Government working with experts to improve child safety


The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is leading a government effort to prevent accidents in which children could be seriously hurt. The ministry and other organizations are collecting detailed information from hospitals and other sources about accidents that involved children.

Accident-prevention experts will analyze the data before it is posted online and publicized via other media to enable companies to improve the safety of their products and ensure the public can access information on product safety.

In autumn last year, a 1-year-old girl fell from a slide at a Yokohama park, suffering a fractured skull. Details of the incident were provided to the authorities by the hospital that treated her.

In February, doctors, human engineering researchers and ministry officials visited the accident site to help them compile measures that could prevent similar accidents.

According to the girl's family, the toddler fell from the middle step of the slide and hit her head on the slide's concrete base.

The research team was led by Yoshifumi Nishida of the Digital Human Research Center of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), a Tokyo-based independent administrative entity affiliated with the ministry. After visiting the site, the team collated data about the accident, such as the girl's physical characteristics and the shape of the steps, and fed it into the computer for analysis.

Using a computer simulation, the team found that the impact on the girl's skull would have been reduced by more than 90 percent if the area around the base of the steps had been covered with rubber.

The center provided its findings to both the municipal government and the maker of the slide, and asked them to consider accident-prevention measures.

Yuichi Moronaga, an official based at a section of the ministry that oversees product design and safety, said, "We plan to analyze more accidents and make more information on them available so it can be put to good use."

Parents tend to blame themselves if their child is involved in an accident and doctors in hospitals tend not to ask children or parents about an accident they had or witnessed. As a result, manufacturers of products linked to accidents are often not provided with such information.

Last fiscal year, the ministry began cooperating with doctors at the department of emergency medical care for children, based at Tokyo's National Center for Child Health and Development, to access records of accidents that involved children.

To obtain additional data about accidents, nurses at the center have been asked to provide background information. This allows the researchers to learn, for example, not only that a child was burned by an iron or fell from a chair, but also to find out about the child's actions and the circumstances leading up to the accident and after it.

Details on about 2,900 accidents have been provided by the center, and the ministry plans to ask for cooperation from other hospitals.

The ministry has uploaded the information to a database that firms can access, allowing companies to use the data to improve the safety of their products.

Jakuetsu Co., a playground equipment manufacturer based in Fukui Prefecture, has used the data to help it develop a urethane resin that can be used to cover concrete surfaces and steel pillars, ensuring a softer landing if a child falls.

In addition, Sekisui House Ltd., an Osaka-based housing construction firm, and the AIST are jointly working on a design for doors that could prevent serious injury to children if their fingers get caught between door and frame.

The ministry will soon launch a Web site that will provide product safety information to the public. The Web site will focus on products related to children's safety, with information provided on typical accidents found in each age group.

"No progress can be made if accidents involving children are simply viewed as unforeseen incidents," said Tatsuhiro Yamanaka, president of Ryokuen Children's Clinic in Yokohama, who has been in the project. "Everyone should make efforts to prevent recurrences [of such accidents]."

The ministry will hold a symposium on the prevention of accidents involving children on May 18 at Tower Hall, Roppongi Academyhills building in Minato Ward, Tokyo, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Admission is free, but attendance is limited to 300 people. For more information visit (Japanese only).


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