Home Safety Guide for the Whole Family
While our home is thought to be a safe haven from outside accidents and injury, we still need to be safe within it, as accidents can also occur inside. Whether you live alone, are an older adult, or have young children, keeping your home safe inside and out should be a top priority and is relatively easy to do.
The kitchen is one of the most important places to be safe, as many utensils that are sharp or dangerous are kept here. The Hospital for Special Surgery has many guidelines for the kitchen that we can implement in our homes.
- Never leave children alone in the kitchen. They must always be supervised.
- Wash hands in hot, soapy water before and after handling food, especially raw meats.
- Use a paper towel, instead of a cloth towel, to dry your hands.
- Clean the sinks, counter tops, and utensils quickly if you are working with raw meat.
- Quickly put food that can spoil easily back into the refrigerator after use.
- Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose if you have a cough or are sneezing.
- Turn off the oven and all appliances before leaving the kitchen.
- Never walk away from a stove/oven that is on.
- Keep electrical appliances away from water sources.
- Always turn pot handles inward to keep children from grabbing them or knocking them over.
- Use a frying screen to catch grease. If a fire happens, cover it with a pot lid.
Some other tips from the Oklahoma State Department of Education are to always hold knives by the handle, don't use wet towels or pot holders to move hot pots, and lift lids from hot pots away from you.
Bathroom safety is especially important for children and older adults. For children, Healthy Children recommends the following:
- Supervise your child at all times in the bathroom.
- Never leave children in a bathtub alone. If you need to leave, wrap the child in a towel and take them with you.
- Always drain the bathtub directly after use.
- Install non-slip strips on the bottom of your tub and shower.
- Close the lid of the toilet after every use.
- To prevent scalding, adjust your water heater temperature to go no hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Test the water temperature with your elbow or wrist before bath time.
- Keep all medicines and cleaning products in high places or in cupboards with safety locks.
- Keep all electrical appliances in the bathroom unplugged when not in use.
- Have an electrician install special bathroom wall sockets if needed.
Some tips for older adults that are recommended by American Association of Retired People include installing bathtubs and showers that have easy access, adding non-slip strips to bathtubs and showers, unplugging electrical appliances when not in use, and insulating any hot water pipes that are under the sink.
For more information, go to Medline Plus: Bathroom safety.
Our bedrooms also need to be safe, regardless of our age. The Center for Disease Control recommends that smoke alarms, and more importantly carbon dioxide detectors, are installed in every bedroom. Adopting a smoke-free policy will reduce the likelihood that a fire from tobacco will be started. If you have breathing troubles, using hypoallergenic pillow cases and bed covers will ease the symptoms. Make sure your home is free from lead-based paint as this will reduce the chance of anyone in the home become sick from lead poisoning.
The US Fire Administration also has a fact sheet on how to prevent a bedroom fire. They say to keep all lighters and matches away from where children can easily get them. In winter, electrical fires can happen more easily because of the use of space heaters. If you use a space heater, keep it at least 3 feet away from your bed. If you smoke, do not smoke in bed as any embers that fall can start a fire. Also, replace any mattresses made before 2007 as these are not up-to-date with the Federal Mattress Flammability Standards.
Playroom and Nursery Safety
Children are known to get into things they are not supposed to, which is why we must take the utmost care in making sure they have a safe place to sleep and play. Grace Point Wellness advises that while using pre-owned or hand-me-down furniture and toys may save money, the best way to make sure they are still safe to use is to purchase these things as new. If you are purchasing something pre-owned, research that it meets the current recommended safety standards.
When choosing a mattress for an newborn or infant, a firm mattress that fits snuggly into the crib is safest. Crib sheets should also snuggly fit around the mattress to prevent being taken off and cause suffocation. Never put loose sheets, blankets, or pillows, in the crib. Not only can they be a suffocation hazard, but they can also become climbing apparatuses. Move children who are 35 inches or taller to “big kid” beds.
Inspect all toys when purchasing them and only use age-appropriate toys to prevent choking hazards. Use playpens sparingly, as long-term use may restrict the child's development. Make sure playpens meet all safety requirements set by law.
For more information, visit Green Home Guide: Creating a safe and healthy room for your child.
Floors and Window Safety
Floors and windows are where slips and falls are most likely to occur. Safe Kids Oregon begins with screen safety where kids are concerned. Screens are not a way to keep kids safe or to prevent them from crawling out the window. While the screen is meant to keep bugs out, it is important to install safety guards to keep kids in. Make sure that window guards meet the ASTM standards for safety.
Install window stops in all windows. These will prevent the window from opening more than 4 inches, as it has been shown that children can crawl out a window that is opened 5 or more inches. Keep all furniture and toy boxes away from windows since these can be climbed on.
The National Safety Council has several recommendations for floor safety that can be applied to all those living in the home.
- Make sure all clutter is off the floor. This includes removing small furniture, cords, and throw rugs.
- Arrange furniture so there is enough room to move about and walk.
- Secure carpets to the floor.
- Use non-slip strips on stairs.
- Use night lights in the kitchen, bath, and hallways.
HVAC and Electrical Safety
A few times a year, it would be best to inspect all your electrical appliances and outlets to see if they are properly working. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has a very thorough home electrical safety checklist.
Some things to note would be:
- Make sure all lighting units have the appropriate wattage bulb in use.
- Check that heaters have a seal of a nationally recognized testing laboratory such as UL, ETL, or CSA.
- Make sure to always connect the ground wire or metal tab on the adapter to the center screw on the outlet cover.
- Cover all exposed electrical outlets if you have children with proper covers.
- Don't place cords up against walls with furniture covering them.
- Make sure outlets are cool to the touch. If not, contact a certified electrician to replace the outlet.
- Make sure all outlets have faceplates.
- Flip each circuit breaker off and on three times at least once a year. Circuit breakers must be exercised periodically to keep them in working order.
It is also important to make sure that all air ducts and vents are properly cleaned to prevent mold, vermin infestations, and clogging from dust particles. The Environmental Protection Agency suggests inspecting, cleaning, and possibly replacing your air ducts should you suspect any of the above issues.
Garage and Laundry Room Safety
The garage and laundry room usually house a number of cleaners, greases, oils, and other chemicals, so making sure these two rooms are safe is extremely important. The Illinois Poison Center gives a comprehensive list of chemicals that may need to be moved to out-of-reach locations, should you have children or pets in the home.
Never store gasoline, paints, or flammable liquids in your home and garage. Keep your garage clear of trash and clutter. Lehigh Valley Health Network recommends storing ladders on the floor. Also, think about installing garage doors with a motion sensor, should a child or pet pass under it. If you have refrigerators and freezers in your garage, keep them tightly closed, and if not in use, locked. Keep the door that leads into your home locked.
North Carolina State University recommends storing laundry detergent in out-of-reach places. Try not to be distracted when doing laundry, so you don't forget to put the detergent away properly. When done with a product, rinse the bottle and cap thoroughly in water, then dispose of it. Keep machine doors closed when not in use to prevent accidents.
Backyard and Outdoor Safety
Playing outdoors in the backyard is fun. To maximize the amount of fun we have here, we also need to keep accidents from happening. If you would like to have a playground in your backyard, Penn State University recommends you make sure the equipment is age-appropriate and surrounded by loose fill materials like shredded rubber or wood chips.
Keep lawn mower keys out of the ignition to prevent children from operating them accidentally. Do not give rides on a riding lawn mower. The best precaution would be to keep children and pets inside the house should you need to mow the lawn.
Teach children not to feed or touch wild animals no matter how cute or harmless they may seem. Many wild animals can carry a variety of diseases that can be transmitted to humans and pets.
To learn more, go to Dorchester Health: Backyard safety checklist.
The pool is a fun summer pastime for many people, but we also have to be safe around it. The Red Cross advises that all pools be surrounded by a fence or barrier that is at least 4 feet tall, with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Place safety covers on the pool or hot tub when not in use and remove any ladders or steps for pool use. Pool alarms are also available to alert others when someone or something has entered the pool.
If you have children, have them wear a life vest when in or near the pool. Keep them at arm’s length at all times. You can also enroll everyone in your home in swimming lessons so that the pool is used properly and safely. Plan to take a basic CPR class in case you need to help someone in an emergency.
For more information, visit Pool Safely: Official website.
General Home Safety
It is always useful to be familiar with general home safety. The Utah Safety Council has a comprehensive list of safety concerning all aspects of the home.
The one time to pay extra close attention to is the holidays. The Electrical Safety Foundation International has a handy list for keeping you and your family safe during the holidays. Advice like inspecting decorations, not overloading electrical outlets, and using battery operated candles are things to remember during the holidays.
Weather and Disaster Preparedness
Not only is preparing your family for natural disasters life-saving, but it is also good to prepare your home. A prepared home will decrease the chance that it will be destroyed or damaged in a disaster. Depending on the area you live in, you will need prepare your home differently. Consumer Reports suggest covering your windows properly, whether it's for a hurricane or snow storm. Make sure you secure outside furniture or store it inside so it does not become a projectile. If you live in a flood-prone area, move valuables to the higher floors when possible.
Check the expiration dates on fire extinguishers and replace them if needed. Unplug any devices during a large storm as a surge or flood water can cause fire or electrocution.
To learn more, go to Military: Preparing for disaster: Is your home ready?
First Aid Resources
First aid is an important, life-saving skill to have. You can check the American Heart Association website below for a class near you. Invite your whole family to learn together. It is best to stock up and regularly replace your first aid kit supplies. Keep a kit on every floor of your home in an easy to access spot.
To learn more, visit:
- Mayo Clinic: First Aid Resources
- American Heart Association: First Aid Training
- Kids Health: First Aid Kit
Keeping Children and Babies Safe in Your Home
If you have children or babies in your home, it is vital to childproof it. Safe Kids has an infographic that gives lots of advice on how to protect children in the home. Some things to remember are to give your full attention to children in the bathtub or around water, make sure smoke alarms have fresh batteries every 6 months, install safety gates to keep children from falling down stairs, and keep all medication in high places where they will not be able to reach them.
For more ideas, go to:
- Nationwide Children's: Home safety for infants and toddlers
- University of Michigan: Childproofing your home
Teaching Kids About Home Safety
To guarantee safety in the home for a lifetime, the best place to start is to teach your children about home safety. Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a great activity book online that children can color and play with that teaches them home safety. You can also include your child when you go around to inspect your home for any safety issues. Talk to them about what you found and what would happen if it wasn't working properly. Tell them what to do should they find a hazard or are in an accident.
If you are leaving your older child alone for the first time, you can use this book from Virginia Tech that teaches youth how to be safe at home alone. You can also go over general rules of the home with your children.
Safety Resources for Seniors
If your elderly parent is living in their own home, make sure they know emergency numbers should they need help. Also, assist them in inspecting their home or living area for safety issues.
For more resources, visit:
- Home Security Resource: Senior home safety resources
- Healthy Aging: Home safety tips for older adults
- National Council for Aging: Fall prevention checklist
Safety Considerations with a Pet
Your home has to be safe for your pets too. There are many of the same precautions to take as you would with children. Furry Kids Refuge gives us some tips on garage safety with pets, such as properly storing dangerous chemicals, cleaning up any spills quickly, and keeping the garage clutter-free so your pet doesn't get hurt while traveling through.
The American Humane Society gives some great tips for pet-proofing your home:
- Use childproof latches to keep paws from prying open cupboard doors.
- Keep trash cans covered at all times.
- Block all small spaces, nooks, and holes in cabinets or behind washer/dryer units.
- Keep foods out of reach
- Place cords out of reach or out of their foot path.
- Put away clutter and toys.
- Do not keep poisonous plants in your home.
- Be careful when closing doors behind you, as your pet may get caught in the door.
Keeping Your Home Safe While Away
We can't always be home to keep it safe, so it's a good idea to also prepare your home for while you are away. The Missouri Department of Public Safety recommends the following:
- Keep windows and doors locked.
- Exterior doors should have deadbolts.
- Lock garage doors.
- Never hide or store keys or tools outside.
- Disconnect automatic door openers.
- Make your home appear occupied by attaching timers to lights and TVs.
- Have all mail held for you.
- Do not announce your vacation plans on social media websites.
- Consider hiring a house sitter or trusted friend to check on your home.
For more information, you can also visit Alarm.org: Keep your home safe during spring break.