Hazards in the home are responsible for about a third of the injuries suffered by older adults, and people with impairments may face difficulties — and barriers to independent living — in their own environments. Children are also at high risk for household injuries. It therefore makes sense to observe household habits, identify problem areas, and make changes that will help create safer, more accessible living situations.
Take a look around your home and use this list of easy fixes to common problems to make your home safe for every family member.
Bath and shower: A shower seat and a handheld showerhead will help avoid fatigue and eliminate bending. A nonslip seat with rustproof legs is best. A handheld power showerhead makes bathing much easier, is easy to install, and many offer a variety of settings. Nonslip coatings or safety mats or strips will guard against slips in tubs and showers. Keep radios, portable heaters, and hair dryers away from the bathtub or shower. Be sure your faucets have antiscald aerators that maintain safe and consistent water temperature.
Chemical storage: Neatness counts — chemicals should be stored in a clean, orderly place. Keep product lids tightly closed and in their original containers. If you do not have the original container, label the new container (with content and date) and close it securely. Keep all chemical products and hazardous materials in a locked cabinet in a cool, dry place, away from heat sources, and out of the reach of children. Never store incompatible chemicals together. Oxidizers, which include nitrate fertilizers and pool chlorine, should not be stored with flammable products, such as paint thinners. Rags soaked with solvent-based materials can spontaneously catch fire; place in a sealed metal container. Do not put unwanted supplies in your regular garbage receptacle; for safe disposal they should be taken to a household hazardous waste collection facility (visit recologysf.com for locations or to schedule pick-up service).
Cords: Limit the use of extension cords and fasten them to baseboards. For lamps and home electronics, use cord shorteners or inexpensive clips that remove cleanly with no surface damage.
Cupboards and closets: Relocate items in cupboards and cabinets so they are low enough to be easily reached. Lower closet shelves if necessary. A long-handled pick-up tool can be used to reach objects that are on high shelves or on the floor. Use childproof locks on all cabinet doors.
Door handles: Lever door handles and rocker light switches are not only easy to use but are also great for those with poor hand strength.
Fire safety: Fires are a leading cause of unintentional injury and death in the home. Smoke alarms are best placed in hallways and sleeping areas. Be sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors have working batteries. Make a calendar note to replace batteries regularly, such as the same day clocks change or on a specific holiday. Help prevent kitchen fires by installing a fire extinguisher and changing oven exhaust hood filters every three months.
Handrails and grab bars: Handrails should be positioned about adult elbow height on both sides of staircases. Knobs at both ends will alert the user that the stairs end. Grab bars should be situated vertically at tops of stairs, and bars or handrails should be placed in bathrooms where needed (towel racks should never be used for support).
Lighting: Improve lighting, if necessary, both indoors and out, to add safety as well as security. Take special note of stairways, stairwells, entryways, and don’t forget closets. Install nightlights or motion-sensor lights in hallways and bathrooms for use at night. There are a variety of wireless lights on the market with an adhesive backing that are simple to install and adhere anywhere.
Outdoors: Clear moss and mildew from shady stairs and sidewalks so that areas are not slippery. Use hose reels to loop hoses out of the way.
Stairs: Stair safety treads provide stability, and a contrasting color tread at the edge of a step gives a visual cue. Assorted widths, colors, and textures are available and these, too, are easy to apply.
Stepstools and ladders: Use a sturdy stepstool with side handles. Don’t use a bent or damaged ladder, and never place it on slippery surfaces or uneven ground.
Throw rugs: These are a major culprit for causing accidents in the home. Throw rugs should be removed, secured to the floor with double-sided carpet tape, or have nonskid backings.
Editor’s note: For additional information on safety and preventing injuries during National Safety month, visit the National Safety Council’s website at nsc.org, which will provide downloadable resources featuring a different safety topic each week throughout the month of June.