Home Safety: Give Falls and Other Accidents the Slip
Tips from Home Safety Council on improving home safety.
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It was one of those moments that make a parent smile. When Meri-K Appy visited her oldest son at college recently, a friend of his mentioned that after a stairway light fixture was discovered broken, her son was quick to report it. That concern for safety had special meaning to Appy. As president of the Home Safety Council, she knows that unlighted stairwells can lead to backbreaking falls.
Here are some tips from Appy for making your home a safer place.
Q: What is the state of home safety in America?
A: In terms of unintentional injuries, it's worse than most people realize. Every year there are some 21 million injuries and almost 20,000 deaths. It's what we're calling a "quiet crisis" in America. So many of the things we'd like to fix in the world are too daunting; when it comes to home safety, that's not the case. There's a lot an individual can do that can make a difference. Our motto is "A safe home is in your hands."
Q: What causes most home injuries?
A: Falls — and by a wide margin. The very young and the very old are at greatest risk.
Q: What can homeowners do?
A: Make sure stairwells and pathways are well-lighted. Stairways should have railings. If there's a young child in the home, be adamant about using safety gates at both top and bottom of stairs. Move furniture away from windows. Understand that a screen won't protect a child from a fall. Install window guards, but keep in mind you always want to have one window that can be opened in case of a fire.
Many products include safety features; for instance, high chairs have safety straps. Don't override safety features by ignoring them.
If kids have an outdoor playset, be sure it has a soft landing. There should be 9 to 12 inches of protective surface that extends 6 feet around the equipment. You can use materials like wood mulch and pea gravel; there's also a synthetic rubberized material now available.
For all age groups: Install grab bars in shower and tub areas. Some people think they're ugly but there are models that blend with the decor. Also, use slip-resistant mats.
For older people: Remove throw rugs or affix them well using double-sided tape. But not having them is even better. If an older person is taking four or more medications, that can influence their stability. Ask questions of medical experts about an older person's propensity to fall. Lower-extremity strength training can be good. There is some thinking that tai chi can be beneficial. Also consider universal design and think about the future: living in a home on one level, for instance.
Q: What's another danger in the home?
A: Poisoning. There are 2.3 million poisonings reported every year. More than half are children under 6.
Q: What can be done?
A: Look around your home. Read labels on cleaning fluids under the kitchen sink, in the bathroom and the garage. Look for labels with the words "caution," "warning" or "danger." Items like drain openers, oven cleaners, auto fluids, antifreeze — but it can be anything — cosmetics, medication, vitamins that contain iron can be dangerous to a young child. Use child-resistant locks and control access to dangerous products.
Q: What's the most dangerous room in the home?
A: (Different rooms are) dangerous for different age groups. For young children, the most dangerous room is a room with no adult in it. About one-third of drownings are in bathrooms. For a baby, even a couple of inches of water can be deadly.
Q: What do pool owners need to know?
A: When people think of a drowning, they think of someone flailing away. Drowning is silent and it happens suddenly. Children have to be supervised. Only one thing has proven to prevent pool drownings: a 5-foot-high fence with a self-closing and latching gate. A sliding door doesn't count.
Q: When should parents start talking with their kids about home safety?
A: From the very earliest moments. When you're teaching a toddler what's hot or what isn't, you're teaching them about making choices. That's what safety is all about: making choices about what is safe and what isn't.
Q: What's one easy thing homeowners can do to improve safety in their home?
A: There are several. Walk through your home. Look for things that have warning labels on them and lock them out of sight of children. Test smoke alarms and conduct a home fire drill. Remove clutter around pathways. Call a fencing company if you have an unprotected swimming pool. Check your water heater and set it at 120 degrees to prevent scalding.
On the Web
Home Safety Council
Web site: www.homesafetycouncil.org
Code Red Rover—Safety for Children
Web site: www.coderedrover.org
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