Home Safe Home? 27 Safety Precautions Under $40

Dorothy was right: There is no place like home. Home is where we feel safe and relaxed in the familiarity of our surroundings — the sheets are just right, our favorite chair welcomes us, and we know, half-asleep and at 1 a.m., that we can get to the bathroom in exactly 10 steps.

But it turns out we might not be as safe as we think. According to the Home Safety Council (HSC), home-related injuries cause nearly 20,000 deaths and 21 million medical visits each year. HSC's State of Home Safety in America report found that unintentional home injuries cost an average of at least $222 billion each year in medical costs between 1997 and 2001, far greater than costs from other home injuries such as violence ($98 billion) or suicidal acts ($96 billion).

Yet most of us, myself included, fail to take these numbers seriously. HSC polled Americans on the injury prevention actions they took in their homes and found that an alarming number failed to appreciate the risk and lacked either the motivation or knowledge to reduce it.

The good news is that most home injuries are avoidable with a few simple modifications, ranging in price from free to $40. Learn how easy and inexpensive it is to protect your family from the five leading causes of injury, as reported by the HSC.

Falls
Each year 5.1 million Americans are injured by falls that occur in and around the home. Falls are the leading cause of home injuries and account for one-third of unintentional home injury deaths.

Recommended actions:

  • Put a nonslip mat or safety treads on the tub floor and use grab bars when you get out of the shower: $4-$10.
  • Turn on area lights when using stairs, steps, and landings: $0.
  • Use handrails on both sides of stairs and steps, and shoo pets away from your path (I know, easier said than done): $0.
  • Use a proper ladder for climbing instead of a stool or furniture: $0-$30.

Poisonings
The second leading cause of home injuries, more than 2 million poisonings are reported to the Poison Control Center each year, yet only 1% of respondents in the HSC survey considered it a top concern.

Recommended actions:

  • Lock poisons, cleaners, medications, and other dangerous substances away from a child's reach: $0.
  • Keep all cleaners in their original containers, and do not mix them. Even better? Buy non-toxic all-purpose cleaners from brands like Method or Seventh Generation, or make your own: $2-$6 for 32 ounces of self-made or purchased cleaner solution.
  • Use medications carefully, following the directions. Use child-resistant bottles, but don't rely on them: $0.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in bedrooms: $20-$30 per detector.*
  • If someone is unconscious, is having trouble breathing, or is having seizures, call 911, but if someone seems okay and you think they may have ingested poison or you have a question, call the National Poison Control Hotline. Put the number in your phone's address book or near the home phone (only one-fifth of polled Americans reported doing so) — it's 1-800-222-1222: $0.
  • Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that you can't see, smell, or taste. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second only to smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Test your home at least every two years or when living patterns change: $15 (or free — some state programs offer low-cost or free kits, contact your state radon contact for more information).

Fires and burns
Of all fire- and burn-related injuries, 90% occur in the home. We know we should have a fire extinguisher and smoke detectors in the home (93% of the people polled did have smoke detectors installed), but most of us slack off on other precautions such as fire escape ladders (only 6% reported having one) and a family escape plan (just 26% had one).

Recommended actions:

  • Have working smoke alarms: about $3 to replace batteries, $20 per smoke detector.*
  • Create a family fire escape plan: $0.
  • Two story home? Keep a fire escape ladder near each upstairs bedroom window: $35+ per ladder.
  • Don't leave the stove when cooking, especially when frying food, and consider keeping an easy-to-use fire extinguisher near the range: $0-$12.
  • Space heaters should be three or more feet away from anything flammable and turned off when you leave the room or go to sleep: $0.
  • If you smoke, smoke outside and put water in ashtrays before emptying. Lock matches and lighters away from a child's reach: $0.
  • Blow out candles before leaving the room or going to sleep, or replace real candles with flameless ones — new battery-operated candles are made with scented wax and create a flickering glow: $0, or $10 for a 6-inch flameless candle.
  • Set the hot water heater at or below 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent burns, and test bathwater temperature before children climb in: $0.

Choking and suffocation
The easiest way to prevent most choking-related deaths? Sit, and require children to sit, while eating. Only 39% of adults require children to do so.

Recommended actions:

  • If an item can fit through a toilet paper tube, it can cause a young child to choke. Keep small items out of children's reach: $0.
  • Don't put pillows, comforters, or toys in a child's crib: $0.
  • Tie or clip the loops in window cords up high where children can't reach them: $0.
  • Read the labels on all toys, especially the recommended age: $0.
  • Cut food into small bites for kids, and both kids and adults should sit down when they eat and chew slowly: $0.

Drowning
Most drowning deaths at home are related to swimming pools and spa tubs, but there are easy ways to keep everyone safe this summer.

Recommended actions:

  • Sounds obvious, but stay within arm's reach of children in and around water. This includes bathtubs, toilets, pools, and spas (more than half of the HSC survey respondents failed to do so): $0.
  • Keep the gate around your pool closed and locked: $0.
  • Empty large buckets and wading pools after use and store upside-down: $0.
  • To avoid suction entrapment, don't use a pool or spa if there are broken or missing drain covers: $0, or $15+ for a drain cover replacement.
  • Research the safest pool cover for your type of pool: price varies.

*Rather than buying separate carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, install a single unit that does both: $40-$50.

Is your safety to-do list as long as mine? Know any easy fixes that make your home a safer place for your family? I'm embarrassed to say that buying carbon monoxide detectors and testing for radon are two things I have always meant to do, but never got around to doing them. June is Home Safety Month, though, so it's the perfect time to check it off my list!

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Jennifer
Jennifer
10 years ago

This is a great article. We actually had a choking incident with my 11 year old last year. It can happen to anyone. Fortunately we got him breathing, but we still had to call the ambulance and go to the hospital as the chicken nugget was still lodged in his throat. It required emergency surgery and an overnight stay at Children’s. It can happen to anyone and parents really need to keep their kids calm and sitting when eating. It was way to scary to go through that again.

Holly
Holly
10 years ago

I worry all of the time about my young niece and nephew choking since it has happened to all 3 of my children. The first time was in a restaurant. We were young parents (read: inexperienced) and gave a tiny piece of bacon to our one yr.-old. He gagged and started turning blue in the face. Luckily, my husband knew what to do and picked him right up and turned him upside-down in the aisle while pounding on his back. The bacon flew out! Second time was my daughter at about 13 years old. She sat there and never made… Read more »

SF_UK
SF_UK
10 years ago

What a great post! You didn’t touch on electrical safety – I am a stickler for switching off switched sockets (most sockets in the UK are switched), and for visually inspecting the cable of electrical equipment. This may be because I’m both a trained electrical engineer and a first aider – I know the dangers only too well. If the insulation on a cord is damaged, please don’t use the appliance – it could electrocute someone or cause a fire. The same goes for things that trip fuses / circuit breakers. Usually there’s a reason for this – it’s worth… Read more »

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
10 years ago

There is a lot of great information here.

One thing I wanted to add is that I have a radon detector in my basement that is plugged in and does a constant reading. I think it was around 80 dollars, but worth the money for me.

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

This is staggering! I had no idea that home injuries were so prevalent.

Holly
Holly
10 years ago

Oh, yeah, Paul…I would continue on w/all of the stupid, dangerous, and completely PREVENTABLE accidents that our average family has come across, but it would be a whole post in itself.

Suffice it to say, slippery socks and the last few hardwood stair treads at night do not make a good combination…esp. w/out a nightlight.

Jenna
Jenna
10 years ago

Although it’s not cheap, I’d say go ahead and put a runner on the stairs or carpet them entirely.

Despite having lights on and holding the rail, I fell down the stairs at my house earlier this year. Fortunately, I’m a young, healthy person (and also managed to fall on my backside), so I didn’t suffer any lasting damage. The same fall for a child, or someone old and frail would have been much worse!

squished18
squished18
10 years ago

Excellent article! I especially like the tie-in with how cost-effective these solutions are.

Shara
Shara
10 years ago

Home injuries are preventable, but at the same time injuries happen in the home because that’s where we are. Accidents, even stupid ones, will always happen. When we look at safety at work we look at human controls and how IN-effective they are. It’s like the old statistic about how ‘X% of car accidents happen within 10 miles of home’, which implies that familiarity breeds inattention, but most of my driving is within 10 miles from home, so if I ever get in an accident it’s most likely that’s where I’ll be. As an aside: The accompanying picture makes me… Read more »

lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound
10 years ago

When we got our pool about 10+ years ago we had the entire backyard fenced in with a four foot chainlink fence and a gate with a lock put on the pool deck stairs. Both kids (4 & 6 years at the time) were signed up for swimming lessons at the Y and took them for three years. To this day they still do not go swimming in the pool unless there is an adult home and if there is only one of them in the pool someone else has to be present on the pool deck.

Greg
Greg
10 years ago

I would be cautious lowering a water heater’s temperature. At temperatures of 122 or less, Legionella bacteria can survive or thrive.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legionellosis#Controlling_Legionella_growth

Suzanne Katz Emig
Suzanne Katz Emig
10 years ago

Great post! My son ingested the contents of one of those glow sticks-after a frantic call to Poison Control (luckily I had one of those Mr. Yuck stickers on my fridge) I found out it was non-toxic. A little milk and a popsicle got rid of the burning taste in his mouth and the glowing mouth and tongue were apparently no big deal-who knew?

RJ Weiss
RJ Weiss
10 years ago

Great idea for a post.

I used to rate personal lines insurance for a living. A lot of these things can also go for or against you on your insurance rate. For example, if you have a smoke detector you can get a credit on your insurance.

Andrew
Andrew
10 years ago

I disagree about keeping a fire extinguisher near the range. If the range is on fire, are you going to reach around this thing with flames shoot out all around to try and reach the extinguisher? No, you should be running out of the kitchen to retrieve the extinguisher, and coming back with it. Less chance of being over come with smoke inhalation. Keep the extinguisher near the entrance to the kitchen, if there are multiple entrances to the kitchen, keep one near each entry point, but away from the thing that’s likely to catch fire.

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

@Greg — 120 degrees (at the fixture) is most likely the temperature that the plumbing code calls for. Each state has their own code, but it’s pretty consistent. It’s possible that you will need to set the tank higher to deliver that temperature at the faucet since the water will lose some heat along the way.

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

Agree with Andrew, don’t keep the extinguisher right by the range – but DISAGREE about keeping it in a separate room. I keep my fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink, right across from the range. It takes a couple of minutes to get the thing out, unlocked, and into action. If you have already taken a couple of minutes to run out of the room and rummage in the hall closet, your kitchen is already on fire and you might as well just keep running and call 911. Might I also suggest buying a cheap extinguisher and taking it out… Read more »

soarng
soarng
10 years ago

Another common-sense precaution is to keep toilet bowl lids closed. Young children, especially toddlers who are top (head) heavy, can topple into an open toilet bowl so easily.

Andrea > Self Employed Rates Blog
Andrea > Self Employed Rates Blog
10 years ago

In case any of you have hard wired fire alarms, you might be wondering if you need a battery back up if the power goes out. I don’t know what the answer is if you live in a house. But the fire department told me that, if you live in a condo complex, the back up generator will still power the alarms. If something major happened to the back up generator, it would be something along the lines of a massive disaster, like an earthquake. They said that I would definitely wake up if something like that happened, so no… Read more »

Jake @ NotRichYet
Jake @ NotRichYet
10 years ago

Talking on the phone while driving has the same impact as drunk diving on your ability to react.

Interestingly using a head set or hands-free systems DOES NOT HELP! Studies have shown that regardless of how drivers use their phone, they are still distracted and have a much increased accident risk.

So just tell people not to talk to you when they are driving.

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

@Andrea — many hard wired fire alarms have a battery back-up. I’m not familiar with condo complexes that have backup generators, either — usually they are on street power like the rest of us.

Back-up generators can fail for many reasons other than a natural disaster. Poor maintenance, running out of fuel, mechanical failure and so on can all keep a generator from powering up correctly and transferring power. They aren’t foolproof by any means.

James
James
10 years ago

most of these seem to protect young children from poison and other house hold related dangers.

we also have to think about the elderly and making sure they don’t fall down. you know at an older age people are more fragile and it is important to ensure we have all the safety precautions in place.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

We need to get a fire extinguisher…thanks for the reminder! Oh, if you have pets and have a hard time getting them out from underfoot, try carrying around compressed air for a week. Anytime our dogs got in front of me or around my feet while I was trying to walk or was going up or down the stairs, I’d squeeze the compressed air thingy and they ran out of the way. After about a week, they stopped trying to trip me all the time. They also get accidentally “kicked” a lot less now too (you know how they get… Read more »

Connie Walsh
Connie Walsh
10 years ago

Drowning: It doesn’t take much water for a child to drown. Industrial size buckets (think laundry soap) are very dangerous.Never allow a child to play around one even if it’s filled with only a small amount of water.

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

@ James, you’re right that most of these are kid-centric. Mostly because kids don’t know anything and can’t protect themselves. I don’t think that necessarily applies to older people as long as they are still mentally functional. The best thing people can to do be safe as they age – on top of the regular household supplies and maintenance suggested above – is to keep active. Strength, balance, stamina, flexibility and agility are all use-it-or-lose-it aspects of fitness. The person who does not stay fit has an astronomically higher likelihood of having an in-home accident. The person who cannot stand… Read more »

Casey
Casey
10 years ago

It’s called a water heater, not a “hot water heater”–why would you want to heat hot water?

Deb
Deb
10 years ago

I have worked in a Level 1 Trauma Center for 15 years. This is an excellent post! If you don’t mind, I’d like to add: Falling from ladders & roofs is a major cause of injury for males, especially as they age. Be safe, use a buddy system if possible. At the very least, let someone nearby know that you are going up so they can keep an eye on you. Do not drink any alcohol prior to climbing, please! Stairs – these are dangerous for everyone, but particularly for young kids and the elderly. Make sure a sturdy bannister… Read more »

Rachel211
Rachel211
10 years ago

I think that the only thing that I would add to this article is possibly which of these things would NOT pertain to certain people.

Like we don’t have any kind of gas (propane or natural) in the house. So would it really be worth it to go out and buy $60 worth of carbon monoxide detectors?

Or with the radon detectors – I might be wrong, but aren’t they only for people who have half of their house underground at some level?

Thisiswhyubroke.com!
Thisiswhyubroke.com!
10 years ago

That falls section is so much more important than people think due to guests being able to sue you! Good job April.

SF_UK
SF_UK
10 years ago

keeping fire equipment by the stove/range. Definitely a no-no. I was in a rented house once, and had a wok fire (small amount of oil, large amount of flame and smoke). It was at that point (with 4 foot flames in front of me!) that I realised that both the controls to turn off the heat, and the fire blanket (don’t use fire extinguishers on oil fire folks!) were on the other side of the flames. Luckily, the close-fitting wok lid was accessible and did a good job of smothering the flames so that we could turn off the heat.… Read more »

david/MoneyCrashers
david/MoneyCrashers
10 years ago

The no-brainers are the ones that cost zero dollars.

Should be done 100%

Jason
Jason
10 years ago

@Rachel211 — how do you heat your home? Here in New England, a lot of people have gas or oil. Some might have a pellet stove, fireplace, or woodstove. How do you heat hot water? Gas is very popular for that.

Of course, you could live somewhere without any real winter and not have to worry about these things, or you could have electric heat, too.

If you have a combustion source in the house you should have a CO detector.

Rachel211
Rachel211
10 years ago

@Jason You hit it right on the head, Jason. We live in Florida. Our A/C (which is electric) has a small heat pump that we rarely use in the winter. Our water heater is electric and so is our stove. We do have a garage and I suppose if we actually used it for the car, I could put one in there. Although I can’t think of any reason why anyone would leave a car running to warm up in Florida. I totally understand the need for a detector because I used to live in the midwest in an old… Read more »

CERB
CERB
10 years ago

Great post and great comments everyone. A caution I’m going to add, is the importance of checkng behind your car when backing out of your driveway. Little kids don’t understand the danger of playing behind a car, and they can’t be seen in the rear-view mirror. I know two families that have been devastated by running over a child. It is epecially common in busy households with lots of people coming and going.

Todd Eddy
Todd Eddy
10 years ago

If someone else mentioned this I apologize but some quick facts on carbon monoxide and smoke. Carbon monoxide is heavier than air, Smoke is lighter. I have a single carbon monoxide detector on the first floor. With furnace in the basement if there’s a carbon monoxide leak it will trigger that alarm before it’s even close to 2nd floor. With smoke detectors they should be as high as possible. So avoid ones that you plug in to a wall outlet (if they exist?) since those are further down. I kinda cheated with smoke detectors since I have one covering both… Read more »

Ethan
Ethan
5 years ago
Reply to  Todd Eddy

I see this information on CO around a lot, but it is incorrect. At room temperatures CO is slightly *lighter* than air – but that doesn’t actually matter. They are so close that the movement of CO is not driven by weight differences. What you should do is to follow the instructions that come with your CO alarm. They are often pretty liberal, because there’s just no telling where CO will travel in a given space.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21536403

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