist, but I felt there was a real need for this," he said, explaining that he went to several Los Angeles builders, asking them to put up the models for exhibit and later for private sale. They refused because of potential legal "liability" problems, he said.

But Saddletree Development in Calabasas agreed to the project and is building the three homes: a desert design, a contemporary unit and a Spanish model. After the showcase, the homes will go on the market for $1.5 million to $1.8 million.

Child Safety Awareness

California Showcase '89 will benefit the nonprofit group that Sacks has founded, the National Institute of Children's Environments (NICE), which puts on educational programs for builders and developers to promote child safety awareness. The group is a chapter of the National Child Safety Council (NCSC) in Jackson, Mich., the 34-year-old children's safety organization that initiated the national Missing Children Milk Carton Program.

"I don't proclaim to be an expert on this," Sacks admitted. "We conducted interviews with mothers, safety experts, doctors and the architects came up with their own designs, based on what we've learned. These homes are designed to be baby-safe, not baby-proof. . . . There is no such thing as a baby-proof house. And nothing replaces parental supervision."

Programs from other children's safety groups also will be assisted by the showcase, and each organization will have outside booths to display educational materials and exhibits. Participants will include the Los Angeles Area Child Passenger Safety Assn., the Drowning Prevention Foundation, the National Kid Safe Project and the Alicia Ann Ruch California Burn Foundation.

Besides NICE and NCSC, the showcase presenters include the Southern California and California South Coast chapters of the International Furnishings and Design Assn. and Valley Magazine. Tickets ordered before Sept. 1 are $10 per person; $15 after that. Call (818) 595-7777.

"This is very unique and something that's been needed for a long, long time," Tony Horton, NCSC vice president, said of the showcase. "It is the beginning of a two-year pilot program. We're planning to have them in different parts of the country. We hope to have one next spring, maybe in Houston and the fall in San Francisco."

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