The good news about home safety is that most childhood injuries are actually preventable through a combination of good sense, safety devices, and supervision. While you can hire "baby proofers" to come into your home and secure it Fort Knox-style, you can probably accomplish the same thing yourself for a fraction of the cost and find most of the products at home centers, drugstores, mail-order catalogs, and baby-oriented Web sites.
When evaluating safety equipment, remember that in order to be effective it must be used. Is installation relatively simple? Will the device work on the intended door, cabinet, or drawer? Is it easy enough for older siblings to use and resecure? Assume your toddler will test the device: Will it withstand these assaults? If the answer to any of these questions is no, choose another model. And keep your receipts: Safety devices are notorious for working in a limited range of situations.
The gear recommended on these pages is limited in scope to nursery safety; consult baby-care books or the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Web site (www.cpsc.gov) for information on the rest of the house.
Safety latches and locks are for cabinets, closets, and drawers, or anywhere you keep items that could be hazardous to babies, including medicines, scissors, fire ladders, and so on. Doorknob covers are another way to keep small children out of closets.
Safety gates can be used to keep a baby from wandering during a play period or after a nap (if the crib no longer does the job). They can also be installed in window frames above the first floor to prevent dangerous falls (or look for special window guards). When evaluating a safety gate, be sure slats are vertical so they can't become toeholds. Those that are mounted onto the walls are safer than pressure gates, especially in windows and at the tops of stairs. The latch should be easy for an adult to operate. Look for a seal of approval from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA).
A smoke detector should be installed just outside the nursery (in fact, outside every sleeping area in the home). Be sure to check the battery monthly and replace it annually, or use a 10-year battery.
A carbon monoxide alarm should be placed outside the baby's room if you have gas or oil heat or an attached garage. Be sure the device meets requirements of the most recent UL standard 2034 or International Approval Services standard 696.
Outlet covers are a must to prevent shock and electrocution. If you use outlet plugs, make sure they are UL-listed and cannot be easily removed or choked on. Because it is so easy to misuse these plugs (take one out to plug something in, then never replace it), a better choice might be to install outlet plates that require a left-sliding motion to plug in a cord. If you won't need the outlet, replace the face with a blank plate. If you are concerned about your child pulling a cord out of the outlet, look for outlet and plug hoods that prevent this.
Window-blind cords should be cut if they are looped, to prevent strangulation (remove the buckle as well); put safety tassels on the cut ends. Use cord cleats high on the window frame to take up excess cord. If you are buying new window coverings, inform the salesperson that you would like to have safety options on the cords.
L-brackets, available at hardware stores, will secure tall or tip-prone dressers and bookcases to the wall -- essential if you have a "climber." If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, look for a hinged model.
A baby monitor will alert you when a sleeping baby awakens or otherwise needs you. Monitors in which both the base unit and the receiver can be powered by either household current or a battery give you the most flexibility.
A cordless phone is an invaluable safety device, as it allows you to supervise your child even when callers beckon.
If you are concerned about a product's safety -- especially if you are buying a used item -- the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lists all product recalls since 1994 on their Web site at www.cpsc.gov; or call (800) 638-2772 for recorded messages or a live operator.