Protect your baby like a safety officer

I’m a mama of two boys, but I am also a health and safety professional in the construction field. In the industry, to protect the workers from workplace danger and minimize the risk of hazards, we use a system called “Hazard Control Hierarchy”. Don’t be scared by the technical words. Let me explain.

The system is represented by a pyramid, an inverted one. The idea behind it is that the control methods at the top are more effective than those at the bottom. I have borrowed this system and implemented it in my life. Guilty, I know, but it works, trust me! You can use it too to protect your baby in the best possible way.

Inverted Pyramid representing the hazard control hierarchy

Before we dig in on how to use this pyramid, let’s spend a few minutes to learn about hazards.

What is a hazard?

A hazard is anything that can cause harm to your baby and child.

1 A hazard can be chemical

For example the cleaning products stored under the kitchen sink. Cleaning chemicals are not a hazard but when they are stored in a kitchen cabinet that is not locked and that your baby can open, they become a hazard. If your baby opens one of these bottles and drink from it, he might get poisoned. So, ordinary household items placed in the wrong place or not put away can become a danger for your baby.

Toddler dangerously playing with chemicals under the sink
Photo credit: Shutterstock

2 A hazard can be physical

For example, the coins left on top of the living room coffee table. We deal with paper money and coin daily. Well, most of us do. Why are the coins a hazard here? Simply because your baby can grab one of them and put it in his mouth. Since the coin is round, your baby can choke on it. In fact, airway obstruction, which includes choking, suffocation, and strangulation, is a leading cause of injuries in children under one year of age and continues to be significant through age four.

3 A hazard can be biological

For example, the honey banana pancake you just prepared for your seven months old baby. Where is the hazard here? It’s the honey because your baby is under one year old. Honey contains bacterial spores that can cause infant botulism – a rare but serious gastrointestinal condition. You see, unsuitable food can become a danger for your baby.

4 A hazard can be a person

Child abuse happens when someone caring for a child hurts a child’s feelings or body. As sad as it sounds, child abuse exists, and it is very important to understand the types of child abuse, look out for signs, and take fast action. All children deserve to be protected and helped. Click here for more info on this subject.

In conclusion, a hazard can be anything.

Remove the Hazard

Ok, I think you got the concept of hazard now. The big question is what to do about it? There are several ways to deal with a hazard. There is no one size fit all solution for every situation. Put your safety hat on and let’s take a look at the pyramid again. Don’t worry, I will take you through it step by step with plenty of examples.

1 Elimination

This is number one solution and it involves physically removing the hazard. This option is the most effective. Going back to the example of the cleaning chemicals, this would mean not using cleaning chemicals at all. Is that an option? No, because keeping a clean environment is part of keeping baby safe. Plus, it’s nasty!

2 Substitution

This is the second-best option and it involves replacing the hazard. In this case, this would be replacing the cleaning chemicals with something that doesn’t cause danger for your baby. An example of that would be using a vinegar-based solution for cleaning. I personally did not opt for this option and I went for the third-best option.

3 Design Control

This is the third-best option. It means isolating your baby from the hazard. In this case, this involves putting locks on the cabinets which prevent your baby from accessing the chemicals and harming himself.

4 Education and Teaching

This is the fourth option. In this case, you will have to supervise your baby and ensure to stop him every time he tries to open the cabinet. If you are taking care of one baby, this option might work for you. But imagine having a baby and a toddler in your care. Let’s be real. You will not be 100% available to supervise both your baby and your toddler. All said, I wouldn’t advise this option in this case.

5 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This is the last option and the least effective. This option is not applicable in this case. However, it would be if your child is going for a ride on his bicycle. The PPE would be in this case the helmet and knee/elbow pads that would protect your baby from injury in case he falls off the bicycle.

Another example

Let’s take the example of the honey banana pancake and look at the pyramid again. The only two options that would work here is eliminating the honey or substituting the honey with something that your baby can eat, maple syrup for example.  

My story

In case you are wondering how I used the “Hazard Control Hierarchy” myself, continue reading through the two examples below.

1 Glass cabinets

Before my baby started to crawl, we wanted to ensure our house is babyproofed, starting with the living room. Next to the television bench, there were two glass cabinets that fitted perfectly in the available space around the bench and went perfectly with the house décor.

The glass cabinets were a major hazard. Not only were they not anchored to the wall, but the glass shelves could be easily tipped from their place. In addition to that, the shelves were filled with all the memorabilia you can think of, especially from our international trips. I really loved those cabinets and what they represented. But our priority had changed. The safety of our baby came first. My husband and I explored the different options from the “pyramid”.

Option one which is not having a cabinet was out of question. Where would I store the memorabilia? Option two which is replacing the cabinets with a baby appropriate one seemed more plausible. Option three consists of putting some sort of baby gate around the cabinets and the tv bench. This option didn’t seem suitable. Babies love to explore and I was sure my baby would find his way to the cabinets. That led to the elimination of option four. Finally, option five is not applicable here.

So we went for option two. We started to look around until we found the perfect cabinet and we gave away the two glass cabinets to friends. We had the new cabinet anchored to the wall, and we locked the cabinet doors with a simple elastic band that we replaced later with proper cabinet lock. Mission accomplished.

Cabinets before and after

2 Books

When my baby was inching to eight months old, he was crawling all over the place, trying to pull himself up on furniture and toys, and grabbing anything and everything he can. One of his favorite games was pulling books off of the TV cabinet shelves.

I thought about removing these books (option one in the pyramid). I love them, and I did not want to see them destroyed by little hands. Not only that, but he was at a stage where he was putting everything in his mouth. I was sure if I leave him to it, some pages will end up in his mouth, which would be hazardous. But then, he would have nothing left to explore.

So I made the decision of keeping these books. However, I pushed them backward and I put his books in front. The strategy worked. Instead of grabbing my books, he would go for his. Since children books are made of hard cardboard material, he could not tear them easily. On the rare occasions where he did grab one of my books, I used option four, education and teaching. Win-Win for mother and baby!

tv cabinet filled with books

Babies need to explore and discover the world. It is normal and important. Yes, we can babyproof every single inch of the house. But then, we would not be helping in their development. Exploring is one of the first steps in learning about objects and in learning how to solve problems. My advice for you is to ensure your baby has something to explore. Only make sure her exploring happens in a safe place and in ways that help her learn.

Final thought: Can all incidents be prevented?

As a final thought, I want to highlight something very important: As parents or caregivers, we want to protect our babies and children. However, some events simply cannot be anticipated.

In 2018 in the UK, eight-month-old baby Jacob became trapped as he sat in his bathing seat and had to be cut free by firefighters. How on earth could something like that happen? Well, somehow, he managed to wedge both of his legs into a single leg hole and then slipped down so far, he got stuck. The funny thing, while his mum was panicking, baby Jacob slept through the whole rescue and only woke up when his ordeal was over! Could Jacob’s mother have anticipated this event? The simple answer is No.

So, incidents can still happen. I don’t mean to dishearten you but that’s the truth. However, what’s important in situations like that is knowing how to react to mitigate the results of the incident.

What do you think of this whole system? Would you give it a try? Leave your comments below!

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