Here are six of the most common home dangers:
This can be one of the deadliest at-home injuries. Put handrails on both sides of any stairs, and install grab bars in showers.
The greatest risk comes from inhaling smoke. Make sure your home has working smoke alarms, and keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
Radon is responsible for about 21,000 cancer deaths a year. Test the air in your home.
- Carbon monoxide
Have any gas or oil burning furnaces and water heaters serviced annually, and don't use generators, camping stoves or outdoor barbecue grills inside your house.
- Tainted Water
Water in many U.S. cities flows through old lead pipes. And 22 of the country's 25 largest cities also have chlorine, E. coli bacteria and other harmful substances in the water. Use a water-filtering system.
- Paints and cleaners
Roughly 40 percent of U.S. homes contain lead paint. Screen your children for lead exposure at ages 1 and 2.
Your home is your safe haven, your refuge, your sanctuary for rest and relaxation … yet between those four walls and roof are common hazards that could put you and your family at risk.
Unintentional injuries are actually the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 1 and 44, and the fifth leading cause of death overall in the United States. More than 91,000 people die each year from these unintentional accidents, and 20 percent of them occur in the home, according to The Home Safety Council's State of Home Safety in America™ report.
This report, which is among the most comprehensive body of research on the extent of home injury in the United States, confirms many of the hazards listed by the Washington Post above, and really shines some light on a commonly overlooked issue.
After all, your home is likely the last place you’d expect to be seriously injured, yet it happens every day. In all, there are nearly 12 million nonfatal home injuries each year, 42 percent of which occur at home, the Home Safety Council reports.
This amounts to about 21 medical visits a year for unintentional home injuries alone!
How are You Most Likely to be Hurt at Home?
No one really expects to be hurt at home, which is why it’s important to at least be aware of how it’s most likely to happen. Once you’re informed, you can take steps to minimize your family’s risks, as many of these injuries are preventable.
Following are the top 5 causes of home injury, according to the State of Home Safety in America report.
About one-third of home injury deaths and 40 percent of nonfatal unintentional injuries each year are caused by falls, often on stairs. A fall can be devastating to anyone for obvious reasons, but is especially risky for the elderly and young children. To help prevent falls in your home:
- Get rid of potential tripping hazards. These include stray electrical cords or extension cords run across doorways, throw rugs or runners that can easily slide, and slippery bathtubs.
- Secure loose rugs by putting a specially designed pad underneath it that will secure it to the floor’s surface.
- Apply non-skid strips to your bathtub, and a grab bar in your shower (especially if you live with someone who is elderly).
- Keep stairways clear of toys, shoes and other items.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- Purchase a sturdy stepstool with a handrail so you can easily reach items on top shelves.
- Install handrails or banisters in all stairways.
- Use window locks or safety guards on second floor or higher windows, especially if you have young children in your home.
- Use safety gates to block off stairways from children.
About one-quarter of home injury deaths are due to poisoning. Some of these are due to illegal drug use, such as heroin, but others occur when children get into medicine cabinets, cleaning chemicals or simply pick up a pill that’s fallen on the floor.
There were nearly 2.5 million calls involving human exposure to poisons made in 2008, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System 26th Annual Report. Of them, half involved children younger than 6, and nearly 39 percent involved exposures to children younger than 3 years.
Children can be killed by ingesting very small amounts of toxins, so be sure to keep poisons in an out-of-reach, locked cabinet. Along with obvious poisons like bleach or bug sprays, many household items can be harmful if ingested or spilled on skin. These include:
- Cleaning supplies
- Over-the-counter and prescription medicines
- Vitamins and herbs
- Mouthwash and toothpaste
- Lead paint
- Nail polish and nail polish remover, cosmetics, hair sprays, perfume and other personal care items
- Automotive supplies
- Certain houseplants
If you switch your home over to natural and safe cosmetics, personal care products and cleaning supplies, you can drastically cut down on your child’s risk of poisoning from such products.
- Fires and Burns
Over 3,400 people die each year from fires and burns, and 90 percent of the time it occurs in the home. About 57 percent of nonfatal injuries due to fire and burns also occurred at home, so please take these steps to stay safe:
- Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in the hallway, bedrooms and on each level of your home. Test the alarm regularly (at least once every three months) and be sure to replace the batteries every year, or when it starts beeping.
- Keep matches, cigarette lighters and candles away from curtains or other flammable objects. Be sure that cigarette butts and candles are put out completely and don’t leave lit cigarettes or candles unattended.
- Don’t leave cooking pots unattended, especially when frying.
- Turn off electric blankets before going to bed.
- Make sure curtains, furniture and bedding are kept a safe distance from heaters.
- Keep at least one fire extinguisher in your home at all times.
- Don’t overload electric outlets and have any frayed, worn down or suspect wiring examined by an electrician.
- Be aware of the temperature setting on your hot water heater, and adjust it to a safe level to avoid scalding.
- Discuss a ‘fire plan’ with your family, noting two safe ways to escape every room and developing a safe meeting spot.
- Choking and Suffocation
One-quarter of the more than 1,000 choking and suffocation deaths annually happen in the home. Of these, one-third involved food while 16 percent involved beds or bedding. Most often, choking/suffocation deaths involved children under 5 and adults 70 and older.
- Do not place infants face down on soft bedding or pillows, as babies are not able to raise their heads and may not be able to get enough oxygen. Also avoid large stuffed animals.
- Choose a firm mattress for babies, and there should be no covers, pillow, bumper pads, stuffed animals, or toys in the crib.
- Keep plastic bags out of children’s reach and tie bags in a knot before disposing.
- Make sure food is cut into small pieces for children, and be sure to chew your own food thoroughly.
- Keep balloons away from small children.
- Keep your eye on infants, as many items, such as window blind cords, long telephone cords, drawstrings, necklaces and headbands, could potentially strangle a small child.
- Drowning and Submersions
The majority of drownings occur outside of the home, but there are still risks present you should know about. For instance, at least one-third of unintentional home drownings occurred in bathtubs.
- Keep a watchful eye on infants -- infants can drown in even a small amount of water!
- Don’t leave buckets of water around the house while cleaning.
- Never leave an infant unattended in the bathtub.
- Be aware of other potential hazards such as the washing machine and toilet. Toilet safety locks are available to keep toddlers from falling in.
- Don’t leave children unattended in a pool, wading pool or hot tub, even if they are in a flotation device.
- Empty out small plastic pools as soon as you’re done using them.
- Install fencing around an outdoor pool, including a self-closing gate that cannot be reached by children.
Simple Steps to Avoid 3 More Invisible Home Hazards...
The Washington Post pointed out a few more risks in your home that you should be proactive about preventing. The following three risks are unique in that they may exist without you ever knowing, until it’s too late.
- Radon Gas
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the normal breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil and water throughout the world. You can’t smell, taste or see radon in the air, but it’s in the environment both outside and indoors.
The radon gas emitted by soil and rock can seep into buildings through gaps in the foundation, construction joints, and through cracks in floors and walls. Since radon levels are highest in rooms closest to the ground, if you spend a lot of time in basement rooms at home, work or school, your risk for exposure could be greater.
Radon exposure can be deadly, and it’s the number two cause of lung cancer in the U.S., second only to cigarette smoking.
I strongly encourage you to investigate how much of this gas you and your family are exposed to, and take the necessary steps to remediate the problem if the levels in your home are excessive.
- Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, and it can get into your home from a malfunctioning furnace, chimney, wood-burning stove or electrical generator. It can also overwhelm your home if you happen to leave your car running in your garage, which happened to my mother ten years ago.
If carbon monoxide levels become too high in your home, it can be fatal. Make sure you have a reliable carbon-monoxide detector and alarm on each level of your home, and check it regularly to make sure it works. If the alarm goes off, don’t wait -- get outdoors immediately and call for emergency help.
- Contaminated Drinking Water
It’s estimated that millions of people become ill from drinking unsafe water in the United States every year – even water that is “safe” according to environmental and municipal standards. However, while some cases may cause an immediate reaction, from bacterial contamination, for instance, many others will not show up for years.
This is because many of the chemicals in drinking water have been linked to cancer and chronic illness that take years or decades to develop. And by the time a person is diagnosed, it is next to impossible to trace the illness back to drinking contaminated water for 10 to 30 years.
Unfortunately, you simply can’t tell your water is safe by the way it looks, tastes, or smells. Some contaminants in water are so harmful that they are measured in "parts per million" or "parts per billion." In other words, just a drop of these poisons added to, in some cases, a swimming pool full of water would be hazardous to your health.
Fortunately, the alternative to having pure water is simple: use a high-quality filter for your home, including for your tap water and your shower.
Restoring Your Peace of Mind...
Much of what I write about is how to prevent illness from occurring in the first place. Yet the fact remains that even if you’re leading the healthiest lifestyle in the world, it will not necessarily protect you from an unintentional injury.
Of course, the purpose of this article is not to make you fearful or anxious about getting hurt in your home. It’s to let you know that you can take steps, many of them quickly and easily, to prevent these injuries and make your home a safer place.
And once you do, you’ll have peace of mind in knowing that you’ve done all you can to keep yourself and your family accident-free. So please take the hazards I’ve noted above to heart, and do complete the safety tips as soon as you can... but then get back to living in and enjoying your home, worry-free.