There are some safety hazards that parents of babies and toddlers find obvious: the jug of drain cleaner under the kitchen sink, the razor on the edge of the bathtub, the stairs.
Then, there are the hazards parents miss. The same ones curious babies seem to have a dangerous knack for finding.
"Electrical outlets are probably the best example," said Bob Baker, owner of Kids Safe Childproofing, a Shelton, Conn., company that helps parents scout out home danger zones. "You would be amazed how many people take all kinds of precautions but do nothing to protect their electrical outlets. The little plastic things you stick in them cost about 10 cents each, but I'll go into homes and be shocked to see they don't have them."
Another one is dried pasta: "Whenever I'm looking through a house, if I open the cupboards the kids can reach, I'll find things like dried pasta or dog and cat food," said Charles M. Conway, managing director of Fairfield County Safe Kids, a nonprofit program. "Dried pasta is really a choking hazard, but when I quiz parents about that, they almost never guess it. The same thing for dried dog food."
Enter the professional childproofer.
Baker has been visiting homes for five years, providing inspections and pointing out potential hazards. Parents also can buy safety devices and pay Baker to install them.
His fees range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, although he says most families spend about $500.
"What parents pay for when they get a good childproofer is a trained pair of eyes and somebody who knows exactly how to install these things," said Baker, who admits that some products, such as cabinet locks, are not too tough to install. "But I can do in a half-hour what can take someone unfamiliar all day."
Conway said demand for childproofing services has increased so much that his organization plans to offer a similar service sometime during the next three months.
"Parents are very safety-conscious these days, but they are also overwhelmed with all kinds of good and bad advice," Conway said. "I think with our background as safety experts, we can provide good, objective advice." Indeed, Conway said, not every family needs every safety gadget on the market.
"Part of it is knowing your child," he said. "Some are into everything; some never try to open a cabinet or stick their hand in a toilet. You can have very different kids in the same family. So you really need to respond to each child."
Toilet locks, he notes, are one of those safety gadgets that can be optional. "I'll be the first to admit, a locked toilet is the last thing a guy wants to see at 2 a.m.," he says. "But if you have a kid who thinks the toilet is like the sand and water table at preschool, then you need one." You might not need to tether your bookcases to the wall, "unless your child thinks they are the jungle gym."
The most vigilant parents might want to take every precaution.
"One of the things I tell parents to do is have two inspections, one when the child starts to crawl, another when he starts to walk," Baker said. "At those two different stages, you are going to have different needs."
There are a few safety items the inspectors say they wouldn't go without. For Baker, it's covers for electrical outlets. Among Conway's favorites is a rubber duck that contains a thermometer to gauge the temperature of bath water. "You can't rely on your own hands," he says. "Adults have a difference tolerance for hot water than babies do."