Safety warning: Keeping children safe from attractive, but deadly household appliances

The tragic death of a pre-schooler in a front loader washing machine is a sad reminder for all parents to talk to their children about the dangers of everyday household appliances, safety experts say.

The preschooler died in hospital on Friday after they were found unresponsive in a running washing machine at a home in Hoon Hay, Christchurch.

Police said there were no suspicious circumstances and the death was with the Coroner.

Mareta Hunt, director of Safekids Aotearoa said the grief in the tragic event “has us at a loss for words.”

“It is devastating news for Aotearoa, where we strive to create safe, nurturing and loving environments. Our thoughts and hearts are with the whānau.”

Hunt said washing machine-related deaths were a rare occurrence in New Zealand but families could keep children safe by locking laundry doors or locking the machine itself.

1. Lock the door to your laundry room

The best plan is to prevent your kids from getting access to the machines at all. If your washer and dryer are in a separate room, close the door and lock it. Do not let young children play in the laundry room.

2. Keep the washing machine’s door shut

Leaving the door open on front-loaders can help prevent mould, but if you have young children at home, keep the door closed.

3. Engage the washing machine’s lock-out feature

Many washers these days have a lock-out or child-lock feature — typically activated by holding a combination of buttons or holding a button down for a certain number of seconds.

4. Use a childproof safety lock

A safety lock you can put on the outside of a front-load washing machine’s door will also prevent your child from opening it. The concept is the same as a lock for cabinet or oven doors. It’s a good idea to put one on your dryer, too.

5. Shut off the water

When your machine is not in use, turn off the water valve that feeds it. Most front-loading washers will stop running and show an error code if the water is off.

6. Consider installing additional power switches

Hire an electrician to wire a “master” switch for the washing machine and another for the dryer that you can turn off when it’s not in use. That way your child won’t be able to turn on the appliances even if she can reach the buttons. Just make sure the switch is located out of sight and out of reach of small children.

7. Beware of laundry detergents, too

In addition to safety precautions with washing machines, keep in mind that laundry detergent packets, also known as pods or packs, can be especially tempting, and dangerous, to young children.

Front loading washing machines become airtight when the door is closed so the machine doesn’t even need to be turned on to cause death.

There have been similar deaths overseas with police and safety advocates also giving warnings.

In Florida, in 2019 a 3-year-old boy died after he was trapped in a front loading washing machine during a game with a sibling.

Police believe that the door closed and created an airtight seal inside the drum of the washing machine.

It is understood the boy died because of a lack of oxygen.

In that case, police warned parents to look at household appliances “through the eyes of a child.”

Orlando Police said today’s washing machines come in all colours and have buttons that light up, make cool sounds and see-through windows.

“So to a young child, they look like a fun piece of equipment and often will want to play on or in them.”

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