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Creating a Safe Home for Your Family
by James Cummings on May 20, 2019
Home is the starting place of love, hope and dreams, so it’s only sensible to make the home base as safe as possible. Doing a home safety check at least once a year is a great strategy for reducing the risk of injuries around the house. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Falls and trips
Falling or tripping over something is the number one risk in any home. We’ve all lost our footing at some point in our lives; sometimes there’s no damage at all, at other times it really hurts. To avoid falls, do a room-by-room check, then make some simple changes.
In the bathroom, secure rugs and bathmats with rubber backing to avoid slips. In the shower, having a non-slip mat and a handrail can help to avoid accidents.
Stairs, both inside and out, are often a factor in falls. Keep them clear of trip hazards, have adequate lighting and make sure there are handrails. Outside steps need regular scrubbing or water blasting to keep them free of slippery stuff. If you have little kids, install a gate at the top and bottom of stairs. It’s also smart to have a non-slip doormat.
Put toys away
Encourage your kids to tidy up at the end of playtime. While it’s always painful to walk on Lego blocks, the bigger problems are large toys and piles of stuff that are easy to trip over.
Believe it or not, there are about 70 house fires every week in New Zealand. Sometimes they’re only small, but that’s only because they were extinguished quickly. That’s why smoke alarms are so very important – they provide the early warning required to deal with flames quickly.
Best smoke alarms to choose
If you’re asleep when a fire starts, without a fire alarm you may never wake up. Put a smoke alarm in every bedroom, the hallway and living areas. Install long-life photoelectric alarms with 10-year batteries (as recommended by the NZ Fire Service). If you’re a tenant, in NZ your landlord is legally required to install smoke alarms. Remember to test your alarms regularly to make sure they’re working. Check the alarm once a month by pressing the test button. If you can’t reach the button easily, use a broom handle.
Best fire extinguisher for home use
Have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and make sure it’s easy to find. Choose a Class F extinguisher that’s capable of putting out oil and fat fires. You can buy fire extinguishers at hardware stores.
Removing fire risks
It’s not wise to leave a candle unattended and don’t burn them near flammable materials. Keep candles away from kids and pets. Also, make sure lighters and matches are kept locked away from inquisitive fingers. Turn appliances off at the wall when not in use and don’t overload multi-boxes.
Children under five years of age have small air and food passages. They’re also still learning how to bite and chew their food properly. On top of this, they’re inclined to put non-food objects into their mouths. It all means that choking is an everyday risk. It also happens to older kids and adults, so you need to know what to do.
To find out how to help a baby who’s choking, go to the Plunket website. To know how to help older kids and adults, go to the St John website.
Some foods are more likely to cause choking than others, such as nuts, seeds, popcorn husks and raw carrot. Small round things like cherry tomatoes and grapes can also get stuck in little throats. What’s more, some items of food that are challenging to chew - like meat or very fibrous food - can be swallowed whole rather than chewed and get stuck going down. Food that squishes, like peanut butter, can also get stuck in the throat.
Cut food into small pieces, mash or grate. Avoid giving hard foods like nuts until kids are at least five years old. Also, encourage your children to sit and eat and not run around when chewing on food.
Keep small chewable items out of reach
Babies and toddlers love to stick things in their mouths, especially when teething. Make sure toys have no loose parts and avoid letting them play with small items, like Lego blocks. Batteries can be a real problem. If you think your child has swallowed a battery, immediately go to the nearest ER.
We’ve all cut ourselves, usually in the kitchen while cooking. Arts and crafts time is another instance when cuts are a risk.
Keep kids away from risky rubbish
Kids can easily get cut on tin can lids and broken glass, so make sure they go into the big, outside rubbish bins – not the kitchen rubbish, which is often easy to access.
Store sharp things safely
Knives in the kitchen, saws in the garden, razors in the bathroom – these things can lead to nasty cuts. Store sharp things out of reach or locked away. In the dishwasher, stack knives and forks pointy-end-down in the basket. When you reach in to empty the dishwasher, you’ll be grabbing a handle instead of sharp edges.
Children are curious creatures and will investigate things that look interesting to eat - especially if they think it’s lollies or food. The NZ National Poisons Centre says that about 65% of their calls relate to kids under five years old.
Store medication properly
Paracetamol and multivitamins are the most common potentially dangerous substances swallowed by kids. They look like lollies and sometimes kids think they are being helpful by taking medicines. Store all medications, including herbal ones, well out of reach and locked away.
Secure harmful chemicals
Things like dishwashing liquid and air freshener are also bad news for kids. While we know to store paint thinner and pesticides away from children, we don’t always think about the common household products that live under kitchen sinks and in laundries. Use kiddy-locks to make low-down cupboards safe.
Cords on window blinds are a strangulation risk for kids, so choose products that have kid-safe cords or tuck cords right out of reach. Also, be mindful of long extension cords.
While we think of drowning as something that happens at the beach, home baths, showers, paddling pools and swimming pools all need careful supervision. Don’t leave kids alone when they’re playing in the water and always stay handy when your kids are in the bath or shower. Make sure pools, even temporary ones, are properly fenced off.
Windows and glass doors
If you’ve ever bounced off a sliding door, you’ll understand that it can happen to people of all ages. If you have glass doors or floor-length windows, put stickers on them to help people recognise that they are shut. Falling out of windows is a risk too, so make sure high windows have stays that stop them from opening totally.
Getting a burn has been a risk to humans since the first caveman lit a fire. But these days, there are so many more ways to get a burn.
Put the kiddy lock on the dishwasher
If your child opens the dishwasher mid-cycle, they might get sprayed with scalding hot water. Using the kiddy-lock feature on the dishwasher keeps them safe.
Hot water cylinder temperature
Keep the temperature on the hot water cylinder to about 55°C. It’s hot enough to do dishes, but not hot enough to badly burn someone.
In the kitchen
Keep kettle cords towards the back on the bench and turn pot handles towards the back on the hob. Use the back burners whenever possible.
Part of staying safe at home and protecting what’s likely to be your single biggest investment is ensuring you have the right level of insurance.
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