Tip of the Day: How to avoid dangers at home

Consumer Reports News: March 17, 2009 12:09 AM

Along with the spring cleaning you'll do over the coming weeks, conduct a thorough safety inspection of your home to uncover and deal with home dangers related to the products, systems, or areas of your home below.

This information is adapted from ShopSmart magazine. Download a PDF of the entire story, which covers other products, inflatable pools, swing sets, and trampolines, and covers lead and radon test kits and includes items you need for a home-safety tool kit.—Ed Perratore

Cooking appliances
If you've got kids at home, unplug small kitchen appliances when not in use so curious toddlers can't turn them on. Be especially sure to unplug a toaster or toaster oven since some models have been known to turn on spontaneously or not turn off at the end of a cycle, posing a fire risk. We advise against running slow cookers, washers, dryers, and dishwashers when you're not home.

Dead bolts
Double-cylinder dead bolts can prevent burglaries but one might prevent quick escape if you can't find the key to the door during a home fire. If you can't keep the key in the lock or very close by at all times, replace the lock. Many municipalities ban double-cylinder locks for main points of egress.

Electrical outlets and wires
Outlets with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) could prevent two-thirds of the estimated 160 electrocutions and thousands of burns and electric shocks that occur in U.S. homes each year. They're essential in bathrooms, the kitchen, and anywhere else near water. Adding a GFCI is an easy retrofit for an electrician. You can also purchase a GFCI circuit breaker that will protect all outlets serviced by that branch.

Also have an electrician house any exposed or dangling wires in an electrical box that's covered with a plate.

Floors and steps
While it's pricey to replace a stairway, any step that's taller or shorter than the rest is a stumbling hazard. And any portion of a floor that's uneven could cause a fall; leveling the floor is the only way to solve the problem.

Glass doors and tables
You know to put large stickers on sliding glass doors to keep people from walking or running into them. But glass tables can also break and cause cuts, a particular hazard for small kids. Replace glass tables with nonglass ones or buy a table with tempered safety glass. Tempered glass can greatly reduce injuries. Read this post from the Consumer Reports Safety blog for more details.

Garage-door opener
Automatic door openers should have an electric eye that causes a closing door to reverse if an object, or a toddler, gets in its path. If your garage door lacks this safety feature, replace the opener with a new, safer one that's properly adjusted.

Hand rails
You can prevent falls by installing secure hand rails all the way up any stairway that has only a partial hand rail or lacks one. You'll find prefab rails at local home centers.

Be sure stairways are well lighted at the top and bottom. If household members regularly bump their head against a chandelier, shorten the chain or replace the chandelier with a ceiling fixture.

If you have small kids, don't store anything they might find attractive near a stool or anything they could climb on to try to reach it. But climbing isn't the only hazard: A pile of toys on a shelf could also topple on a child's head when he tries to pull out the one he wants.

Showers and tubs
Skidproof rubber mats in both the tub and shower help prevent falls. Even better, especially if elderly family visit often, install grab bars and other related upgrades.

Smoke and carbon-monoxide alarms
You should have smoke alarms installed on every floor of your home (near bedrooms on those floors) as well as inside every bedroom. Install a dual-sensor alarm to detect both fast-flaming and smoldering fires. Test alarm batteries every month and replace them twice a year when you change the clocks. Replace alarms every 10 years—sooner if recommended by the manufacturer. Also, be sure you have a home-escape plan that everyone's familiar with.

Tap water
Hot tap water causes roughly 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths a year in this country, with most accidents affecting pre-K kids and the elderly. Turn down the thermostat on your water heater to 120*F, which will also save energy. An antiscald valve (around $100 and up) will stop the flow of water should it get too hot, say when someone flushes a toilet elsewhere in the house.

Televisions and furniture
Falling TV sets are a growing cause of childhood deaths and injuries. Place your television set or other electronic gear on a secure TV stand or on a shelf fastened to the wall. Secure any furniture over 30 inches tall to the wall with antitip restraints.

Window blinds and drapery cords
Common household window treatments with cords can strangle a baby. Cut looped cords in half to form two strings and wrap up loose ends beyond a child's reach. Other options: Roll up the cords and tie them with rubber bands or twist ties, or mount a hook out of a child's reach to secure the excess cord.

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