Protecting kids from fatal falls

Over 2 million kids, ages 14 and younger, show up in hospital emergency rooms each year with fall-related injuries. Kids tumble down stairs, fall off playground equipment, take spills from bikes, scooters and skateboards – or fall out windows. About 80 die.

While fall-related deaths among kids have dropped in recent years, falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury for children. Parents can take steps to keep kids safe – without padding them with bubble-wrap before they head out to the park or keeping the training wheels on their bikes til they turn 18.

I was curious about the types of falls that are most common – and most dangerous. One study of national injury data found that these are most common:

Estimated yearly injuries seen in emergency rooms from falls off: 


  • Stairs or Steps: 250,000
  • Playground Equipment: 218,000
  • Beds: 212,000
  • Shopping Carts: 23,000
  • Bleachers: 15,000
  • High chairs and baby seats: 14,000
  • Baby walkers: 4,700
  • Tree houses/Play Houses: 4,000
  • Baby changing tables: 2,700 


I asked Jack Kelly, M.D., associate chairman for the Department of Emergency Medicine at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia what parents should know – and do:

Which falls should concern parents most?

A common fall history is a fall down stairs. Parents/grandparents/babysitters must use safety fences to block stairs. Children need to be supervised ... constantly.

How can parents balance safety on playground with letting kids be kids, take risks, run around and have fun?

At playgrounds, it is essential to know if there is a "soft surface" or if the ground is blacktop or concrete. Falls at a soft surface playground may have less critical injuries. Many playground swings/slides/etc. may be too high and too dangerous for very small children, and parents must be concerned and savvy about this. If the distance of potential fall is twice the height of the child, that is a dangerous height. The child should not be on that ride/swing/slide/monkey bars. Parents will always have to balance letting the child play, with understanding that they are in dangerous territory. We let children play ... but not with matches. Parents need to be smart about this.

What about helmets to prevent head injuries in falls when riding bikes, roller-blading — skiing and sledding, too? Would helmets reduce injuries or severity significantly and should more parents kids wear them?

Helmets for bike riding, skiing, horseback riding and other activities are essential, and as important as seat belts. Parents must mandate that their children wear helmets during these specific activities, and enforce it.