(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – After a study found that common household spray bottles lead to thousands of injuries each year among children, researchers in The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital decided to take action to turn this medical observation into a practical solution.
“We realized that many of the injuries we found in our study could be prevented with a few simple design changes to spray bottles,” said Lara McKenzie, PhD of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “We looked around and realized that there were no spray bottles on the market that would be both easy for adults to use and hard for children to get in to so we came up with our own design.”
It’s an idea that actually started back in 2010. McKenzie was leading a study looking into the number of children across the country who were injured by household cleaners. While compiling her data, McKenzie says she was both pleasantly surprised and deeply concerned.
The study found that between the years 1990 and 2006, overall injury rates in children caused by household cleaners plummeted by 46 percent -- with there was one glaring exception.
“We did see a huge decrease over that time period, which is the good news,” said McKenzie. “However, the bad news was that spray bottle injuries stayed high and didn’t decrease like household cleaners in other containers did.” In fact, during the 17-year study period, spray bottles consistently accounted for about 40 percent of all injuries in children under the age of five.
Part of the problem with spray bottles is that they currently have a one trigger system that makes them not only tempting for small children to grab, but fairly easy for them to use. When they do, they can get into trouble quickly.
“Their hand strength and size is very different than an adult,” said McKenzie, “so, to be able to manipulate the spray bottles, young children often have to point the bottle toward their faces and use their thumbs to press the trigger. Of course, that means they spray the product into their eyes or mouths and, depending on the chemicals inside the bottle, that can lead to some very serious injuries,” she said.
Some spray bottles now have nozzles with on/off switches, but experts say adults often forget to turn them to the off position after use. Even if they do, many children are able to turn the nozzle to the “on” position and activate the trigger.
That’s why McKenzie and her team set out to create something different. Working with the Department of Design and the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at The Ohio State University, they developed the two-trigger system. “It functions like a child-resistant lighter, in that two things need to be engaged for it to actually spray,” said McKenzie, “and when you release those mechanisms, it reverts back to a locked position automatically.”
The handle features the traditional trigger located just under the spray nozzle, but it also has a trigger on the back of the bottle that needs to be pushed in and held in order for the front trigger to work.
It may be several months before the new spray bottle design is on store shelves, but McKenzie says much of the hard work is done. “We’ve designed a prototype and filed a design and utility patent,” she said. After successfully testing the design on a small group of children, “Nationwide Children’s Hospital is now looking for a partner to license this technology and help us get it on the shelves and into people’s homes.”
When that happens McKenzie’s work will have come full circle. She started out charting cases of children who were injured by household cleaners, and ended up helping to invent something that may someday prevent it.
“Our technology has the potential to prevent more than 6-thousand injuries each year,” McKenzie said. “That’s 18 injuries a day, which is roughly the same size as a pre-school classroom full of kids.”