Homeowners everywhere, and of every age, need to be careful when at home, because when our guard is mostly likely to be down, hundreds of thousands of us will be injured while in the home. According to Statistics Canada, in the two year period of 2009-2010, 4.27 million Canadians were injured sufficiently enough that we had to limit our usual activities; 15 per cent of the population. What’s interesting, is that 627,000 of these injuries occurred in the home while doing household chores and another 123,000 happened while sleeping, eating or during personal grooming. Despite the stereotype, it’s not just seniors who hurt themselves while at home.
Look around your home. Chances are there are a thousand and one ways that something could go sideways in the kitchen, the bathroom and certainly on the stairs (the same Statistics Canada study says that in the two year period there were 166,000 injuries resulting from a fight with steps). For this reason, it is important that homeowners create a safer home environment. By evaluating each part of the home and making the necessary changes, people can help their loved ones avoid unnecessary injuries.
General safety: In general, it is important to ensure that the home has everything that it needs to promote the well-being of the people living in it. General safety typically applies to the entire home, regardless of the room. For example, all electrical items and appliances should be checked to ensure that the cords are in good condition. A few common examples of general safety include locks on doors and windows that are easy for all residents to handle (children straight on through to seniors). Additionally, they should be kept locked at all times. Fire alarms are another general safety concern and batteries should be checked twice a year to ensure they are in working order if needed.
- Have a fire escape plan and practice it every six months.
- A list of important phone numbers should be kept by phones in the home and programmed into one’s cellphone.
- Setting the water heater so that it is no higher than 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) will prevent burns when using water in the kitchen, bathroom or anywhere in the home.
- U.S. Fire Administration Fire Safety Checklist (PDF)
- A Housing Safety Checklist for Older People (PDF)
Kitchen The kitchen is one of the most potentially unsafe areas in the home. In this room of the house there is the elevated risk of fire, injury due to cooking burns and cuts, slipping and falls, to name a few. Proper lighting and non-slippery flooring are important to kitchen safety. Drawers and cabinet doors should be kept closed at all times and a step stool with a hand rail made available to reach higher-up areas.
- Microwaves, slow cookers, and toaster ovens are alternatives to using burners with open flames.
- Clothing with short sleeves or sleeves that are tight-fitting is less likely to accidentally catch on fire while cooking.
- Place items in lower cupboards and shelves that are easier to reach, particularly heavier items.
Stairways and halls: Stairways represent a special challenge. People living in homes with stairs run the risk of falling or slipping from a variety of hazards, lighting, clutter, slipperiness etc. While living in a home without stairs is the safest and most certain way to avoid stair-related injuries, many people may find moving from their home to be an undesirable option. Ensuring the safety of the stairs is of the utmost importance, and typically involves ensuring that the steps are even and undamaged, that the surface won’t cause slipping, and that the stair-rail is secure and sturdy. Like the stairs, hallways can be a problem too. Hallway injuries are often related to clutter and a lack of proper illumination.
- Make certain that hallways and stairs are kept free of objects that can’t be tripped over, such as toys, shoes, etc.
- Install an overhead light at the top of stairways and a light switch at the top and bottom for easy access.
- Prevent slipping by placing non-slip rubber treads on stairs.
Living room In the living room, furniture, rugs, and electrical appliances are all examples of potential hazards. Bumping or tripping over furniture can result in scrapes and bruises, with glass top furniture being of particular concern. Cords and cables also pose a tripping threat as do other items on the floor, which can cause injuries such as broken bones or sprained muscles.
- Make the living room easier and safer to navigate by rearranging furniture, so that there is a clear walking path.
- Eliminate the threat of slipping on throw rugs by securing them with double-sided tape or removing them entirely.
- Never run electrical cords under rugs as this can be both a fire hazard and a tripping threat.
Bathroom: In the bathroom, water can create an unsafe environment. Surfaces such as bathtubs and showers are typically slick when wet and can result in slips and falls. Stepping in and out of a shower or bathtub, and lowering and raising oneself from the tub or even the toilet without some sort of support can also be difficult and dangerous. Because of the damp nature of a bathroom, use electrical appliances with caution. Blow dryers, curling irons or other electrical items should never be used near bodies of water or while the faucet is running.
Bedroom: When assessing a bedroom for safety, ensure that there is minimal risk of falling and that any fire hazards are eliminated. For example, avoid using space heaters and make the bedroom a no-smoking area.
Sturdy, comfortable chairs should be kept in the bedroom as a place to sit while dressing in order to reduce the risk of falling or tripping. Adequate lighting and keeping pathways clear to the bathroom and hallway are also important or preventing accidents. Placing smoke detectors near bedrooms helps to ensure that they will be heard in the event of a fire.
Outdoor area: When outside the home, it is harder to control what is and is not safe. Directly outside of the home, however, may still be adjusted for safely. Like inside the home, it is important to look for areas that can cause a person to trip and fall or that otherwise creates an unsafe environment. Porches and decks, for example, should be well maintained with a railing that is secure. Making changes outside of the home also makes it safe for anyone who may visit.
- Ensure that steps and entrances to the home are well illuminated.
- Install handrails wherever there are outside steps.
- The area leading to the home’s entryway should be in good condition and free of any obstacles that can cause a person to fall or slip.