Simply because we spend so much time there, our homes are actually one of the most dangerous places we encounter in our lives. They’re also a place where the rules that apply elsewhere—at work, at school, in the places we shop and recreate—are significantly relaxed: after all, if we cut corners on safety at home, we’re putting only ourselves at risk.
Unfortunately, this combination of lax rules and continuous risk takes a toll. Every year, for example, house fires claim more than 2,500 lives. Falls in the home are an even bigger danger, causing more than 6,000 deaths every year. Every year, too, poisonings from household cleaners result in more than 200,000 calls to poison centers.
Overall, our homes are rarely as safe as we think they are—or as they need to be. Fortunately there are some relatively quick and simple steps you can take today to make your home safer. It’s not an exhaustive list, but these “safehacks” will head off the biggest threats to safety in your home.
According to the CDC, poisoning is the leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S., and children are especially at risk. Make your home safe from this leading danger.
- Store toxic substances carefully. The single best way to avoid poisonings in your home is to keep all cleaning products in a child-proof cabinet, or in storage out of reach of children. Do the same with potentially harmful medications.
- Be aware of any poisonous plants you may have in or around your home. Philodendron, pothos, lilies, English ivy, and oleanders are common toxic houseplants. Some shrubs, like holly, produce toxic berries as well.
- Rely on labeling and follow directions. If the labeling has worn off a container, dispose of it. Make sure, too, that you can read directions and expiration dates on all medicines. And follow those directions: even if you don’t swallow poison, you can land yourself in urgent care if you expose your skin to corrosive chemicals, or if you inhale the wrong fumes—a particular danger if you mix the wrong chemicals.
If you suspect that someone in your household has consumed poison, contact Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Poison control centers are staffed by experts, the service is free and confidential, and poisoning emergencies can often be addressed over the phone rather than by calling 911 or visiting an emergency room.
Reducing Fall Risks
According to the World Health Organization, falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide. What’s more, falls are particularly dangerous among seniors, where they’re the leading cause of accidental injury and death.
- Get rid of clutter. If you’re an older adult, or you have an older adult in your home, get rid of clutter. Remove anything that could be a tripping hazard, such as electrical cords, rugs, or obstacles, from the walkways of the home.
- Learn the rule of four. In general, falls from heights are your biggest risk, and ladders magnify it. If you’re using a ladder, place the base one foot from the wall or work surface for every four feet it rises above the ground. (If you’re going to be working eight feet up, the base of your ladder should be back two feet.)
- Put up barriers to potential fall hazards. Falls are the leading non-fatal cause of injury for children under 15. If you have infants or toddlers in your home, position child gates at the top and bottom of staircases and install child guards on windows without screens.
Dealing with Fires
House fires aren’t as frequent a killer as falls or poisonings, fortunately. But they can be fatal, they can cause thousands of dollars in property damage, and they’re all too frequent. In 2015, one home structure fire was reported every 86 seconds in the United States, adding up to more than 300,000 fires every year.
- Never leave cooking food unattended, and never, ever leave frying food unattended on the stove. Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, unattended cooking is the leading factor in these fires, and frying oil poses the greatest risk of all.
- Install fire alarms and test them regularly. Almost all U.S. homes have at least one smoke alarm, but three of every five home fire deaths occurred in homes with no smoke alarms or none that worked. Get fire alarms, and test and replace batteries on a regular schedule.
If you want to go the extra mile, create a fire escape plan—including two escape routes from each room and an outdoor rendez-vous point—and practice it at least twice a year.
Prevent Choking and Suffocation
Apart from poisonings, choking and suffocation are the biggest risks for children in the home. Deal with this danger by, following these simple rules:
- Take care with food. For children through the pre-school years, choking is a significant hazard. Avoid feeding your child whole grapes, whole hotdogs, hard candy, or foods that involve big gobs of peanut butter. Cut up foods into small pieces to prevent your child from choking, and give your child food in small portions.
- Eliminate choking and suffocation hazards like window cords, plastic bags, and refrigerators. It’s as simple as never leaving plastic bags in reach, trimming window cords (or winding them on cleats), and locking enclosed spaces such as refrigerators, freezers, and car trunks.
Don’t forget that there’s one home danger that creates a risk of suffocation for people of all ages: carbon monoxide. This colorless, odorless gas is generated whenever combustion occurs—whether in your furnace, fireplace, or stove—and when inhaled at sufficient concentrations it replaces oxygen in your bloodstream, leading to confusion, incapacitation, and, possibly, death. To prevent a dangerous build-up of this gas, install carbon monoxide detectors and check on a consistent basis to make sure they’re still operating.
Our homes present many more dangers than can fit on any “top 10” list. But if you want to start making your home safer today, take these 10 easy steps to avert poisonings, fires, falls, and suffocation. Once you’ve taken care of the biggest dangers, you’ll have the time and peace of mind to continue to make your home safer for you and your loved ones.
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