Stay safe at home
Our home: the most familiar, comfortable environment; the place where we can feel safe and relax with our loved ones. But appearances can be deceptive: the injuries we sustain in and around our homes costs the UK economy at least £45billion per year, and that’s just from people attending hospital. Add in the costs of those attending GPs and minor injuries units, travel, ongoing healthcare needs and the costs spiral.
The Human Cost
Financial impact is a good indicator of the scale of the problem, but the real costs are those that cannot be so easily measured; people getting hurt. If injuries lead to time off from work or education, or reduced social activity, they can seriously impact quality of life for both the individual affected and their families.
Can the risks be reduced? An accident is, after all, just that – no one sets out to fall down a ladder or knock over a pan of scalding water. Some risks can be identified and reduced by straightforward preventative measures and common-sense adaptations.
Fires can start suddenly and spread quickly, damaging your home and furniture at best, and at worst, putting lives in danger.
- Keep all fires and heaters well-guarded, especially open fires
- Keep portable heaters and candles away from furniture and curtains. Position safely where they cannot be knocked over
- Don't dry or air clothes over or near the fire, or the cooker
- Do not smoke in bed
- Never leave a pan unattended when frying with deep fat
- Keep matches and lighters well out of reach of children
- Fit approved, mains operated, smoke detectors on each floor
Plan your escape route now, and make sure everyone who lives with you knows it.
For more information on preventing fire, speak to your local fire and rescue services. They perform free home safety checks and can provide you with a wealth of information – all free of charge.
We take electricity for granted but it can be potentially fatal – both through electric shocks and fires.
- Never use appliances with worn or damaged flexes
- Don't wire flexes together
- Never overload an electric socket
- Keep portable mains-operated appliances out of the bathroom
- If an appliance appears faulty, stop using it and get it checked
- When buying electrical equipment, look for the CE mark as it indicates the item confirms to European health, safety and environmental protection standards.
For more information on electrical safety, visit the Electrical Safety First website – the UK’s leading charity on electrical safety.
Gas and Heating Safety
All fuel-burning appliances use up fresh air as they burn and give off waste gases including carbon monoxide which is odourless, invisible and potentially fatal.
- Never block air vents or airbricks and service appliances annually
- If you use a chimney or flue, have it swept at least once a year, perhaps more often if you burn wood (ask your chimney sweep)
- Never block any outside grilles or rest anything against them
- If a gas flame in an appliance burns orange, have it checked immediately (it could be a build-up of carbon monoxide)
- Check the pilot light regularly on gas cookers and water heaters to make sure it has not gone out
- Only buy gas appliances with the British Standards safety mark or British Seal of Approval
- If you suspect a gas leak, open the windows, turn off the supply and call your gas supplier. A spark from a switch could ignite the gas, so don't switch the lights on
- Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as drowsiness and flu like symptoms, and how to treat them
For more information on gas safety, visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website here.
The kitchen is where some of the most serious home accidents occur.
- Don’t keep heavy items on high shelves
- Prevent against scalding by taking care with hot water, tea, coffee or soup
- Keep knives sharp and in good condition – but well out of reach of children
- Keep pan handles turned inward so that children cannot reach them and pull them over
- Keep kettle cords out of reach of children
- Install child proof locks on cupboards that contain cleaning products, such as detergents for washing clothes and dishes
- Regularly clean your cooker – built- up fat and grease can ignite and cause a fire
- Prevent against food poisoning by handling and storing food correctly
- Do not cook with nothing on your feet.
For more information on kitchen safety, visit the Independent Age website here.
DIY and Garden Safety
Over-ambition and lack of knowledge are two of the biggest factors in accidents involving DIY.
- Don't tackle a job unless you really have the ability. A competent, qualified person should always carry out gas and electrical renewal or repair work
- Keep tools clean and in good repair, and always check them before use
- Wear appropriate clothing and sturdy shoes when mowing the lawn, take care not to mow over the electrical cord and keep your feet and hands away from mower blades
- Stop and disconnect all electrical appliances and tools before working on them
- Keep tools, paint and chemicals well out of reach of children
- Take extra care with sharp cutting tools
- Follow the makers' instructions very carefully when using adhesives
- Keep children and pets away when carrying out DIY
- Keep barbecues well away from trees, buildings and fences
- Know which plants and berries are poisonous or cause allergic reactions – and keep away from them
- Keep all products in their original containers.
For more information on garden safety, visit the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) website here.
Protecting the Vulnerable
The group most at risk of a serious accident in the home is children from birth to 4 years old. Thousands of British children are injured, sometimes seriously, every year in preventable accidents.
Every child develops their physical abilities at a different rate to their risk awareness. This means that there are some good general pieces of advice to follow, and some which need to be individually tailored. Babies who can’t do much more than wriggle around or roll over are most at risk from being left on a high surface, for example, whereas a child who can climb a ladder, open a cupboard of cleaning products, or operate a lighter poses different problems.
Children grow fast, and as they get taller and stronger they are able to access more dangerous things. Try getting down to their level – see what they see and what they can reach. Can they pull hot pans down onto themselves? Are medicines kept out of their reach, and kitchen cupboards fitted with safety locks? Simple devices to make your home safer for little fingers are now readily available.
Another age group statistically more likely to be injured are those of us over 65. For example, our likelihood of falling in the home increases sharply after this age and continues to rise as we get older. As well as being more likely to fall, we are more likely to be seriously injured by simple slips and trips. Creating a safe environment – clutter-free rooms, appropriate footwear, non-slip floors, and using walking aids where necessary can all go a long way to reducing our risk of injury.
Staying safe also means accessing healthcare services when we need them, getting help when we notice changes to our mobility, eyesight or balance. A lifetime of healthy exercise and a good diet all helps to keep us robust – and more likely to bounce back after an injury.
People make mistakes, and sometimes an accident is truly unforeseeable. These simple measures can help to reduce risk, but it’s vital to know what to do when someone is seriously injured. First aid knowledge is useful for minor injuries, but if you’re in doubt call 111, and if you’re seriously worried call 999.