About a third of all accidents happen at home, and most can be prevented, says Dr. Paras Pandya, assistant ER director at John Randolph Hospital in Hopewell, Va. The following tips can make your home safer.
Mike Sowers of Nashville, Tennessee, says he set himself up for a fall in June while trying to install a digital TV antenna on his roof.
“I was standing on an extension ladder with hard rubber feet on a wet deck, with nobody to hold the ladder,” he says.
The ladder slipped, and Sowers hit the deck on his back. His wife, a nurse, called 911. A CT scan and X-rays showed he’d cracked his L-3 vertebra. An avid runner, Sowers was sidelined with a torso brace for almost five weeks, followed by several weeks of intense physical therapy.
“I know people who were paralyzed for life after falling while cleaning gutters, so I was very lucky,” Sowers admits.
Falls cause most home injuries and deaths. Stairs, slick or uneven surfaces, throw rugs, tripping over objects (or pets), dizziness, carelessness, and weak or painful joints cause many falls, according to Dr. Pandya.
To make your home more fall-proof:
- Install — and use — handrails on all stairs, and use night lights or turn on lights before using steps.
- Use non-skid mats in the tub or shower and outside on the floor so you don’t slip on tile. Install grab bars for the elderly.
- Make sure ladders are stable and on a firm, level surface. Ask someone to hold a tall ladder steady as you climb. Don’t climb ladders if you have balance problems.
Choking or suffocation
Children younger than five are especially vulnerable to choking and suffocation. Food causes nearly 60 percent of non-fatal choking accidents among kids.
To avoid choking or suffocation:
- Don’t let children younger than five eat small foods like nuts, seeds, candy and raisins. Teach them to chew thoroughly and swallow before talking or laughing.
- Keep plastic bags, shade and curtain cords, and potentially dangerous small objects like marbles and toy magnets out of children’s reach.
- Don’t run gas or diesel engines indoors or where fumes can seep into the house. Have gas appliances professionally checked annually.
Children account for many poisoning incidents because, as Dr. Pandya notes, “Little children put basically everything in their mouths.” Last year, laundry detergent pods poisoned several kids who thought the pods were candy.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Dr. Pandya often treats older adults who accidentally overdose on medications like painkillers. They may have forgotten they already took their dose or took more hoping for faster relief, he says.
To guard against poisoning:
- Store potentially harmful supplies and medications out of kids’ reach and use cabinet locks. Keep substances in their original containers to avoid confusion about contents.
- Take medications, especially painkillers, as directed. Don’t take more for faster relief, and don’t take with alcohol.
- Turn on a light when you give or take medicine at night to ensure you are taking the correct medicine and dose.
Burns and fires
Joel Wilson narrowly escaped serious injury as a teen when a candle ignited a plastic basket in his room. He’d fallen asleep and woke up to smoke and flames. His father smelled smoke and bundled Wilson out of the house.
The fire department quickly put out the blaze, but it took months to repair the smoke and water damage. Wilson had second-and third-degree burns on his feet from stepping in molten plastic.
“My kids don’t have candles,” Wilson says wryly.
Most burns happen in the kitchen when cooks or hungry kids are distracted or don’t handle hot items safely, Dr. Pandya says.
To reduce burn risks:
- Position pot handles away from the edge of the stove.
- Don’t let little helpers get too close to a hot stove.
- Beware of flare-ups when lighting outdoor grills.
- Don’t set water heaters higher than 120 degrees F to avoid scalds.
If you have firearms in the house, take steps to secure them and follow these safety measures:
- Use trigger locks or similar devices, and keep firearms in a gun safe or other locked area where curious children can’t get to them. Unlocked drawers and closets aren’t safe — kids are amazingly adept at ferreting out hiding places.
- Don’t load guns until you are ready to use them, and unload them when you are done.
- Teach kids firearm safety — the NRA advises telling them if they see a gun, “Don’t touch, leave the area and tell an adult.”
In Dr. Pandya’s experience, most cuts happen in the kitchen when people are distracted, leave knives lying out or use the wrong knife for the job.
“It may sound strange to say it, but keep your knives sharp. A sharp knife needs less pressure to cut, so it’s less likely to slip than if you’re pushing hard with a dull blade,” he says.
Ways to prevent cuts include:
- Avoid distractions like watching TV or doing too many things at once.
- Keep knives far from a counter edge where they can easily be knocked off. Never try to catch a falling knife.
Teach children how to handle knives and other blades, and “don’t run with pointy objects!”