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Preventing Home Hazards

For most of us, there is no place we feel safer than in our own homes. The problem is that we can sometimes we forget about the dangers. You can live with a broken smoke detector for years and be fine. But it only takes one fire, one day, just a few hours to make you regret not replacing it.

This guide walks you through ways you can take action to keep your family healthy and happy at home.

Preventable Accident #1: Falls

Seniors

According to the World Health Organization, falls are responsible for an estimated 424,000 deaths worldwide annually. Falls are the second-leading cause of accidental or unintentional death. Annually, over 37 million people seek medical attention after falling. The senior citizen population is at greatest risk for suffering a fatal fall. Many factors contribute to the increased dangers as we age, including: loss of balance, decreased vision, cognitive changes, and other sensory changes. Seniors who fall are more likely to suffer hip fractures, head traumas, and other severe injuries.

As the body ages, recovery time increases and even injuries that would have caused only minor inconveniences earlier in life can cause seniors major life changes.

Children

Childhood falls are often caused by the child’s natural curiosity coupled with a child’s inability to sense danger. Many childhood falls can be prevented with adult supervision.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Family from Falls?

Unfortunately, your family can\'t live in a safety bubble. While you may not be able to control what happens to them out in the world, there are many things you can do around your home to minimize risks.
Here are some things to look out for around your home:

  • Check doorways, loose tiles, places where carpet comes together, and anywhere that there is a rise in the floor. Do your best to smooth these areas over or bring attention to them. The simple act of painting a step in the doorway can lessen the risk.
  • Bring attention to spills. If you can’t clean something up immediately, throw a towel over it and warn others that the floor is slippery.
  • Use baby gates to block off stairs.
  • Ask your senior loved ones how they change their ceiling lights. Inform them that you will do it for them or have a neighbor do it.
  • When using a ladder, make sure someone is there to spot you.
  • Use a stable step ladder instead of a chair. Never stand on anything with wheels.
  • Keep obstacles, e.g., shoes, toys, and clothes, out of walkways and doorways.
  • Put electrical cords out of traffic areas. If you are temporarily using an extension cord, don’t assume people see it. Communicate that it is there. Unexpected items are the most dangerous.

Preventable Accident Category #2: Choking and Suffocation

Children under the age of 14 are most likely to die by choking or suffocation. Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization dedicated to preventing accidental deaths in children, says an average of 982 children have died every year since 1999 from accidental suffocation. Of that number, children under the age of five account for most of the deaths. It is the fourth-leading cause of unintentional death of children under five.

How It Happens

For small children, almost anything can be a choking risk. According to the New York Department of Health, food causes the most nonfatal choking incidents in young children. Hot dogs, popcorn, grapes, raisins, gum, and candy are all food hazards for young children.

What can you do to keep your children safe?

  • Never leave a child alone while eating.
  • Children should sit and eat. Institute a “no running around while eating” rule.
  • Cut hotdogs lengthwise and all food into bite size pieces.
  • Keep hard candy and gum away from children. Check cribs for ill-fitting mattress. Keep children’s
    beds free from clutter.
  • Tie up or cut hanging ropes or cords around the house.
  • Remove small objects, balloons, and toys with small parts from children’s areas.
  • Do not allow infants to sleep in beds with adults.

Preventable Accident Category #3: Drowning

The number one cause of accidental death in children ages 1-4 is drowning. A small child can drown in just inches of water. Most household drownings occur when the parent or guardian steps away for only a minute or leaves a small child with another child.

Drowning hazards are sometimes harder to recognize than they would seem. Even a bucket with a small amount of water in it can be a danger to a top-heavy toddler who falls in head first.

What can you do to prevent a drowning in your home?

  • Never leave a small child in or around any water alone or with another child.
  • Empty all sources of water, including bathtubs, buckets, and kiddie pools, immediately after use.
  • If you need to leave a bucket or kiddie pool outside where it can collect water, turn it upside down.
  • Keep toilet lids down and install a small toilet seat child safety lock.
  • When giving a child a bath, stay within arms reach and pay attention.
  • If you have a pool, purchase a barrier to keep children out.

Preventable Accident Category #4: Poisoning

Poisoning occurs when a person ingests or absorbs through the skin any substance that harms the body. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300 children per day end up in the emergency room from unintentional poisoning.

Adults

Of all the hazards around the home, poisoning is perhaps the most elusive because there are so many misconceptions. It is believed to be most commonly a danger to children, but statistically, adults are more likely to poison themselves than children.

Poisoning in adults usually involves drugs. Prescription painkillers are a major contributor to adult poisoning. Combining prescription painkillers with other drugs such as other prescriptions or alcohol, and using painkillers for nonmedical uses, cause the majority of poison-related emergency room visits for adults.

It is a misconception that a product prescribed by a doctor is safe for everyone in the home. Prescriptions should be kept away from adults and teens who may abuse them or misread the label. After prescription drug abuse, the second-greatest poisoning hazard to adults is cocaine and heroin.

Children

Children are less likely to be poisoned because they don’t abuse drugs. Still, poisoning is a danger parents and guardians should protect against.

To protect your children from the dangers of poisoning:

  • Install child safety locks on cabinets with toxic substances such as cleaners and pesticides.
  • Keep vitamins and medication in cabinets out of children’s reach and sight. Do not rely on child safety caps to keep your children safe.
  • Put all cleaners, pesticides, medications, and vitamins away immediately after use.
  • Child safety caps “click” when sealed. Every time you close a medication, listen for the click.
  • While it may ease the burden of giving a child medicine by pretending it is candy, this tempts the child to seek out more candy. Explain what medicine is to your children and why they must take it.
  • Post the poison control number in plain sight and save it on your cell phone. 1-800-222-1222

Four Hidden Home Hazards

Fire hazards, mold, dust mites, and carbon monoxide are all common dangers that most people are familiar with, but have a tendency to forget to take action against. If you put off fighting these hidden dangers, your family is at great risk.

Hidden Hazard #1: Fire Risks

While most people are aware of fire hazards, they often get overlooked and preventative steps get put off until tomorrow. You may be familiar with what you need to do to keep your family safe from fire, but when was the last time you went around your home and checked for fire hazards?

Here are some basic fire-prevention recommendations:

  • Every home should have a smoke alarm on every floor.
  • Smoke alarms need to be tested monthly and batteries changed annually.
  • Most smoke alarms will alert you when the battery needs to be changed, but you should not rely on this.
  • Keep electrical cords and wires away from high-traffic areas and do not hide them under rugs. Take caution when using an extension cord or multi-plug adapter. Unplug appliances that are rarely used.
  • Never place anything within three feet of a space heater.
  • Turn off ovens and stovetops immediately after use. Never leave an unattended fire in the fireplace.
  • Talk to your children about what to do during a fire. Run a family fire drill.

Hidden Hazard #2: Carbon Monoxide

No other hazard hides in your home as well as carbon monoxide (CO). It is colorless, odorless, and deadly. Portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers all produce CO, as well as malfunctioning water heaters, furnaces, ranges, and room heaters.

A person suffering from CO poisoning will suffer headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, mental confusion, loss of muscular coordination, and finally, death. As frightening as carbon monoxide poisoning is, there are many simple preventative steps you can take to ensure your family’s safety:

  • Check that all appliances are installed and operating properly.
  • Heating systems, chimneys, and flues should be checked annually by a professional.
  • Never turn on a power generator or automobile in an enclosed space, even with doors and windows open.
  • Install a CO alarm and check its operations regularly. As with a fire alarm, don’t rely on the alarm to check its own battery. Never rely solely on the alarm. Maintain your appliances as you always would.
  • A CO alarm should never be covered by furniture, blankets, or draperies. The hallway of a sleeping area is an ideal place for the alarm.
  • Never burn charcoal in an enclosed space

Hidden Hazard #3: Mold

Molds are toxigenic, which means they themselves are not toxic, but they can produce toxins, such as mycotoxins. Cases of molds causing pulmonary hemorrhaging or memory loss are rare, and the link between mold and these conditions has not been proven.

However, the Institute of Medicine has found molds inside the home to cause upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughing, and wheezing. It provokes asthma symptoms in asthmatics and increases pneumonitis in those with weak immune systems. Respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children was also linked to mold by the Institute.

Mold grows in humid conditions. Mold problems can be avoided by using a dehumidifier or air conditioner in humid seasons and keeping carpets dry. If a mold problem develops, you can either hire a professional or try to clean it yourself.

As a mold problem grows, it can be seen and smelled. Soap and water may be enough to rid your home of mold, but for bigger, tougher mold infestations you may need a commercial cleaner or bleach. One cup of bleach mixed with one gallon of water creates a powerful cleaning agent. Never use more than one cup per gallon, and never mix bleach with ammonia or any other household cleaner.

Keep doors and windows open when cleaning with bleach. After cleaning an area infected with mold, dry the area. Mold removal may take more than one cleaning. Some people react to the dead mold. Clean the area thoroughly on a regular basis to prevent more problems.

Hidden Hazard #4: Dust Mites

A dust mite is a microscopic relative of the spider that feeds on dead skin cells. They enjoy warm, humid climates, love to curl up in your bed, and live up to 70 days.

Dust mites carry many of the same dangers as mold. They cause hay fever reactions in many people and increase asthma symptoms in asthmatics. If you or a family member wakes up every morning with itchy eyes and a stuffy nose, you may have a dust mite problem.

While dust mite allergies can be helped by medications, it is best to take measures to rid your home of dust mites. Getting rid of dust mites is an ongoing process.

To eliminate dust mites:

  • Wash your bedding regularly.
  • Purchase an anti-allergy mattress and mattress cover.
  • Air out your comforter or duvet. Dust mites love moisture. Don’t give them any.
  • Switch out carpets for hard floors.
  • Clean your home on a regular basis.
  • Don’t allow pets in bed with you.
  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner in humid months.

Keep Your Pet Safe at Home

No guide that promises to help safeguard against indoor hazards would be complete without keeping one the most vulnerable members of the family safe: your pet. Whether you own a cat, dog, or something more exotic, your pet probably gets into things it shouldn’t from time to time.

Use the following tips to protect your pets:

  • Block off small spaces behind cabinets and washer/dryer units.
  • If your pet opens cabinets, install child-proof locks on cabinets with harmful chemicals.
  • Cats lack gag reflexes. Loose string can be ingested and get tangled in their digestive systems. Check areas where your vacuum cleaner doesn’t fit for string and other choking hazards.
  • Tighten all heating and air vent covers.
  • Never leave out sewing or craft supplies.
  • Antifreeze is lethal to animals and the smell tempts them. Clean antifreeze spills immediately, and store it in a safe place.
  • Keep wires and electrical cords out of play areas. Dangling cords are especially inviting and dangerous to kittens. Keep them out of reach.
  • Look around before closing closet doors, drawers, and cabinets.

Improve Your Home Without Sacrificing Your Family’s Safety

Between the numerous renovation programs on TV and the internet, it has never been easier to find instructions on how to do almost anything yourself.

However, just because you find detailed instructions online doesn’t mean the project is safe for you to do. When in doubt, proceed with caution or hire a professional. Be wary of any project that seems like it needs more hands than you have. For instance, if a project includes carrying big panes of glass or climbing up a ladder, ask friends or family members to help you or hire someone.

The first step in renovating is deciding what you will do yourself and what you will hire a professional to complete. Here are some tips to help you through the decision-making process:

  • Avoid projects that require you to face your fears. Carrying tools up to a roof and wandering around will not cure you of your fear of heights and could injure you.
  • Electrical projects pose many safety concerns. You could electrocute yourself or expose your family to fire. If you are not confident, hire someone.
  • Even if you have worked on the pipes under the sink, gas piping is not the same. It is more sensitive and a mistake can cause an explosion. Get a professional to fix gas pipes.
  • Check warranties before starting even the smallest repair on your HVAC systems. Repairs made by unauthorized individuals can void warranties.
  • Consider the risk in any project. If the worst outcome is you may have to hire someone to fix your repairs, it may be worth trying. But if the risk entails you or someone else getting hurt, it is not worth it.

After you decide on which repairs you are going to take on yourself, follow all safety recommendations. Goggles may seem like overkill, but wear them anyway. Invest in protective gloves and quality tools. A nail gun or saw that is the slightest bit faulty can send you to the hospital. Turn off the electricity for electrical repairs; turn off the water for plumbing projects. Leave windows open while painting. Keep in mind, the simplest projects make us feel overconfident, but you can still get hurt. Use caution in all repairs.

Hiring a Professional

The most important aspect of hiring a professional to help you with home repairs is to ask a lot of questions. Look for contractors who are licensed and registered with the state. Require references. If they are subcontracting out, find out who they will be using.

Remember, these people will be in your home. You should meet with them beforehand. Ask about permit requirements. Don’t hire door-to-door solicitors. Be cautious of contractors who only take cash, want you to pay the entire amount up front, or offer anything that seems too good to be true. While most professionals will do basic straightening of any materials that need to be left overnight, try to avoid areas of the home where work is being done. Keep children and pets out of work areas at all times.

The Bottom Line

As they say, your home is your castle. After a long day, it is where you come to feel safe and spend time with your family. You should be able to lay your head down at night and know that you have done what you can to keep them safe.

Eliminate the nagging feeling that your home needs to be updated today. Get it done. Walk around and update what you can. Talk to seniors in your home about falling risks around the home. Install child safety locks on cabinets to keep your pets out. Install a carbon monoxide monitor.

When it comes to home safety, it is the little things and the things you do now that will keep your family safe for the long haul.