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How safe is your home?
11 of the most common home 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.
New research by Monash University Accident Research Centre’s Victorian Injury Surveillance Unit reveals that 40 per cent of people who attended a hospital emergency department and 26 per cent of those admitted to hospital in 2018-19 were hurt in the home.
The hospital admissions data showed that injuries at home were most likely to occur outdoors (19 per cent) followed by the bathroom (9 per cent), bedroom (8 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, including 251 deaths in hospital.
While many dangers around the home can be easily eliminated with a bit of common sense, RACV's Matt Griffiths, senior product manager for Home Trades & Services, says it takes a trained eye to spot some hazards.
He says it’s important to have a good look around your home to try to identify potential risks such as a loose floorboard or an overloaded powerboard that could cause a fire or electrocution. If you’re not sure what to look for, RACV can arrange a property inspection to identify any hazards around the home, especially to protect young children or the elderly who are more vulnerable to accidents and injury.
Your home may not be the haven you think it is. Here are some of the dangers and how to fix them.
Common household hazards and how to eliminate them
Curtain and blind cords can strangle and seriously injure or kill a young child. In 2010 it became law to have a safety device fitted on all new curtain and blind cords to stop them forming a loop or being in the reach of children. But the legislation was not retrospective and many homes still have this risk, says Kidsafe’s Jason Chambers.
Consumer Affairs Victoria says unsecured blind or curtain cords claim the lives of one to two Australian children a year and at least 21 young children have died as a result of this hazard since 2001. It offers a free cord-safety device to retro-fit old curtains and blind cords.
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 unseen objects like power cords or clutter left on the floor are common trip hazards that can cause falls and injuries.
It’s not only tall ladders that pose a risk. People who fall from stepladders tend to fall backwards and hit their head, suffering severe injuries even if the fall is only a metre or less. If you do use a ladder ensure you’re wearing good footwear, the ladder is stable and there’s someone to keep an eye on you.
If you have young children, install stair gates at the top and bottom of the steps. If you’re older, think about installing coloured edge strips on each step so you can see them clearly. Make sure stairs are well lit.
Pools and spas
From 1 June homeowners must register their pool or spa with the local council and obtain and lodge compliance certificates for their safety barriers.
Injury prevention specialist Richard Franklin of the Public Health Association of Australia 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.
Poisons, medications and chemicals
Keep your medication out of reach or locked away to safeguard children. Magnetic locks on cupboards are a good idea. Household chemicals such as fertiliser, insecticides and herbicides must also be kept out of reach, and petrol and other chemicals should not be kept in soft-drink bottles which may entice children to take a sip.
Firstly, ensure you have a working safety switch so that if an appliance fails it will shut off the power, preventing electrocution or fires. Check for damaged appliance cords, power points or light switches and be especially careful with power points near water.
Glass doors can easily be mistaken for an open doorway, which can have dire consequences, especially in older homes where the glass might not be shatterproof. Avoid disaster 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.
Even the safest of homes will have a litany of sharp objects that can cause injury. Richard Franklin 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.
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 be heat regulated. 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 who may turn on the hot water tap.