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Take a Hands-On Approach to Home Safety

The Home Safety Council dedicates the month of June - Home Safety Month – to educating and empowering families to make their homes safer. It is a good time for all of us to ask, "How safe is my home?" and to take steps to remedy potential problems in our houses. As summertime approaches, we will spend more time in and around our homes, so it is especially important that we work to reduce the risk of home-related injuries.

The facts are astounding: accidents at home result in more than 21 million medical visits and nearly 20,000 deaths each year. And because we want our homes to be safe havens and we want to protect our families and loved ones, prudence dictates that we take actions to prevent home injuries before they happen. There are five prominent home safety risk areas: falls; poisoning; fires and burns; choking and suffocation; drowning and a sixth home safety risk area, disaster preparedness.

Falls account for 5.1 million injuries in an average year, with adults over 60 ranking highest for injuries and deaths from these types of accidents. This is why families must take actions to identify and correct household hazards that can lead to falls-related injuries. Some ways to minimize the occurrence of falls in a household include having grab bars in all bathrooms and shower stalls, using slip resistant mats and flooring, providing sufficient lighting - especially near stairwells and walkways, and having handrails on both sides of the stairs and steps.

Poisoning is the second leading cause of unintentional home injury fatalities, resulting in a quarter of all home injury deaths each year. Ninety-two percent of the 2.3 million poison exposures that occur each year happen in the home. You can reduce the risk of poisoning by locking poisons, cleaners, medicines and all dangerous items in a place where children cannot reach them. Use medications only as directed and be sure to use child-resistant packaging. Something as simple as keeping all cleaners in their original containers and remembering not to mix them together will also help reduce poisoning risk. Check all fuel-burning appliances to make sure they function properly and do not emit carbon monoxide gas - an invisible, tasteless, odorless poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning may be prevented by simply installing detectors, particularly near sleeping areas. Always keep the Poison Control Center number (1-800-222-1222) near all phones to connect you to emergency help in your area.

Home fires are the third leading cause of unintentional home injury-related deaths. Installing and maintaining working smoke alarms cuts your family's risk of dying in a home fire almost in half. Prepare your family by holding fire drills to handle fire emergencies and to know how to safely exit your home. Preparedness is the most important part of a good fire escape plan. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers by every telephone, and make sure that your plan includes at least two exits from every room. Each decision must be discussed with your family, because every moment counts if a fire occurs in the home. During your daily activities, remember to stay by the stove when cooking, especially when you are frying food. Only light candles when an adult is in the room and blow it out when you leave the room or go to sleep. If you smoke, smoke outside. Use deep ashtrays and put water in them before you empty them. Lock matches and lighters in a place where children can't reach them. And, if you build a new home, consider installing fire sprinklers.

Did you know that half the children who die before age one die from choking or suffocation? Little things can be dangerous in little hands. With this in mind, remember to keep coins, latex balloons and hard round foods, such as peanuts and hard candy, out of children's reach. Place children on their backs and don't put pillows, comforters, or toys in cribs. Clip the loops in window blind cords and place them up high where children can't get them. Read the labels on all toys, especially if they have small parts. Be sure that your child is old enough to play with them. And, remind children to sit down when they eat and to take small bites.

Be smart around water. Young children can drown in as little as an inch of water in just a few minutes. Stay within an arm's length of children in and around water, including bathtubs, toilets, pools and spas – even buckets of water. Empty large buckets and wading pools after using them and keep them upside down when not in use. Put a high fence all the way around your pool or spa. Make sure your children always swim with an adult and no one should ever swim alone. When thinking about preventing burns, keep your hot water at 120 degrees F or just below the medium setting.

Keep in mind that disasters can be naturally-occurring, like a hurricane or earthquake, or man-made, like chemical spills or terrorist attacks. However difficult a disaster may be to predict, one thing is for sure, we can all be ready when they do happen. Household members need to not only talk about the kinds of disasters that could happen where they live, they also need to agree on an emergency plan of action. The plan should designate a safe place in your house, such as a basement or inside room, as well as escape routes, that you and your family can meet at in case of an emergency. Remember to learn all the phone numbers you need to call if your family is not together, plus the phone number of a relative that lives out of state. That way, if you become separated from your loved ones, the relative will know where you are so you can be found. Having ready-to-stay and ready-to-go kits with critical supplies is an important part of your planning. Lastly, be sure to do all of these things before a disaster strikes so you can be prepared.

This month, take a hands-on approach to home safety by adopting some of these simple steps to reduce your and your family's risk from potential home injuries and even death. Remember, a safe home is in your hands. For more information, please visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.

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