Does it seem like there’s a month for everything? January – Cervical Health Awareness. March – Colorectal Cancer Awareness. Our favorite is September – Fruits and Veggies. Seriously? It’s very disappointing there’s no Pizza and Pasta Month.
But never fear, June is here. And it’s National Safety Month. However, unlike a plugged toilet, home safety is not a joking matter. Because when something in your home goes dreadfully wrong, it can kill you. Think you’ve heard it all before? Think again. It’s never a waste of time learning or refreshing how home safety can help prevent you and your family from getting hurt.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Home. Safety. What comes to your mind when you hear those two words together? Keeping your baby safe? Keeping your toddler or infant safe? Keeping your kids or teenagers safe? Keeping your elderly parents safe? The answers are different depending on the individuals or group of individuals you’re trying to protect. Toddlers need different safety measures than teenagers. Young adults need different safety measures than elderly parents. Therefore, the first question to understanding optimal home safety is to know your target safety groups – just exactly who are you trying to keep safe?
Winter, Summer, Slips and Falls
According to the National Safety Council (NSC), unintentional falls cause or lead to about 30,000 deaths annually. Although all age groups are vulnerable, older adults are most at risk – approximately 80% of fatal injuries from falls are people >65.
Here’s our short list for minimizing slips and falls:
- Illuminati – Make sure living areas are well lit
- Secure handrails – Make sure stairways and bathtubs have secure handrails
- Keep floors clean – No grease, water, food, or rogue banana peels
Keep stairs clear – No clothes, toys, pets, or slinkies
- Avoid the skids – Non-skid throw rugs, rubber pads, carpet backing
- Reduce clutter – Tuck cords out of walkways, stow TV remotes
- Play gate-keeper – Secure safety gates at top of stairs
- Straps and harnesses – Always strap children into highchairs
- Furniture falls – Don’t leave babies alone on a couch or bed
- Snakes and ladders – If you must climb to a high place, ask someone to hold your ladder
The Ever-Present Threat of Burning Flames
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire departments responded to 352,000 home fires which caused 10,750 injuries, 2,735 deaths and $5.7 billion in property damage in 2016. On average, nine people died in US home fires every week over the last five years.
Top three causes of home fires? Cooking accidents, faulty heating equipment, and cigarette smoking.
Cooking is Fun – Except When It Starts a Fire
Two of every five home fires start in the kitchen. The sad fact is that most kitchen fires are avoidable. About 1/3 of home cooking fires are caused by inattentive cooks or unattended cooktops or ovens. The other 2/3 of fires are started because of ignition of food (yes, food catches on fire) or other cooking materials (oils and fats).
Here’s our short list for preventing cooking fires:
- Shackle the chef – Handcuff the cook to the stove, never leave a cook top unattended
- Clear the cooktop – Don’t use your cooktop or oven for storage
- Beware little people – Children under five face a higher risk of burns associated with cooking and hot food and drinks than being burned in a cooking fire
- Monitor the microwave – Microwaves are one of the leading appliances which cause scald burn injuries
Heating Equipment – Maintain for No Pain
The leading factor contributing to heating equipment fires also is avoidable – failure to clean creosote and other build-up from solid fuel heating equipment (chimneys). Another major factor in house fires is combustibles which ignite because they’re too close to the heater; 1/2 of home heating fire deaths resulted from fires caused by heating equipment too close to things that can burn.
Here’s our short list for preventing heating equipment fires:
- Chim, chimney, cheree – Hire a chimney sweep to clean your chimney
- No combustibles allowed – Keep combustibles (upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses, bedding) away from heat sources
- No space heaters – Brave the cold; fixed or portable space heaters are involved in about 4 out of 5 heating fire deaths
- Pull the cord – Check all cords for frays or cracks, which can spark and cause fires
- Service the electrics – All electrical components in your home should be serviced and monitored; about half of home electrical fires involved electrical distribution or lighting equipment
- Service the appliances – Other suspects for starting fires include washer, dryer, air conditioning equipment, water heater and range; get an annual service contract to have the equipment checked by a professional.
Bed is for Sleeping, Not Smoking
Most fires caused by cigarettes are related to a person falling asleep while smoking. Sleep-related smoking fires are a factor in almost 1/3 of home smoking material fire deaths. Don’t smoke in bed. Bed is for sleeping. Among other activities.
Ever Ready – Smoke Alarms and Escape Plans
Our inspectors report inoperable smoke alarms in dozens of homes every day, even though working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in home fires by 1/2. Regrettably, almost 60% of reported home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms
Even with working smoke alarms, accidents happen. Unfortunately, only 1/3 of households have developed and practiced a home fire escape plan, according to the NFPA. Develop and practice an escape plan.
Lock Your Doors and Windows
We’d be remiss in not mentioning home security because, according to the FBI, home break-in (burglary) is the most common threat to our homes. Home burglaries occur approximately every 15 seconds; 2.1 million home burglaries annually. Each burglary costs about $2,100 but it’s more about the violation than the economic loss.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic isn’t the number of burglaries, it’s this simple fact – about one third of all burglaries occur via an unlocked door or window. Think about it – by following a simple “check the locks” routine, over 700,000 burglaries could be prevented. Always lock your doors and windows before you leave your home.
Most burglaries are committed by “casual criminals” (is there such a thing?) who are thwarted by any barrier which makes it more difficult to commit their “casual” crimes. Once again, common sense is the relevant buzz-phrase.
- Close and lock your garage door(s) at all times
- Leave blinds, shades and curtains in their standard positions
- Make your home yell and scream if it is violated (consider installing an alarm system)
- Hide emergency keys in inconspicuous places (forget the doormat and the garden gnome)
- Use motion sensors for lights on the exterior of your home
- Don’t be shy – get acquainted with your neighbors and keep eyes open for suspicious characters or vehicles at your neighbors’ homes
- Resist the temptation to broadcast your holiday plans (don’t brag about your vacation on Facebook until you return from holiday)
- Cut your grass while you’re on holiday (or more accurately, have someone else cut your grass unless you have the power to be in two places at the same time)
Understanding what to do typically is not the issue. Complacency is the challenge. Most of us know what to do regarding home security but many of us relax when there appears to be no threat of burglary or home invasion. After all, it couldn’t happen in my neighborhood, right? Wrong. Don’t be complacent. Stay vigilant, stay aware, stay safe.
Falls, Fires and Furglars, Um, Burglars
We’ve only briefly touched upon three major home safety issues – falls, fires, and burglars. There obviously are many other areas which require vigilance, not the least of which are home inspection issues which we report consistently, including safety issues with stairs and railings, decks, pools, and hot tubs. The good news is that proper prevention and consistently applied home safety techniques significantly reduce the probability of home safety issues.
Falls, fires, and burglars don’t discriminate – it’s much easier to prevent than to regret. And regardless of which home safety challenge, the best advice is the most simple advice – use common sense and never take safety for granted.