20 November 2012
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is alerting parents to the deadly danger of nappy sacks to their babies.
At least 12 babies in England and Wales, aged from two-months-old to a year, have died since 2001 from suffocation or choking after putting a nappy sack in their mouth.
Common scenarios in the deaths involved nappy sacks being stored within the baby’s reach, such as under a mattress or close to a cot for convenience, especially when changing a nappy in the middle of the night, says RoSPA, the UK’s leading accident prevention charity.
Parents are advised to never place nappy sacks, which are used to dispose of soiled nappies, in a baby’s cot or pram, and to keep them a safe distance from inquisitive babies and young children.
Babies are at particular risk because despite naturally grasping items and putting them in their mouths, they find it difficult to let go or remove them when in trouble.
The flimsiness of nappy sacks also makes them small enough to fit into little mouths, plus they do not rustle in the same way as plastic bags and can be easily breathed in by babies without parents realising.
Thousands of posters and leaflets warning families of the dangers of leaving plastic nappy sacks lying near babies are being distributed to GP surgeries, parent and toddler groups and other family centres.
Sheila Merrill, public health adviser for RoSPA, said: “Parents and carers are generally aware of the risk posed by plastic bags but don’t seem to realise that nappy sacks are just as dangerous.
“Children are naturally inquisitive. They want to touch things and put objects in their mouth, but RoSPA has found that, sadly, this can sometimes end in tragedy where nappy sacks are concerned.
“The risk comes after changing or bathing a baby as parents often put nappy sacks down without thinking, and it only takes a moment for a baby to grab it and choke.
“RoSPA is aware of 12 baby deaths in England and Wales but believes there could be many more that have fallen under the radar.”
The warning builds on a campaign by NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, which first spotted the risk of nappy sacks when a baby died from asphyxia in 2010.
An investigation into the scale of the problem identified further deaths which had not come to the attention of national accident prevention bodies or been logged on the national Trading Standards database as each area assumed the tragedies were one-off, isolated cases.
ANEC, the European consumer interest organisation, has reported that collecting details on nappy sack deaths has proved difficult and that it is possible there are greater numbers than those reported in England and Wales.
RoSPA is concerned that the lack of mandatory suffocation warning advice on packaging and the availability of nappy sacks as loose bags, instead of on a roll, increases the risk to babies.
For more advice and information on how organisations involved with children’s services can apply for nappy sack safety leaflets, visit RoSPA’s nappy sack safety advice page.