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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Every year in the US, more than 40,000 children and teens get treated in emergency rooms for preventable injuries suffered in bathtubs or showers.
Most of these injuries are from slips and falls that could be avoided simply by making bathtub and shower surfaces -- and bathroom floors, too -- less slippery, says Dr. Gary Smith, Director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus, Ohio's Nationwide Children's Hospital.
"We know how to prevent these injuries," Smith told Reuters Health. "I wish all problems were this easy to fix."
"We should be engineering this problem out of existence," he added.
Smith and his colleagues analyzed causes of childhood bathtub- and shower-related injuries treated in US emergency rooms from 1990-2007. According to a report in the journal Pediatrics:
-- In more than 80 percent of cases, injuries were related to slips, trips, or falls.
-- Most injuries (more than 70 percent) occurred in a bathtub.
-- More than half the injuries were in children under the age of 4 years.
-- Lacerations were the most common injury, occurring in nearly 60 percent of cases.
-- The most frequently injured body part was the face, followed by the head and neck.
The researchers decided to study shower- and bathtub-related accidents because "We noticed there were a large number of kids coming to the emergency room in our hospital with these injuries... and in 85 percent of cases there was a parent right there supervising the child who wasn't able to intervene in time," Smith said.
Once a child starts to slip in the tub or shower, he added, parents can't usually catch them before the impact. "The only real strategy is to provide protection to begin with," he said.
Current standards for slip resistance of tub and shower surfaces are outdated, according to Smith. He noted that ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, "sets the lion's share of consumer product standards, and we've asked them to go back and revisit" the standards for bathroom surfaces.
Making bathrooms safer "is something industry could do and should do," he said.
In the meantime, however, he advises that in addition to always supervising their children closely, parents do the following to prevent falls:
-- Have slip-resistant bath mats both inside and outside of tubs and showers.
-- Install grab bars, which will help prevent falls among older children.
-- Cover extruding fixtures, such as faucets and handles, with padding so that if children do fall, they don't hit sharp edges.
Smith cautions parents to remember that children under the age of 5 are in the highest-risk group for bathroom injuries.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2009.