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Child’s death in washing machine ruled an accident

Exteriors of Chch Hospital during covi-19 level 4 lock down

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The toddler died in Christchurch Hospital on 20 February, 2022. (File image)
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

A coroner has ruled the death of a child found unresponsive in a front-loader washing machine as an accident.

Coroner Alexander Ho ruled the toddler was playing in the laundry when she climbed into the machine at her Christchurch home in 2021.

On the evening of 19 February, the toddler’s parents were unable to find their daughter and searched the house.

The mother checked the laundry, a separate building from the house, and discovered the child in the washing machine, which had been turned on.

She struggled to open the door and called for help.

The girl’s father managed to get the door open and began performing CPR until emergency services arrived.

The toddler died in Christchurch Hospital the following day from a brain injury caused by enclosed space asphyxia.

The girl has name suppression but had been described “as a happy-go-lucky, shy child who loved her parents.”

“For the avoidance of doubt, I record that there was no evidence of any involvement of any adult or any other person in [the toddler]’s death,” Ho said.

“There were no suspicious circumstances or evidence of criminal wrongdoing.”

A pathologist believed it was likely the girl would not have survived being in the machine for longer than five minutes.

The particular model of washing machine would lock the door and begin the wash cycle 12 seconds after the start button was pushed.

The toddler’s death was the first of its kind in New Zealand.

“Deaths of children who trap themselves in washing machines are rare. However, they do occur,” Ho said.

The coroner made a number of recommendations, including easier access to washing machine child lock information.

“The best way to ensure that the child lock feature is used is to make it easy for parents to know about it and how to activate it. I recommend that washing machine manufacturers prominently display by way of sticker or label, on the appliance itself, instructions on how the appliance’s child lock settings can be activated.”

Ho also asked for simple steps such as closing the washing machine door while not in use, restricting access to the laundry and engaging the machine’s child lock feature to be more widely published.

“I extend my condolences to the toddler’s whānau and friends for their loss,” he said.

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