Installing stair gates, cabinet locks, and smoke detectors led to a drop in injury rates in young children in a new study that provided and set up the safety products in almost 200 homes.
Injuries that could be prevented by making the home environment safer were cut by more than two-thirds, the researchers found.
"It seems to me that there's a number of hazards that children encounter in the home that we have failed to protect them from," said Dr. Bruce Lanphear from Cincinnati Children's Environmental Health, one of the study's authors.
This initiative, he told Reuters Health, "is actually amazingly effective. We didn't expect to see quite this much benefit."
Lanphear and his colleagues recruited about 350 expectant mothers and inspected their homes for possible injury hazards, including unlocked cabinets, unstable furniture, and accessible electrical sockets.
In a randomly selected group of half those mothers, the researchers discussed safety products with the family and installed all products the families agreed to when their babies were an average of 6 months old. All mothers in the study were also given information on injury risks and how to make their homes safer for kids.
Over the next 2 years, researchers kept in touch with mothers to find out if their children had suffered an injury in the house, and whether it was an injury that could have been prevented with home safety products.
In a given year, there were an average of 14 injuries requiring medical care for every 100 kids whose homes had safety equipment installed, compared to 21 injuries for every 100 kids that did not. However, a statistical analysis showed that the risk of any injury was not definitively different in the two groups.
But when it came to injuries that could be prevented with home safety products, kids who had those products installed were much less likely to need medical care.
Every year, only two out of 100 of those kids needed medical care for a preventable injury, compared to almost eight out of 100 kids who did not have products installed by the researchers.
The findings are published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
"The most exciting thing was that (the researchers) were able to show the benefits of making home environments safer," Dr. Andrea Gielen, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
Lanphear said that installing safety products in the home is very doable, as long as parents and policymakers are willing to put in the money and energy upfront to prevent injury and save on medical bills later.
He estimated that the products his group used cost about $300 per household, and that the additional cost to install them was about $700 for each family.
But that cost, he said, pays off over time, and could help prevent the approximately 2,500 deaths that occur in the U.S. when young children get injured in the home every year.
Gielen agreed that parents can take very feasible steps to make the home environment safer, sometimes with the help of pediatricians or home visiting programs. But, she added, having stair gates and cabinet locks doesn't put parents in the clear when it comes to preventing injuries in their young children.
The study "doesn't mean that we can go into a home and we can make it safe for children from now until they're 2 or 3 or 4," she said. "It means we can work with parents together to improve the safety of their children."