How safe is your home?

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Images: Getty | Posted on 10 May 2021

10 of the most common home safety hazards and how to safeguard against them.

Remember the old adage: most accidents happen in the home? Well, they do, and some of the dangers are hiding in plain sight.  

Injuries in the home accounted for almost a third of people admitted to hospital in Victoria in 2019-2020 and almost half of those who attended a hospital emergency department. 

Baby pulling out electrical cord


Hospital admissions data from the Monash University Accident Research Centre’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit showed that injuries at home were most likely to occur outdoors (almost 17  per cent) followed by the bathroom (almost 9 per cent), bedroom (7 per cent) and kitchen (7 per cent). Falls were by far the most common cause of injury, accounting for 72 per cent of all home-related hospital admissions. Of fall-related accidents, 71 per cent involved the elderly aged 65 and above.

The good news is that dangers around the home can be easily eliminated with a bit of common sense. Nathan Tayeh from RACV Home Trades & Services says although safety isn’t always top of mind, taking the time to fix a hazard could prevent a simple accident that might impact the rest of your life.

He suggests taking a good look around the house to identify any risks, from an uneven footpath to an old smoke alarm that’s stopped working. “It’s important just to have a look and think about how removing a simple risk could save an accident from occurring.”

He says extra care is needed if you have young children or elderly family members, who are more vulnerable to accidents in the home. If you’re not sure what to look for, RACV can arrange a property inspection to identify any hazards.

“Sometimes the trained eye of a professional can identify hazards that we can’t see. Trained professionals can educate us on hazards and most importantly can provide a recommendation on how to resolve them.” 

Your home may not be the haven you think it is. Here are some of the dangers and how to fix them. 

Child leaning into a washing machine
Child playing with electrical cords
Child at the top of the stairs

10 most common home safety hazards


Hanging cords 

Curtain and blind cords may seem harmless enough but they can strangle a young child, with tragic results. Consumer Affairs Victoria says unsecured blind or curtain cords claim the lives of one or two children a year. Yet safety devices that eliminate the risk are readily available from hardware stores and curtain and blind retailers.

In 2010 it became law that all new curtain and blind cords must be fitted with a safety device to prevent them forming a loop and to keep them out of reach of children. But the legislation was not retrospective and many homes still have this risk, says Kidsafe’s Jason Chambers.  

Kidsafe advises checking all rooms in your house for any blinds or curtains with long cords. Any cords that are either loose or looped, including those within children’s reach at floor level or near furniture they can climb on, should be secured with cleats or a tension device. It’s also important to make sure that furniture, such as cots, beds, tables and bookshelves that children might climb on, is not placed near a window where children can reach a curtain cord. 

Slips, trips and falls 

A build-up of oil, grease, soap or other slippery substances on walking surfaces can cause slips, so it’s worth considering non-slip surfaces in baths and showers to avoid falls. A loose rug, uneven floor surface, and other trip hazards such power cords or clutter left on the floor can cause falls and injuries.  

Ladders  

It’s not only tall ladders that pose a risk. People who fall from stepladders tend to fall backwards and risk hitting their head, which can cause serious injury, even if the fall is only a metre or less. If you do use a ladder, make sure you’re wearing good footwear, the ladder is stable and there’s someone to keep an eye on you. 

Stairs

If you have young children, install stair gates at the top and bottom of the steps to prevent falls. For older people, a coloured edge strip fitted to each step will help with visibility and avoid trips. Make sure stairs are well lit. 

Poisons, medications and chemicals 

Many common household items from cleaning products to insecticides can cause serious injury if swallowed by young children. Keep your medication out of reach and locked away. Magnetic locks on cupboards are a good idea. Household chemicals such as fertiliser, insecticides and herbicides must also be kept out of reach. Never store petrol and other chemicals in soft-drink bottles, which may entice children to take a sip.  

Electrical hazards  

Ensure you have a working safety switch that will shut off the power if an appliance fails, preventing electrocution or fires. Check for damaged appliance cords, power points or light switches and be especially careful with power points near water.  

Baby reaching for hot stove
Baby playing with powerpoint switch

Windows and doors

Glass doors can easily be mistaken for an open doorway, which can be especially dangerous in older homes where the glass might not be shatterproof. Avoid accidents by fitting all glass doors with a distinctive safety band or decal. 

If you have children in the home, avoid leaving furniture such as beds and cots near windows. It’s all too easy for little ones to climb up and fall out a window. Alternatively, install strong security mesh on windows to prevent falls.   

Sharp objects 

Even the safest of homes will have many sharp objects that can cause injury. Injury prevention specialist Richard Franklin of the Public Health Association of Australia says it’s safer to use a sharp knife than a blunt one, as the latter requires more force and may slip. Mesh gloves will further reduce the risk of cuts. If using power tools make sure you understand how they work, take your time and ensure the safety guard is in place.  

Scalding 

It takes just a second for hot water at 68 degrees to cause a full skin-thickness scald, compared with five minutes at 50 degrees, according to the Victorian Building Authority. By law, showers and bathroom taps must be set to a maximum water temperature of 50 degrees, but older systems installed before the law was introduced in 1998 may not comply. While it is not mandatory to retro-fit older units, safety-conscious home owners can install a device called a tempering valve to reduce bathroom water temperature. Seek advice from a plumber.  

Bear in mind, though, that the maximum bathing temperature recommended for young children is 37 to 38 degrees.  

If there are young children in the house, close the bathroom door when vacant and never leave a child alone in the bath or even in the care of an older child.

Pools and spas 

As of 1 November 2020, Victorian home owners must register their pool or spa with their local council and obtain and lodge compliance certificates for their safety barriers.

But Richard Franklin says accidents can happen even if you have a compliant pool fence. “Make sure that the gate isn’t propped open and there is nothing next to the pool fence that a child can climb on to get over the fence,” he says. And importantly, never leave children unattended, even for a moment, near a pool or spa.