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Ground Zero

Childproofing a home for safety's sake, O.C. experts say, starts at the most basic level--on hands and knees.

March 08, 1997|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Perhaps you're expecting your first child or you'll soon have a friend or relative visiting with a toddler. The best way to prepare your house for a little one? Get on your hands and knees.

"You can get down to their perspective and see what they see," says Ken George, a childproofing consultant who runs Safety for Toddlers in Laguna Hills. "You won't believe the hazards you'll come across just by doing this."

Childproofing a house can be daunting because it means looking out for dangers that otherwise might never occur to you.

With a little patience and some common sense, it can be done. Here is some advice from experts to get started.

For Starters

Open a door and you'll probably find a doorstop screwed into the molding in the back. If your stoppers are the type that have a plastic cap, it's time to take action.

"It's easy for a small child to pull these off, and the caps become a choking hazard," says George. Replace them with cap-free stops, or glue the rubber cap into place so that it can't be removed.

In the living room, low tables with sharp corners should be padded.

Watch out for free-standing or pole lamps. "These offer quite a temptation for a child who will want to grab onto one and try to pull himself up," George says. "But they're not very sturdy, and they'll probably fall down on top of him." It may be best to store these lamps until the child is out of the toddler stage.

Anyone who's tried childproofing knows about electric outlet covers. However, these won't guard against all threats.

"You'll often see one of the plugs covered; then the other has a lamp cord going out of it," George says. "The child just has to pull the cord out to get to the outlet. I prefer using outlet covers that close automatically once something is unplugged."

Speaking of lamps, when a bulb burns out, do you remove it and make a note on your shopping list to get a new one?

Bad idea.

"You don't want a child to reach into the empty socket and turn the switch on," says Pam Raidy of Baby Safe in Huntington Beach. "Leave the old bulb in place until you replace it."

While taking that hands-and-knees tour, look for obvious hazards--a piece of hard candy or other small things to choke on under the couch, etc.--as well as more subtle ones.

Run your hand along the molding, where splintering could have occurred. Sand and repaint those areas.

The fireplace is always an area to watch. Move accessory sets with pokers and brushes out of the way. Remove the gas key and matches or other fire starters.

Use nonflammable bumpers along the sharp edges and corners of a raised stone hearth. Don't use pillows for padding on the hearth, because a wayward spark could ignite them. Glass fireplace doors or a secure fire screen can help keep children away from the flames.

In the Kitchen

Using safety latches on cabinets, the oven door, refrigerator doors, pantry, you name it, should be the first task, and it's probably best to do this before the child is mobile.

"Once you start locking up cabinets he or she has been opening up easily, the child gets frustrated and angry, something that could have been avoided if they were locked up in the first place," George says.

If someone in the house usually leaves a purse on a table or counter, find a new place that's definitely out of reach for young hands. Purses can contain medication, sharp objects such as tweezers or a nail file and other things small enough to be swallowed.

Also clear counters of electrical cords from items such as toasters and blenders that could fall on the child if pulled. Keep dishwashers and trash compactors locked, and make sure forks and knives are pointed down in the dishwasher.

It may be disconcerting for your cat or dog, but it's best to keep bowls of food and water and litter boxes out of reach, preferably in a garage or laundry room that's gated and inaccessible to the toddler.

Bath Time

Toilet lid locks are critical to keep a child away from water. Select a good one and make sure you install it properly. Always close and latch bathroom doors. It's also a good idea to lock the medicine cabinet, experts say.

Hot water can be extremely dangerous. Set your water heater thermostat at low, or 120 to 130 degrees. You also might want to loosen the hot water handle in the bathtub, which will allow you to remove it when it's not in use.

Install a full-length bath mat and a spout guard in the bathtub.

Kids in the Hall

Bedroom and bathroom doors that can be locked from the inside by pushing a button could be a hazard. A child can go inside, close the door and lock it.

"Most of these types of locks are relatively simple to open with a small screwdriver or awl inserted into the knob," says contractor Dave Emmons of Anaheim. "It's probably a good idea to practice unspringing one of these locks from the outside so that you'll know how to do it."

Gates are integral to the safety of a young child.

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