Simple ways to make your home safer
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Mary Hope
They’re our sanctuaries, but sometimes we can be a little too complacent when it comes to safety in our homes. According to a recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of accidents happen in or around the home. Nearly four in 10 injuries are due to falls. Women, especially elderly ones, are more likely to experience an injury than men.
Our homes can be fraught with risks — after all, anything that can fall, break, tip over, cause a fire or cause us to trip or slip can be a danger. Here are some ways to eliminate hazards:
Keep clutter off the floors and stairs. Anything left on the floors or stairways can be a tripping hazard, so make sure to keep these areas clear of things like decorations, bags and shoes. Key areas — like entrance ways and the pathway between the bedroom and bathroom — should always be clear of obstacles.
Tame cords. Not only can we trip over them, but children can pull on them and accidentally cause items to topple over. Try to position items near outlets to avoid dangling cords, and keep cords clipped or tied out of the way. (But avoid sneaking cords under carpets because it’s a fire hazard.)
While you’re at it, check cords for any signs of wear and tear, and make sure outlets aren’t overloaded.
Use stickers or decals on sliding doors. It may be funny in the commercials, but an adult, pet or child running into glass is no laughing matter. Having a decoration on the door as a warning can stop these harmful collisions.
Make sure there’s plenty of light. We don’t see very well in the dark, especially as we age. Good lighting — including night lights — is essential for high traffic areas like hallways and staircases. Switches should be in handy places like entrances to rooms and the top and bottom of stairways. Don’t forget some emergency lighting too in case the power goes out.
The same applies for outdoors too — bright is better around pathways, entrance ways and around your property in general. Flood lights and sensor lights can discourage crooks.
Trim the greenery. Why provide hiding places for criminals? Trim your shrubs and trees so that windows and doorways are visible to your neighbours. Try the 3-foot/7-foot rule: Shrubs shouldn’t be more than three feet high, and tree branches shouldn’t hang lower than seven feet.
Put in a peephole. If you have a solid door, install a peephole so you can see who comes knocking (and ask for I.D. if necessary.
Install hand rails on stair cases and steps. Experts advise that you should have at least one railing posted 36 to 39 inches high at every staircase and set of steps. Two rails — one on each side — are even better.
Install grab bars in the bathroom. Securely-anchored grab bars and handrails around the toilet and bathtub can provide some safety as you’re getting up and in. Experts recommend installing two bars around the tub — one each on the side and back walls.
Replace glass with plastic. Ceramic or glass accessories look lovely in the bathroom, but we’re often in bare feet in this particular room. Try unbreakable materials for items like soap dispensers and toothbrush holders which could easily be knocked over.
Go non-slip. A bath mat with a rubber backing and non-slip rubber mats, strips or a non-slip finish in the tub can avoid that “slippery when wet” issue.
Secure loose rugs. Throw rugs and area rugs are another common tripping hazard, especially on bare floors and stair landings. Use non-slip mats underneath or secure them with tape — or avoid them altogether.
If you have a runner on your stairs or hallway, check that it’s secure. For maximum security on the stairs, experts recommend well-secured rubber stair treading instead of carpets.
Keep stairs and floors in good shape. Uneven or broken steps deserve attention from a repair person, as well as uneven or damaged floors. For extra safety on the stairs, edge each step with a contrasting or brightly coloured tape or reflective tape.
Set your water heater to “just right”. To avoid burns, experts recommend keeping the temperature on your hot water tank set at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or 49 degrees Celsius. (If you have an electric tank, check with the manufacturer or plumber first.) Don’t dip below this temperature, or harmful bacteria could build up in the tank. If necessary, use water mixing valves to moderate temperatures.
Replace twist knobs with levers. Safety experts recommend swapping out those old sink fixtures (the ones that have the knobs) and opting for a lever that controls temperature and flow instead. They’re easier to manage if you have problems with dexterity in your hands.
Store substances in their original containers. Proper identification — including warning labels — is essential to keep, and different containers (like food-grade plastic) might not be up for the job. Don’t use something if you’re not sure what it is, and never mix chemicals.
Get rid of hazardous waste. Old batteries, solvents, half-full paint cans, pesticides and other toxic substances can be especially dangerous in the event of a fire or earthquake. Get rid of anything you aren’t using, but be sure to do it properly. (See Get rid of your toxic garbage for more information.)
Call in a professional for regular cleanings and maintenance. Keep your fireplace and furnace in good repair, and make sure they get a regular check-up from a professional at least once a year. Ensure your chimney is clean and in good shape to prevent fires.
In addition, make sure all vents going outside your home are clear and free of lint to avoid harmful gases like carbon monoxide building up.
Spot-check your furniture. It can be easy to overlook our furnishings, but they can tip, break or wobble and cause injury. While you’re giving everything a good dust and vacuum, watch for any cracks, lose hardware or other signs of disrepair.
Get some sturdy steps. Ladders and other aids we use to reach something are a major source of injuries from falls. Make sure to use sturdy ladders and stepping stools. They should have a non-slip surface and you should be able to put your whole foot (or as much of your foot as possible) on the steps.
Keep things in easy reach. Avoid dangerous reaching by remembering this rule of thumb: anything you use frequently should be stored where you can easily access it (between shoulder and knee height). In the kitchen, safety items like oven mitts and a fire extinguisher should always be kept handy.
Hunt down mould. Anywhere there is water there’s the potential for mould growth. Mould can trigger allergies and breathing problems, and some kinds can even be toxic. Seek out the mould in your house and get rid of it with water and dish soap. Next, fix the underlying cause — such as purchasing a dehumidifier or repairing leaks.
These steps may sound like common sense, but we often overlook them until an accident happens. If it sounds like a lot to tackle at once, draw up a checklist and go through each room checking for hazards — starting with the kitchen and bathrooms.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canada Safety Council, Home Safety Council, Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian Red Cross