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Dubai: When it comes to child safety at home, many families in the UAE are still not aware of how they can make a home childproof, authorities say.

Every year there are reports of accidents and injuries involving children, including fatalities resulting from falling from high-rise buildings.

Last November, Dubai Municipality’s Public Health and Safety Department launched a campaign titled ‘Is Your Home Safe’ to tell parents about the importance of a safe home.

Last year, the department recorded 24 domestic accidents which included falls from a height, drowning in swimming pools, burns, and injuries from falling objects and gardening machinery. Burns, poisoning, suffocation and choking, and strangulation with various objects including blind cords, are deemed common domestic accidents.

Risk factors

The truth is, there are a staggering number of things that can come in the way of children’s safety in a home. Child-proofing a home is a big responsibility and parents need to be keenly aware of its various dimensions and solutions.

Campaigns such as that by Dubai Municipality have a big role to play in keeping parents informed about their responsibility.

Redha Hassan Salman, director of the Public Health and Safety Department, told Gulf News that officials gauged that there was still a lack of home safety measures by parents, children and maids.

“It’s extremely important that you know what to do if there are children, especially below three years of age, at home and how you can help your children and your family stay safe,” said Salman.

Best practices

To ensure best practices of home safety, he said, the campaign was rolled out in a unique way. A massive booth shaped like a house with cut-out models providing information was used to spread awareness about safety risks.

As gauged by officials earlier, 72 per cent of people who visited the booth admitted that they were not aware of many of the dangers lurking in their homes.

Salman said that the main objectives of the campaign have been formulated on the statistics and studies related to domestic accidents.

“The data of these incidents available in the department indicates an increase in domestic accidents in recent times due to lack of awareness about home safety,” he said.

The safety awareness programmes took place at the headquarters and branches of Dubai Municipality and at City Walk in the first phase of the campaign, said Dr Maryam Mahmoud Bin Eisa, head of the awareness team at the Dubai Municipality Health and Safety Department.

“The home-shaped booth talks about itself. Its design helped us in effectively conveying the safety risks at home and their preventive measures with real examples. People could easily connect with the situations in their homes,” said Dr Maryam.

Exhibition in malls, government offices and other public places is also planned in the upcoming phases of the campaign.

Parents share their home safety tips and tricks

Yasmin Rafeek, Sri Lankan
Mother of a 5-year-old boy
Lives in Abu Dhabi

In this day and age where families are smaller and living with fewer helping hands, safety and awareness are paramount regardless of where you live, said Rafeek.

In her case, being a homemaker, it helps in some ways but she is also pragmatic about the fact that she cannot be shadowing her child every minute of the day. “So, we take measures knowing I cannot hover over my 5-year-old all the time,” she said.

Yasmin’s husband shows their son the emergency numbers taped to a wall close to the phone. Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

“Safety at this stage is about physical aspects like keeping doors and balconies locked as well as being wary of strangers, never opening the door without either parent being present and learning our phone numbers by heart.

“When my kid was a toddler, all breakable and sharp objects were kept out of reach as were medications, cleaning chemicals and small items that could cause choking.

“Balcony doors were locked and a heavy article of furniture used to be placed in front. Sharp corners were covered with bumpers and electric sockets were covered up. We used a wedge for doors to prevent them from suddenly slamming shut and cupboards with childproof latches.

The challenges are ever present. “For example, till recently, I hadn’t realised that a curtain cord could lead to a child being strangled to death,” said Rafeek.

The most important lesson they have learned though is no matter how many times you teach your child about safety, “it is never enough to just let them be. Continuous repetition is needed as is our presence and awareness, especially outdoors,” she said.

Maheen Ali, German
Mother of two boys (aged 7 and 3)
Lives in Dubai

‘Inside the home, I feel it is a [comparatively] safe zone as we always keep a watch on the boys and take precautions to prevent accidents,” says Ali. “The boys are always reminded about dangers outside the home,” she said.

“Outside the house, they always need to hold my hand while walking on the road. Car seats appropriate for their age are a must. I never let my children be in the car alone, even for a minute.”

At the beach, her younger son wears his guard vest even in shallow waters.

“I am a stay at home mum and if I leave them with the maid, then it’s always the same part-time maid. My older son knows my phone number and I leave keys at home too so they can get out of the house in case of a fire.”

Maheen Ali with her family at their home in Dubai. (Inset) An extra lock fixed at some height on the sliding door of the balcony. Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

When it comes to creating awareness of danger, she communicates to her children through practical demonstrations. “When my younger son once climbed up an item of furniture, we told him to stop and showed him visually where the danger lay.”

Potentially dangerous items in the house are stowed out of sight. “Candles are kept out of reach. We always lock the front door and put the key on a key hanger and use tamper-proof cables. We have also fixed clips at unreachable height on our balcony sliding door.

But the challenges persist. “Hiding away all small toys or other hazardous items is a challenge at home. We tell them not to go near windows and don’t usually keep them open and when we do need to open windows we keep a tight watch on our boys.”

“My two sons are very different in nature,” said Ali. “The elder one didn’t require much supervision in safety matters whereas the younger one needs reminders.

“We are not immune to accidents so we need to be careful always. But at the same time, we should not go overboard with safety instructions and raise the kids in a fearful environment.” 

Allen Christlen, Indian
Working mother of two boys, aged 8 and 3
Lives in Sharjah

“The safety of our children is the prime concern in life,” said Christlen. “We do our best to not leave them alone but we also have provided them with all the guidelines that teach them to keep themselves safe in case my husband and I are not around.

As a working couple, the Christlens have hired a maid for their children, who is a trusted person with strong references from back home in India. Additionally, they have installed a camera in the house to be able to keep track of their kids.

She strives to make her boys understand the importance of staying safe, and at every stage of their growing up, adapted the home environment to maintain safety at all times.

“I used to keep a firm mattress on either side of the bed so prevent them from being injured due to a fall. Kitchen doors are kept closed when not in use. The corners of all tables are child proofed. Knives, peelers, scissors and all sharp objects are kept in places where they cannot be reached. Soft toys are avoided since they can cause allergy problems. The main door is always kept locked. All perfumes, creams, powders find no place on the dressing table.”

Allen Christlen with her family (top) and next to the dressing table which is cleared of glass bottles of perfume so that her sons won’t play with them.Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Though there is a water problem in her apartment complex, Christlen does not keep the bath tub filled, as her neighbours do. “I believe it is not a good idea when there are small children at home.

“We have told them never to open the door without our or the maid’s supervision.”

But despite the constant vigilance, accidents can happen, she said.

The big challenge as a working mother is to stay in the loop about everything that is happening back home while she is at work. “Teaching them safety rules repeatedly and providing them examples from real life would help them learn the lessons of safety,” she said.

“Gradually, they will learn to avoid situations which would harm them and know how to keep themselves safe.”

Home safety products in the UAE

Dubai: Over 1,000 parents received a home safety kit when they visited the Dubai Municipality’s booth set up at Citywalk and municipality centres since November to raise awareness of home safety. The kit included table corner protectors, fire blanket, door safety shield and a home safety booklet among others.

“We made the booklet interesting by telling stories to give examples of safety risks and their prevention. For each awareness point we have made stories to make people read it and make it more interesting for children. By seeing the illustration and reading the story, people can understand these matters faster and they will remember them for long,” said Dr Maryam Mahmoud Bin Eisa, head of the awareness team at the Dubai Municipality Health and Safety Department.

Similar stories were produced in animated videos and promoted through social media channels of the civic body. Among the instructions and guidelines, officials also called for constant adult supervision in play areas without any distraction to prevent accidental injuries.

All the publications and releases produced related to the campaign were also distributed to all municipality employees as well as 130,000 registered users by email.

After visiting the municipality booth, a whopping 93 per cent of the participants in the first phase of the campaign said that their level of awareness about home safety increased after taking part in it. As gauged by officials earlier, 72 per cent of the participants also admitted that they were not aware of many of the dangers lurking in their homes in detail.

That means they did not know the safety risks lurking in at least some of the following things at home — stairs, windows and balcony doors, bathtub, medicines, household chemicals and detergents, stove, dangerous household utensils, bookshelves, power outlets and electric cords, hot water, toys, drapes and candy and snacks.

“We understood that people make a lot of mistakes and are still not careful about some aspects of safety at home. For example, most people do not wear gloves and face masks while using or mixing household detergents and disinfectants.

“Most moms are careful about keeping medicines away from children. But several keep their creams and make-up items in places reachable by children,” said Dr. Maryam.

Useful information like this and much more was dealt in depth during the awareness sessions in the campaign.

Dr. Maryam feels there is a bonus result to the campaign. Through the initiative, officials could promote the targets of the Year of Reading last year and the Year of Giving this year. Happiness and innovation — two other key elements of the government’s strategies — could also be incorporated in the campaign.

In the next phase, the Safe Home Booth will visit schools.

“The entire installation will be shifted to schools. The booth will be kept in each participating school for five days and we will take each class to visit the awareness house. Besides that, we have prepared some special awareness stories for students. This is expected to spread the message among children and indirectly they can take home the message too,” said Dr. Maryam.

Exhibitions in malls, government offices and other public places are also planned in the upcoming phases of the campaign.