Silent Killers: The 13 Most Dangerous Things in Your Home
Your home might seem like the safest place you can be, but did you know that more accidents occur in the home than anywhere else in the world? This can be especially scary if you have babies or children, who account for the majority of home accidents along with the elderly. While you can’t control everything that might happen under your secured roof, it’s important to know which seemingly harmless items and areas are most likely to pose a risk to you or a family member. We asked top experts in the field of home safety to shed some light on the most common home dangers. Here’s what you should be watching out for.
With the price of oil continuing to rise, many homeowners are looking for supplemental heating sources to provide them with adequate heat during the winter months. But many of these can pose a risk. In fact, heating equipment was involved in approximately 66,100 reported home fires, with damages to property amounting to as much as $1.1 billion in 2008, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
While space heaters and fireplaces might offset high heating bills, they require close monitoring to ensure they’re safe.
As most parents of little ones know, young children are explorers. As they develop, they often learn by touching and by putting things into their mouth. Liquid laundry detergent pods, which look like fun, and squishy play toys are easy targets.
“Because these products are designed to dissolve in water, they immediately start to dissolve when they come in contact with wet hands or mouths, releasing their toxic liquid concentrate,” Hoekstra explained. “To keep little hands away from laundry pods, store them out of sight, and reach and keep them in their original closed container.”
Falls are the leading cause of home accidents. They’re also the second cause of accidental deaths after auto accidents, according to the National Safety Commission. The majority of these falls occur when someone falls down the stairs or trips on floors with rugs where their foot can get caught.
“We suggest installing gates at the top and the bottom of the stairs, keeping stairs clutter-free, and installing and using railings,” said Jennifer Hoekstra, the program coordinator at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “For babies and toddlers, install hardware-mounted safety gates at the top and the bottom of the stairs.” And, for all family members, having a light installed over the stairwell, with switches to turn them on and off at the top and bottom, can ensure a safe way down or up.
Electrical wires and sockets
Exposed electrical wires and electric sockets are a common source of accidents at home. Children are prone to these types of injuries, specifically, due to their curious nature. Whether it’s inserting objects in electric outlets or submerging electrical equipment in water, they don’t understand the dangers posed to them by these harmless looking devices.
“Electrical injuries can lead to burns and even cardiac arrest if the victim is not brought to the hospital immediately,” Emma Clark, interior designer and founder of The Art of Home Renovations, said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “Baby-proofing electrical outlets and taking care of electrical equipment can prevent this injury.”
They might look secure, but window screens aren’t strong enough to prevent people or pets from falling out of a window. Install window guards with quick release mechanisms (in case of a fire or other emergency situation where you need to escape immediately) on upper floor windows to prevent this from happening, said Hoekstra. Also, keep furniture away from windows, especially in children’s rooms. And always watch the little ones when they’re even remotely close to a window or exit way at anytime.
Most burns occur in the home and workplace, and children and women are most likely to suffer a burn in the kitchen, the World Health Organization reports.
“To prevent burns, don’t carry or hold a child while cooking on the stove, and use the back burners whenever possible so little fingers are less likely to touch and injure themselves,” Hoekstra said. Also, if you have a gas stove, be sure to turn off the switch completely so you’re not releasing dangerous gas into your home.
Harmless as they seem, many kids’ toys can pose life-threatening dangers. Stuffed animals, for example (as soft and cuddly as they can be), can cause suffocation if left where your children sleep or lay. “Babies and toddlers can pull off small pieces — like buttons and eyes — and choke on them, so make sure these are secure on all toys,” said Sage Singleton, a home safety expert from SafeWise, in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. Stuffed animals can also harbor germs and bugs, so wash them regularly.
Additionally, children can be seriously harmed by accidentally swallowing small magnets. In fact, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that toys with magnets should be kept away from children younger than six. “Search your child’s playroom for these toys, and remove them until your child can use them safely,” Singleton said.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of death due to poisoning in America, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, claiming more than 400 live each year. Because it’s a silent killer — meaning it has no smell, taste, or color — it’s essential to safeguard your home with carbon monoxide detectors, and to educate your family about the signs and dangers of it, Singleton said. These signs include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and blurred vision.
On average, a child dies from a television tipping over every three weeks, Safe Kids Worldwide reports. And nearly 13,000 children are injured each year from toppling TVs and other top-heavy furniture. “Parents are urged to strap all TVs and heavy furniture to the wall to make sure climbing children aren’t at risk of injury or death,” Hoekstra said.
The CPSC recently launched their “Anchor It!” campaign to prevent these kinds of accidents from occurring. On their website, you can find detailed information and how-tos for securing all kinds of furniture in your home.
Unfortunately, guns can’t discriminate between criminals and innocent bystanders. Studies have shown that unintentional shootings are four times as common as occurrences of gun use in legitimate home defense situations. If not stored properly, they can be easily mishandled by a child or anyone without the proper knowledge of how to use them. The best mode of prevention is to store and lock firearms in a safe and secure place in the home, Clark said.
If you’ve ever picked up your computer or phone charger after it’s been left charging for a long period of time, you probably noticed it was hot to the touch. This is essentially the result of batteries stuffed into ever-shrinking compartments that make our on-the-go life easier.
“Electronic devices like your smartphone and laptop have a tendency to overheat,” said Chris Brantner, founder of Cut Cable Today, the largest online cord-cutting source, in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “So if they’re left in the wrong place, like on your bed, this heat could potentially cause a fire.” Some quick fixes include adjusting your power settings, cleaning your device’s vents, or using a laptop cooling pad.
Every parent knows to keep medicine far away from children, but kids are still getting into it at an alarming rate. In fact, according to the National Capital Poison Center, pain medications are the single most frequent cause of child fatalities reported to Poison Control. “Children are prone to medication overdose because they see medicine as candy, because of their size and color,” Clark said.
Overdosing on medication can lead to gastric ulceration, intestinal injuries, and poisoning if not brought to the hospital for treatment. To prevent this, you should lock your medication in secure cabinets, far from the reach of children. Also, encourage guests and visitors to place their purses and bags in a room with a closed door, instead of on the floor where little hands can find their medication.
Bathtubs or pools
An average 279 children under the age of five drown every year, PoolSafely.gov reports. “Because of their size, bathtubs and pools are prime targets when children are left unattended,” Clark said. “Drowning results in respiratory injuries due to the lungs overfilling, or even death in worst case scenarios.”
The National Drowning Prevention Alliance recommends all families use layers of protection on top of supervision, including alarms and high locks on doors that access the pool area, a pool fence separating the pool from all access doors (including doggie doors), alarms for the pool, and personal immersion alarms for children.
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published March 6, 2017.