Child accidents: a mitigable risk

Accidents are among the biggest health risks and the most common causes of death among children and adolescents. They often occur due to hazard sources that are easily overlooked or have not been not identified as such. If parents and carers know the risks, hazardous situations can be avoided more easily. People who are well informed can protect children against accidents.

At a glance

  • Accidents are among the most common causes of death among children and adolescents.
  • Most accidents occur in people’s homes but also in educational institutions as well as during sport and leisure activities.
  • Those who are aware of the risks can better protect children against accidents.
  • The German association “Safe kids” (“Mehr Sicherheit für Kinder” – BAG) offers a comprehensive range of information.
  • Parents, other legal guardians and carers should take a first-aid course to learn what to do in an emergency.
Small girl standing in front of an oven hob with a pan of boiling liquid and grabbing the edge of the pan to look straight into it.

Child accidents: reducing the risk

Accidents involving children and adolescents can have serious consequences. The most common accidents include falls, burns or scalds within the home and primarily involve babies and infants. Parents, but also relatives, carers and teachers can better protect children against accidents if they are well informed about the risks.

It is particularly important to know the most common hazard sources and to consider these in order to improve safety in homes. It is important to consider children’s physical and mental development with regard to their sensory perception and awareness of danger. For example, infants under the age of about 4 do not yet have any awareness of dangers. Only children from approximately 5 to 6 years onwards are able to recognize acute hazards.

Where do most accidents occur?

Many accidents happen at home, in educational and childcare facilities, during sport and leisure activities and on roads. When children start to explore and understand their environment, you can observe the most exciting and beautiful moments. Unfortunately, this is also the time when a high number of accidents can occur. A study by the Robert Koch Institute, which surveyed numerous children and parents between 2014 and 2017, showed that one in seven girls and one in five boys aged between one and 17 had received medical treatment for an accident within the 12 months prior to the survey.

Infants who are just learning how movement sequences work and are not yet familiar with dangers are particularly susceptible to accidents and injuries.

Most accidents happen at home or in private environments (43.8 percent), at school or in other childcare facilities (24.2 percent) and in playgrounds or sports facilities (17.4 percent). Children are most likely to have an accident in the places they spend the most time – as they get older, they leave home more, so playground and road traffic accidents become more common.

43.8% of accidents occur at home or in the private domain.

People who are familiar with the most common household risks and the ways to prevent accidents can stop these from happening to children at home. In addition, it is important to know what to do if a child is injured or has an accident.

As a result, parents and guardians, but also people who regularly deal with children within the scope of their work should attend a suitable course. Special “child first aid courses” are also available in this regard. These teach course participants everything they should know in an emergency: from how to treat wounds and burns to the recovery position for children.

The following services all offer child first aid courses:
German Red Cross (DRK)
Workers’ Samaritan Federation (ASB)
St. John Accident Assistance (Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe e.V.)
Malteser Aid Agency (Malteser Hilfsdienst e.V.)

Child safety: tips and information

Information about child safety can be found on many websites, including the following: kindergesundheit-info-de from the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA), from the German association “Safe kids” (“Mehr Sicherheit für Kinder” – BAG) or the German Association for the Prevention of Road Accidents (Verkehrswacht).

It is important to involve children in risk assessments and when establishing accident prevention measures. Adults should therefore explain risky situations in a manner that children can understand, establish rules and consistently check that these are being observed.

Head injuries are particularly common, usually as a result of falls. Especially in the case of infants under the age of 4, these are among the most common injuries caused by accidents, alongside burns and scalds.

This list provides a number of tips on how to avoid falls and burns:

  • Never leave babies alone or unattended on a changing table, bed or sofa.
  • Never leave young children unattended with a window open or on a balcony. Fit windows and doors with safety catches or locks.
  • Keep walkways and stairs clear of objects and secure dangerous corners. Practice climbing stairs with smaller children: first crawling backwards, later with one hand on the railing.
  • Avoid slip hazards: wear non-slip socks and shoes, including in nursery and school.
  • Bike safety: start by practicing on a balance bike or scooter before progressing to a pedal bike. Ensure the child always wears a helmet and is always accompanied by a responsible adult.
  • Furniture: attach shelves to the wall and do not allow children to climb on furniture.
  • Hot liquids and appliances: do not place hot liquids on the edge of tables; store kettles and irons somewhere safe.
  • Hot surfaces: secure heated surfaces such as stoves, ovens or hobs.
  • Hot water: check the bath water temperature before bathing the child and tightly seal hot water bottles.
  • Always keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
  • Hot food: try heated or cooked food before feeding the child.
  • Electricity: secure plug sockets and do not put electrical devices in cots. Also be careful with infrared lamps and radiant heaters.
  • Do not leave exposed or hanging cables in the reach of children.

Important: Children’s skin is far more sensitive than adults’. This means that even temperatures that adults do not find hot can be dangerous for children’s skin. Furthermore, infants have a much larger body surface area than adults in relation to their body weight. This means that scalds and burns can quickly become life-threatening.

Identifying hidden dangers

Many injuries occur due to hidden dangers that people do not always notice at first glance or in situations that are difficult to assess. First-time parents or adults who have little experience with children are often surprised by such risks.

The commonest accidents at the age of 0-6 months are falls and transport accidents, between 7 months and 4 years they are, for example, choking, burns and falls. At 5 years, traffic accidents and sport and leisure accidents are the most common.

As a result, the advice provided does not only include tips on safe children’s bedrooms and road safety, but also covers a much broader range of topics, from avoiding poisoning to learning how to swim safely, buying the right bicycle helmet and even tips for a safe run up to Christmas.

An annual child safety day has also been held since 2000 to promote better awareness of accident risks. The member organizations of the German association “Safe kids” and all interested parties use this to help educate both parents and children through exhibitions and events.

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