Home is where the heart is, but it may also be where the danger resides. In 2001, there were 33,200 accidental deaths in the home. The four leading causes of such fatalities are, in order: poisoning, falls, suffocation from an ingested object, and fires and burns. While no age group is invulnerable, the two most at-risk groups are children under age 4 and the elderly.
With a little effort, simple precautions can prevent many accidents, an assertion proved by the fact that there were 116,000 fatalities in homes in 1969. Stricter fire codes, safer electrical and gas appliances, widespread use of safety glass, and the work of the National Safety Council in promulgating safety standards and procedures have yeilded dramatic results.
The Council provides the following outline for conducting regular “do-it-yourself” home safety analyses that can help mitigate household hazards:
Most fire deaths in the home occur during normal sleeping hours at night. In a multi-story house, each floor should have at least one smoke detector, particularly in or around sleeping areas, basements and workshops. Test all smoke-detector batteries monthly and replace twice a year, regardless of test results. Every parent should also devise and regularly practice an evacuation plan for their children—and for themselves and their pets. Finally, every house should contain a multipurpose fire extinguisher graded for both grease and electrical fires. And make sure each member of the family knows how to use it!
Carbon Monoxide Protection
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can leak into the home from improperly ventilated heaters, furnaces, stoves and other sources. Exposure can cause headaches, nausea and even death. Each household should have a CO detector near sleeping areas. Check and replace batteries as noted above. All potential sources of CO should be checked annually for proper functioning.
Falls are a common source of household injuries, particularly for the elderly. Steps and stairs are the leading culprit. Make certain that stair steps are of adequate and uniform size. Install handrails on both sides of all staircases whenever possible. Make certain that all rugs and carpets are tightly woven and well-affixed to the floor—taped down, if necessary. Likewise, non-slip mats and “grab bars” are mandatory for the bathtub and shower. Use a secure, one-step stool to reach those high places.
Preventing Electric Shocks
The rule here is simple: install Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI). This device shuts off the current in an electric circuit when it detects a potential electric shock. Definitely use GFCI’s in circuits running to damp areas, and those containing water.
Safety glass breaks into relatively harmless pellets, not the dangerous shards and splinters of standard glass.
To be ready for nature’s unpredictability, maintain a kit containing bottled water, nonperishable food, battery-powered flashlight and radio (check the batteries regularly), clothing, bedding, tools and a first aid-kit.
Confirm that all electrical and gas appliances, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, are certified by a qualified testing organization. These organizations include, but are not limited to, Underwriters Laboratories, the American Gas Association, and the Canadian Standards Association. The seal should be easily visible.
The National Safety Council publishes a “Family Preparedness Checklist” available from its Web site. Another useful page on that site is Safety at Home.