Shopping trolleys on a yellow warning tape
ACC figures show the number of young children being injured after trolley mishaps (Image: Archi Banal)

SocietyApril 29, 2024

The surprising number of babies being injured at the supermarket

Shopping trolleys on a yellow warning tape
ACC figures show the number of young children being injured after trolley mishaps (Image: Archi Banal)

More than a thousand claims have been lodged with ACC over children, some younger than a year old, being injured by shopping trolleys in the last five years. Stewart Sowman-Lund looks at why.

Madeleine Holden was at her local Countdown when she heard something no mother wants to hear: her baby screaming in anguish.

Holden had put 12-month-old Belle in the seat at the front of the trolley with each of her legs through the holes. “I guess there must have been a thin little black strap to clip around her waist, but I didn’t notice it when I put her in the trolley, or realise it was meant to go around her,” Holden, who is a writer at The Spinoff, said. “I figured that given she was in the right spot with her legs through the holes she’d be fine.” 

Holden parked the trolley by the deli cheese section and left Belle momentarily to grab some fruit just a few metres away. Then, a woman was shrieking, Belle was crying and, not only that, she was dangling from the front of the trolley. “She’d slipped out somehow and was hanging on for dear life, and a woman had come out from behind the deli section where she was working to help,” said Holden. 

Thankfully, Belle was fine and Holden said the deli worker showed her the clip that was meant to be used to keep children in place in the trolley. But Holden and Belle were the lucky ones. Sometimes incidents like this can end in disaster. On Facebook, a concerned shopper recently shared a similar incident with their local community group and urged parents to take extra care. “I am shaking,” they wrote. “I just saw a baby … fall out of a trolley at the supermarket. Please please please always restrain your bub while in a trolley.”

Are these unfortunate but isolated incidents, or is this a common occurrence around the country? And how often are these trolley accidents leading to injuries that require medical treatment? 

Image: Archi Banal/The Spinoff

According to Holden, the Countdown staff member who came to Belle’s rescue told her that “heaps of parents” either don’t notice the strap in the trolley or don’t know how to use them, “so kids often don’t get clipped in”. Data released to The Spinoff by ACC appears to confirm this, showing the agency has received just short of 1,100 claims related to babies or toddlers and shopping trolleys in the five years since 2019. More than 100 of these claims were for children younger than one-year-old.

In 2019 for example, there were 306 new claims lodged for children under the age of six. Of those claims, 21 incidents involved children under the age of one, with 80 between one and two-years-old and 76 between two and three. The data does not specify the type of trolley incident, but it would be safe to assume that for children who cannot walk yet, a fall is likely.

ACC data relies on information provided at the time of the claim, so the number of children being injured on a grocery run could be higher in reality, though the agency said it compiled the data by looking at key words like “trolley”, “supermarket” and the names of New Zealand’s biggest grocery store chains. The data also took into account claims where the accident was caused for reasons like “slipping”, “tripping” or a “misjudgement of support”.

The issue of trolley safety itself isn’t new. In 2016, Stuff published similar ACC data revealing over 400 babies had been injured from trolleys in the previous year. At the time, some supermarkets said they were considering using in-store signage to encourage parents to safely restrain their children in trolleys. Skip forward eight years and the use of signs doesn’t appear to be widespread in stores, though some supermarkets, like Pak’nSave, play audio messages encouraging parents to properly restrain their children. Woolworths told The Spinoff its stores have information on correct shopping trolley use printed on the handlebars. 

But despite these steps, accidents are still occurring – though the numbers have decreased since 2016. 

So what options are available for parents with children at the supermarket? Most stores provide different trolleys for parents with young children. Some come with booster-seat attachments designed for babies, while many simply have the cage-like seat for older children that also doubles as extra trolley storage. “Both baby carriers and toddler seats are fitted with infant/child restraints, and we regularly check the safety features on our trolleys,” said a Woolworths spokesperson. 

Worksafe told The Spinoff that, under the Health and Safety at Work Act, businesses such as supermarkets must ensure the health and safety of other persons is “not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking”.

While there are safety guidelines in place, trolley rules are less stringent than for other baby-carrying devices. There is a slight step up, for example, when looking at prams, which are individually certified during production. However, compliance with the standard isn’t mandatory in New Zealand. But while a parent’s pram might be the more secure option at the supermarket, pushing a pram and a trolley at the same time is hard to do.

Abandoned trolley
(Photo: Getty / Treatment: Archi Banal)

Unsurprisingly, the most specific regulations are reserved for car seats, given motor vehicles travel a lot faster than prams or trolleys and the risks to the child are more severe. Car seat rules are embedded in legislation, requiring all children under seven years to use a child restraint that’s appropriate for their age, size, and development. They can’t travel in a vehicle if you can’t put them in an approved child restraint.

Whānau Āwhina Plunket’s principal clinical advisor Karen Magrath said that while going to the supermarket can be a great learning experience for young children, they should always be within arm’s reach to avoid potential disaster. And that goes for any activity where a child is seated above the ground. “Active supervision and strapping them in where a harness is provided is key to keeping young children safe in trolleys and this includes other everyday items such as highchairs, strollers, capsules, and swings,” Magrath said.

Stuff’s 2016 story referenced several serious injuries sustained by children in supermarkets, such as one in which a child’s teeth went through their lips. However, neither Foodstuffs (owners of Pak’nSave and New World) nor Woolworths NZ could point to any specific incidents involving young children in their stores when asked for comment by The Spinoff. A Woolworths spokesperson acknowledged there was potential for “serious injury” to young children and infants who fall from a trolley. 

While the stats may have improved over the past eight years, there’s still room for close shaves like the one Madeleine Holden had with Belle. “Now I keep such a close eye on her if she’s up the front of the trolley,” Holden says. “We both got such a big fright that day.”

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