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EDUCATION URGED TO END FRIDGE DEATHS

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Even if Utah were to adopt a state law requiring people to secure or remove the doors on their old refrigerators, that isn't the best way to prevent child injury from appliances. Education is the answer, authorities say.

This danger hit home for many Utahns following the suffocation deaths Monday of two Garrison brothers who were trapped inside an old latch-style refrigerator.Currently, Utah, Hawaii and West Virginia are the only states that do not have laws concerning refrigerators. Utah's local health departments do, however, require removal of refrigerator doors when the appliance is not in use, said Eugene Devenport, supervisor in the Salt Lake City/County Health Department. This is enforced through inspections that mainly stem from referrals, he said.

"Utah may be one of three states that doesn't have a law, but Salt Lake County is 42 percent of the population and we have it (a regulation)," Devenport said.

Laws and guidelines can be beneficial, but precaution is the best way to help children, said Cal Cazier, injury prevention coordinator at the Utah Department of Health. "Most injuries can be predicted and prevented," he said. "Not all, but most."

Many people don't anticipate the dangers associated with equipment, Cazier said, but he feels the Garrison accident will increase public awareness.

In particular, said Paul Seager of the Utah Safety Council, "parents need to educate their children to stay out of anything that closes or shuts.

"Children are frequently playing hide and seek when they get trapped," he said. "They don't understand, they're just having fun. But suffocation can take place in less than 10 minutes."

Seager gave ways to make stored refrigerators safe:

- Disconnect power and drainage lines.

- Remove door.

- Block door open with wooden blocks so it can't be closed.

- Chain the door shut or place the refrigerator with its door to the wall.

- Leave shelves so it will be difficult for children to climb inside.

Parents must also be aware of other products that can be dangerous for children, Seager said. Picnic coolers, washers and dryers, ice boxes and campers can all be potential traps.

Federal legislation 35 years ago required refrigerator manufacturers to build their products so refrigerators could be opened from the inside, Cazier said. This influenced a decline in deaths caused by being trapped inside. Still, people should be careful, he said. Nationwide, about 45 children died in old latch-style refrigerators from 1980 to 1988.

"I think we've done a good job on educating people, but obviously not good enough," he said.

In addition to local health-department regulations, Utah has day-care licensing rules against letting unused appliances, vehicles, power tools and farm equipment be accessible to children.