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I'm a married mum who loves chocolate & music & having an opinion on just about everything! E-Mail summermama@hotmail.co.uk

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jack Of All Trades

My first job was volunteering for a cattery (part of the Cats Protection League) when I was fourteen. I enjoyed the work, got quite involved with the CPL and their various fundraising events, even went out a few times with the local area warden to collect rescue cats or drop some off to foster homes. During summer months I helped my parents distribute Yellow Pages – I’d help sort out the car parking so that people lined up alongside the lorry to load correctly, ensure distributors had enough Yellow Pages for the routes they were doing, unloaded the pallets to the front of the lorry for unloading, shoved bundles into peoples cars until they were full and I had to check they were still legal for road travel on the way home to offload. Once I was sixteen I started working for the cattery more often, and getting paid for the work as I started dealing with the boarding side of the cattery and other people came in and started doing the CPL cats.

Between then and now, I’ve done a wide variety of work for different organisations: From a sunbed shop to a pizza restaurant, a Christmas job in Mothercare and one at Boots, I’ve worked as an Ann Summers party order line call operator and as an assistant dispatcher in the ambulance service, I’ve been trained to fit a carseat and to correctly operate a candy floss machine, I have certificates for food hygiene, CPR and defibrillation skills, I can talk you through delivering a baby or folding a pushchair and I’ve worked in a sweet shop and a fish and chip shop! I’ve had full time jobs, part time jobs, temp jobs and seasonal jobs and the things I’ve seen would spin your head.

Each of the jobs I have done has required me to know very specific information about a very specific thing, and as such the skills earned do not pop up (on the whole) in everyday life. This does not mean I am clueless – in fact I am renowned amongst my family and friends for being a vast information database of all kinds of information. I never excelled particularly well at anything when I was at school – I was average to below average depending on how much effort I put into a subject, and I am very guilty of being one of those people who didn’t put effort into subjects I hated, so History, Maths and Geography were not subjects I excelled in! However since leaving school and finishing college, my learning capabilities seem to have grown. Once I would have struggled to learn new skills, the older I get the more I seem to relish the challenge and take up new skills much quicker than anticipated.

When The Boy was born, it combined two of my longest standing jobs together – my knowledge and experience from the ambulance service (five years service, plus the additional knowledge that comes from one parent being frontline staff for 30 years and various friends within the service) as well as my knowledge and experience from the child products industry (four years) I can be my own worst enemy (I refuse to allow anyone from a retailer to provide a physical fitting on a carseat – I’ll do it myself, thank you very much!) but at the same time I think it’s beneficial because I can talk from experience.

The thing that I struggle with is customers who don’t want to listen to what you have to say. They get on their high horse because they ask you a question and you tell them you’re unable to provide a definitive yes or no answer, you explain why you’re unable to provide a definitive yes or no answer, and they huff and puff and moan at you for a while before they decide to ignore you, they’ll go and do what they want anyway.

It is estimated that in the UK there are 80% of carseats currently in use (seatbelt fitted only) that are fitted incorrectly. That means in 80 out of 100 accidents involving children, the child may as well not be in a carseat for all the use that carseat is going to do in an impact. For this reason, combined with my experience in the ambulance service, I feel passionately that the public should be provided with as much information as possible on fitting carseats. Why are they seen as such a mystery? Simply because manufacturers want to make sure they are properly fitted, so they spend a lot of money on groups of trainers who visit retailers and train staff. These staff are then responsible for providing physical fittings for members of the public prior to the purchase of a carseat. The staff should ensure that the carseat is the appropriate stage for the child, that the carseat can be fitted correctly into the vehicle it will be used in, that the parent or guardian is educated in how to fit the seat themselves, and that the seat is suitable for the needs of the parent/guardian and the child.

Unfortunately it doesn’t always happen that way. Staff regularly leave sales positions and it can be difficult to ensure that all staff currently employed are up to scratch with their training on all products. People can purchase carseats from the internet and have it delivered to their home with no clue whether or not it is suitable, and no clue how to correctly fit it. Personally I don’t think carseats should be available for sale online; make the customer get up and do their research, get to a store and have a physical fitting done. Of course, the reason a lot of people buy online – especially now – is that companies can often offer more competitive prices with online purchases and you can save a lot of money by buying online; but I ask you this question, what amount of money is your child’s life worth?

I couldn’t put a price on it. I don’t deny that carseats are pricey, but quite honestly I’d rather spend out a little extra and ensure the carseat I get is safe and well fitted than save the cash and have an accident and my son ends up another tragic statistic. This is the side of it that people don’t seem to consider – worst case scenario is not that you spend a few extra quid than you wanted to - worst case scenario is that you’re involved in a serious road traffic accident and your child ends up dead. I wouldn’t wish that sort of nightmare on anybody.

For this reason, I find it difficult to stay quiet when I see people transporting children incorrectly. A prime point in case was when I was pregnant and about to enter the local supermarket to do the weekly shop. As I crossed the car park, a man in an older model car pulled into the car park and into a space in front of me. He then hopped out of the drivers seat and to my surprise a young girl of about four then got out of the passengers side – followed by a woman. Not only had the child been in the front seat, but she’d been on the lap of a woman who was not wearing her own seatbelt, so the child and the adult had been totally unrestrained. No matter how long their journey had been, this was a huge risk to take, as in an impact both the child and the adult could have been projected through the front windscreen. If their car was travelling at 30mph and so was the car that hit them, this makes the combined speed of 60mph that the child would have been thrown through the windscreen, out the car, and onto the road. The medical term ‘de gloved’ is applied in many instances to an accident of this nature, and it simply means that the person has travelled at such speed over the road that their skin has been worn away completely or has been literally ripped from the tissue underneath. Imagine for a moment if you will a four year old child, thrown through a windscreen at 60mph and then her exposed skin – her face, arms and legs – being de gloved? If she survives – and that’s a very big if – she will require a very long recovery time and while skin grafts can now offer tremendous results compared to 20 years ago, that child will always have some kind of scarring from that accident. Could you live with yourself, if you did that to a child?

I recommend that any parent does research into any product before they make a purchase, and this is even more relevant to carseats due to the sheer amount of them available, the money you are investing and the task you’re asking them to perform. It’s confusing, I know that, and for that reason I do my best to help educate people should they ask for my assistance.

Recently there’s been a big furore on internet forums about extended rear facing, also known as ERF. It’s a very popular idea in Sweden, where children are kept in rear facing carseats until they are, on average, about four years old. This is due to the fact that it is a lot safer to be travelling rear facing in the event of an impact, as rather than the neck having to take the weight of the head as the head is pushed forwards and back by gravity, the child is pressed further into the supportive back and head rest of the carseat. Statistically speaking, it is safer for everyone, no matter what their age, to travel rear facing. It is due to the design of the human anatomy – since we started walking upright and exposed our vulnerable stomach and genitals rather than having them protected as we walked on all fours, we have also placed our rather heavy head right on top of ourselves, so our centre of gravity is all wrong. After a car accident, the most common complaint from anyone involved is neck pain. It can be simple pulled muscles, it can be whiplash, and rarely can it be a serious neck injury. However when you’re thinking about a young child, the head is disproportionately large and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies - this is when internal decapitation (atlanto-occipital dislocation) can occur. The definition of this is when the skull seperates from the spinal column, which is usually fatal.

Unfortunately, the majority of people in the UK are in a hurry to get their child into a forward facing carseat because of the belief that the child doesn’t like rear facing and would prefer to be forward facing so that they can see things. How would your child know they would prefer forward facing? As a baby it is law for them to travel rear facing in an infant carrier, so until you introduce forward facing your child thinks rear facing is normal. Why do you think they can’t see things? There are windows in the side of the car and in the back, so your child has just as good a view as you do, they’re just seeing it travelling the other way. My son is 18 months old and I continue to use the Maxi Cosi Opal carseat in the rear facing position as he remains under 13kg. People worry that their childs legs will have nowhere to go, that their ankles look twisted at an awkward angle – let me assure you that my son is taller than average and he is very comfortable rear facing. He watches the world go past through the side window and rear window (one of his favourite motorway games is waving at lorry drivers) and he has plenty of room for his legs. Yet I have had people complain that their six month old child is uncomfortable and squashed in a Group 0+ rear facing infant carrier and ask if they can move baby up to the next stage carseat. I recoil in horror when I see or hear this question, and I wish that I could provide crash test videos showing what would happen to an infant that young in a forward facing carseat during an impact.

Maybe my history of work in the ambulance service, the calls I took, the accidents I sent crews to, the scenes I’ve witnessed when I’ve been out on ambulances (both for work experience as a teenager and as educational while I worked for the service) that have made me particularly aware of the dangers on the roads. Maybe combined with my carseat knowledge, and the knowledge that people on the whole will do as they please even if they’ve been advised against it, this makes the area of carseat and safe travel a particularly sensitive spot for me, but I think it’s beneficial. After all would you rather get your advice from someone who knows all the ins and outs, all the pros and cons, or from someone who reads information from a card and hasn’t got a clue? I’ve also used a variety of carseats myself, provided physical fittings of carseats for people and seen clear examples of unsuitable carseats in vehicles. Of course sometimes people are disappointed – if they particularly wanted a certain make and then find out it isn’t suitable – but they must appreciate that if the carseat isn’t suitable then the label they want isn’t going to protect their child as they want.

The majority of people seem to think that ‘it won’t happen to me’. They read about tragic accidents, of children not being correctly secured in the vehicle at the point of impact, and they think how terrible it is but it never crosses their mind that it could easily happen to any of us. Accidents are called that because they happen due to a split second decision, sometimes through no fault of anyone involved, it could be that the car does something unexpected due to mechanical failure, it could be that the road is slippery due to weather conditions or a spillage of some sort on the road, but that accident can happen just as easily to you or me as it happened to the people in the news article.

In addition to the correct fitting of a carseat suitable for your child, yourself and your car, you should always ensure you use it properly for maximum safety. It’s one thing to have a good carseat fitted securely but once again it becomes pointless if the child isn’t correctly harnessed in before you set off. As a guideline, once the harness is tightened, you shouldn’t be able to get more than two fingers between the child’s chest and the harness straps. In addition, the shoulder harness height should be no more than an inch above or below the height of the shoulders. Ideally, the harness height should allow the harness to sit exactly on the shoulders, though depending on the style of harness adjustment this may not be possible. It’s another reason I love my Opal, because the shoulder harness height is adjusted as you adjust the headrest for the child, and there are so many different heights you can adjust it to I’ve never had a problem getting a perfect fit with The Boy in this carseat. Added to that the Opal can be adjusted width-ways as well, and due to his slender build I still have it on minimum width for the boy, so he is snugly in place – in the event of a side impact he won’t rattle around in there as there isn’t enough space to. It doesn’t take long – he’s in the carseat, harnessed and we’re ready to go within a couple of minutes, and I’m happier knowing he’s safely harnessed in. Another thing I do is remove the carseat once every couple of months to check the seatbelt for signs of wear, and re-fit the carseat to ensure it is as tightly fitted as possible, hence as safe as it can be. Follow the directions of the manufacturer – most Group 0+ carseats require the handle bar to be in the upright and locked position during travel as it acts as a roll bar in event of vehicle roll-over and also absorbs side impact, meaning that the jolt doesn’t travel through baby, it goes up and around the carseat handle. You shouldn’t use a rear facing carseat in the front passenger seat and most companies will advise this is even if you are able to disable the airbag – the airbag is designed to inflate on impact, and there is no guarantee that it won’t, even if it’s turned off.

So while I may be a Jack of All Trades and a Master of None, when you ask me about carseats, road safety and transporting children in vehicles, please take note of what I’m saying because I do know my stuff on this subject. There may not be a certificate to tell you where I learned all this information, there may not be an exam I can take so I have letters after my name and look all important, and you may look at me and think I’m ‘just’ a mum, but rest assured that isn’t all and you should remember never to judge a book by it’s cover.

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