We like to think of our "home sweet home" as our haven of safety and security. However, home accidents are responsible for more fatal injuries than any other cause except motor vehicle accidents. Although home accidents are often caused by human error and typically can be prevented, they amount to 18,000 deaths and nearly 13 million injuries a year.
The 5 leading causes of death from home accidents are:
- Suffocation and choking
While children and older adults are most vulnerable to home injuries, everyone can benefit from the following precautions:
The popular 1990’s medical alert television commercial catchphrase, "I’ve fallen…and I can’t get up!" might not seem so funny when it involves a potential injury. Falls account for more than 1/3 of all injury deaths, and they are the leading cause of home injuries. Here’s how you can stay safer:
- Eliminate tripping hazards such as electrical cords, throw rugs, and slippery bathtubs.
- Install night-lights near stairways, hallways, and in dark areas.
- Secure loose rugs with non-skid pads.
- Apply non-skid strips to your bathtubs and showers.
- Keep stairways clear of toys, shoes, and other items.
- Clean up spills immediately.
- Purchase a sturdy stepstool with a handrail so you can reach safely.
- Pay attention to areas that pose problems for the elderly and small children, such as showers, cribs, and stairways.
- Install baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs.
- Be sure to follow ladder safety rules, which include proper angles, set-up on solid and level ground, and other commonsense precautions.
Millions of people are poisoned every year, and children under 6 are at the greatest risk. National safety studies have revealed more than 2/3 of homes with young children report storing household chemicals in unlocked places. Every family can take steps to avoid a poisoning injury:
- Keep harmful household chemicals in an out-of-reach, locked cabinet.
- Never leave children alone with household products or medications. If you are using a product, take the child with you to the telephone or the door. Most poisonings occur when the product is in use.
- Install child locks on cabinets—especially where you store harmful items.
- Keep household medicines and poisonous products in their original, labeled, child-resistant containers.
- Install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.
- Keep the number of your local poison control center near your phone, or program it into your speed dial. The national poison control center number is 1-800-222-1222.
Fire—in the form of flames and smoke—is the third leading cause of accidental death in the home. The major causes of home fires include heating equipment, electrical appliances, matches, cooking, and smoking. Here are some things you can do to reduce the possibility of your home becoming a fire statistic:
- Install smoke alarms in the hallway, bedrooms, and on each level of your home. Replace units older than 10 years with new ones.
- Test smoke alarms monthly and replace batteries every year, or sooner, if they start beeping.
- Keep matches, cigarette lighters, and candles away from flammable objects.
- Don’t leave burning cigarettes or candles unattended, and put them out completely.
- Stay in the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove.
- Keep curtains, furniture, and bedding away from heaters.
- Allow air space around the TV and stereo to prevent overheating.
- Check your TV, or have it repaired if it doesn't work right.
- Set your water heater no higher than 120 degrees F.
- Keep at least 1 fire extinguisher in your home at all times.
- Don’t overload electric outlets.
- Have an electrician examine frayed, worn, or suspect wiring.
- Develop a plan with your family that includes 2 escape routes from every room and establishes a safe meeting spot.
Suffocation and Choking
While more than 1/3 of choking or suffocation fatalities are associated with food, there are many other risks for injury throughout the home, particularly to small children. Help reduce the risk by keeping a watchful eye on little ones and taking a few preventive steps:
- Never place infants face down on soft bedding or pillows. They cannot raise their heads and might not be able to get enough oxygen. Avoid large stuffed animals.
- Keep plastic bags out of children’s reach, and tie bags in a knot before disposing.
- Cut children’s food into small pieces, and be sure to chew your own food thoroughly.
- Keep balloons away from babies and toddlers, who can swallow them and choke.
- Keep your eye on infants around strangulation risks such as window blind cords, long telephone cords, drawstrings, necklaces, and headbands.
As children learn to play and explore, water from a pool, spa, bathtub, or bucket can be a delight. However, a child can drown swiftly and silently in as little as 2 inches of water. These measures can help prevent this tragedy:
- Don’t leave buckets of water around the house when you are cleaning.
- Never leave an infant unattended in the bathtub.
- Watch children around the washing machine and toilet. Use toilet safety locks 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 self-closing and self-latching gates and doors leading to the pool or spa. Latches should be above a child's reach, and gates should open outward.
- Obtain cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification for infants and children.
- Be sure your baby-sitter understands pool safety measures. Train them in CPR.
An Ounce of Prevention…
When it comes to home injuries, the old saying really does ring true: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Common sense about safety, keen supervision of children, and a hands-on approach to injury prevention can help protect your loved ones from the common causes of household accidents.
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