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Know -how: safety gates and barriers

Barriers can be a way of making hallways, rooms and stairs safe when your baby starts to move about, but a badly-fitted one can be dangerous


Posted: 15 December 2007
by Laura Lee Davies


Safety barriers can help prevent children from falling down stairs, wandering into rooms unsupervised or from getting too close to heat sources like fireplaces. However, safety barriers in themselves can be dangerous if not fitted properly.

Safety barriers
Parents often mistakenly called these stair gates, but safety barriers can be used across the door of a room where you wish to contain your child (possibly their bedroom or playroom) or one you want him to stay away from (the kitchen, for example). Barriers are designed to work for containing children up to two years. Beyond this age they can pose a danger if the child is strong enough to thoroughly shake the barrier and weaken it, or is tall enough to climb over it but is likely to fall down the other side.

It recommended that you use a safety gate at the top and bottom of your stairs. This might sound excessive and a hassle for you when you have to open and close them all the time, but a baby who starts to crawl can quickly get up a few stairs, and a toddler wandering to find your bedroom in the night can easily fall down the stairs. If you only have one at the top of the stairs, bear in mind that a small child might pull back on it to see if it is open and fall backwards as a result.

You should make sure the stairgate or barrier you choose conforms to safety standard BS 4125.

A simple barrier
This is a straightforward barrier which blocks a child's access to somewhere. It can usually be easily removed but does not have a gate mechanism to open and close. These have been linked to accidents when parents misuse them because they find it quicker to step over them rather than refit them each time, but can be a cheaper alternative if the space you want blocking off is not in constant use.

Walk-through gate
A gate works more straight-forwardly based on hinges. It will usually have a frame which grips the surface either side of the space.
To keep them light and simple, many will open one way but some might have a two-way opening system.

Easy to fit safely?
It is important to look at the place where you intend to fit the barrier. If it is on stairs, do you have an even fitting? Many stairs have shaped wooden features which may not provide you with a solid, flat surface against which to support the barrier. If you create a flat surface, make sure it is secure, not just a wedged piece of card or wood.

Widths and sizes
Some barriers are available with extension kits in case the two sides you are seeking to support the barrier from are a wider than average distance apart. Most barriers will have a certain flexibility (within a standard range) in width which can be adjusted during fitting. It is possible to find gates that suit more narrow doorways, the Clippasafe Xtra Narrow for example.

Handles and releases
In the shop, see if the safety barriers are on display. Are they easy to open? Most will be tricky for a child (as they should be!), but are they too difficult

for you? Try opening them with one hand? Parents are often carrying washing or a toy, for example, so it has to be a barrier you can use easily otherwise the temptation will be to climb over it or to leave it permanently open.

Travel barriers
If you are visiting another home (possibly a grandparent or a holiday cottage) where you do not know if there will be any stairgates or barriers, it can be useful to buy one of the lighter mesh barriers. These may not be heavy-duty gates, but they will act as a good strong barrier and you won't need you to take a drill with you, as they fit to doorways with pressure mounts rather than fixtures. BabyDan, for example, have a 'Gate to Go' model.

Other barrier features
Some models have a 'self closing' mechanism so the gated element pulls back after you've gone through it. Some do not have a bottom bar on the frame - this helps reduce the chance of tripping on the bar. It is also possible to get a gate with side panels so that you can fit it to two points if you do not have a straightforward space.


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