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Hidden Dangers in the Home

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Hidden Dangers in the Home

Most of us like to think of our homes as places of safety and comfort—a refuge against the dangers of the world.

However, the reality is that sometimes the home can be just as hazardous as anything that Mother Nature can throw at us.

In fact, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately ¼ of all injuries requiring hospitalisation occur in or around the home1. From burns, to falls, to cuts and bruises, domestic injuries cover almost the entire gamut of personal hazards.

And yet, despite the prevalence of home-related accidents, many Australians are completely unaware of the risks associated with certain seemingly-benign areas of the home. So, in an effort to promote awareness, we’d like to help by identifying nine of the most common dangers found in and around personal dwellings.

1. Falls

Accidental falls are the leading cause of hospitalisation injuries in Australia2. And while a large percentage of these falls can be attributed to young children and the elderly, falls are still a significant danger for teens and adults as well. Many accidental falls occur as a result of insufficient lighting (especially near stairs). Bathrooms and toilets are also high-risk areas, due to the likelihood of water collecting on smooth surfaces and making them slippery.

Rugs that are not properly secured to the ground have also been known to cause falls. Improperly locked and secured windows are also a danger, especially when children are present, and balconies may present another significant risk. Even wearing socks around the house—as opposed to going barefoot or wearing rubber-sole shoes—can cause a homeowner to slip and fall. Perhaps the most overlooked fall-danger in the home is clutter. Be sure to pick up any loose objects from high-traffic areas, where someone might stumble over them.

2. Fires

Home fires account for approximately 94 per cent of all fire related deaths3. And while up to 50 per cent of home fire fatalities seem to be directly linked to a lack of working smoke alarms and practised home escape plans, there are less obvious fire hazards to consider as well. Flammable clutter, such as boxes and papers, can cause fires to quickly spread through the home, and can also block escape routes—particularly when smoke is making it difficult to see clearly.

Similarly, those who have improperly maintained chimneys, furnaces, and fireplaces run the risk of experiencing a house fire, so be sure to hire a professional to inspect your heating equipment regularly. Kitchens are also a high-risk zone, and unattended cooking has been identified as a major cause of fires in the home. Lastly, electrical systems that are not inspected regularly can lead to electrical fires. Loose plugs, the wrong wattage of light bulbs being used in lighting fixtures, and frayed or loose wires are all potential hazards.

A proper fire safety plan can save lives. It’s definitely preferable to have fire safety practises in place and never need them, than to need them and not have them. Make sure you have a Home and Contents insurance policy if the worst does happen.

3. Asphyxiation

Throughout Australia, smoke inhalation is the leading cause of fire-related fatalities4. However, asphyxiation—specifically inert gas asphyxiation—can occur even when no smoke is present. Perhaps the most dangerous and fatal gas for homeowners is carbon monoxide (CO).

CO is a natural byproduct of the burning of fossil fuels, and is completely invisible, odourless, and flavourless—making it difficult to detect without the right equipment. When someone breathes in too much CO, they quickly succumb to dizziness, followed by unconsciousness. If left in a CO rich environment, they will quickly asphyxiate and die. CO detectors that can be placed around the home are an inexpensive way to minimise this risk.

4. Choking/strangulation

Although children are the most common victims of choking and airway obstruction injuries5, people of all ages are in danger of choking, especially when they prepare and eat their food in unsafe ways. Food that isn’t cut into small enough bites, as well as snack foods that are often eaten by the handful, can easily block breathing passages. Foods with certain textures, such as ones that are overly dry or chewy, can pose a threat as well.

When eating, take small bites and chew slowly, and keep a drink on hand to help moisten food and wash it down—be warned, however, because the consumption of alcohol can actually increase the risk of choking. Besides food, strangulation threats, such as cords and pulls, are also a major danger, especially when small children are in the house. Make a detailed inspection of your home, and make sure that any potential strangulation hazards are kept out of reach.

5. Water-related injuries


Pools that are unsecured (such as with a pool fence), unmonitored, and under-maintained significantly increase the risk posed to children. Children under five years of age are at the greatest risk of drowning in a home pool6. In fact, 50 per cent of child drowning deaths occur at home7.

However, pools are not the only water-related hazards to be found in or around the home. Keep young children under constant supervision, especially around bathtubs and even toilets. And everyone should be educated of the electrocution dangers associated with using electronic devices while in the bath or shower.

6. Cuts/scrapes

Some of the most common—if generally less severe—injuries sustained in the home come from cuts and scrapes. On the other hand, an untreated cut can lead to infections, blood-loss, and other complications, so it makes sense to be aware of the danger. More often than not, these injuries are sustained in the kitchen. Kitchen knives that are too dull are often more dangerous to use than knives that are sharp, because dull knives require more force to cut, and are thus more likely to slip or be dropped.

Tin cans may also prove hazardous once opened, unless they are quickly and properly disposed of. Glass containers, if broken, can also lead to dangerous lacerations, so it is best to keep any glass objects securely stored away where they will be less likely to be knocked onto the ground. To clean up broken glass, first use a broom to collect any large shards, and then follow up by wiping down the area with a damp paper towel to collect any small pieces that may be left behind.

For carpeted areas, use a vacuum cleaner, and continue to pass over the area until you can no longer hear any pieces being sucked up. Throughout the rest of the home, nails and screws may be the biggest threat when it comes to cuts and scrapes, as they are often located in unobvious areas, and may cause tetanus in those who scrape against them, so perform a thorough inspection of all of your home surfaces, and remove or blunt any metal fasteners that may be sticking out. Any hardwood surfaces that are improperly sanded may also pose a threat, due to splinters.

7. Crushing injuries

Every year, approximately 300 children are hospitalised as a result of injuries sustained by falling televisions8. Televisions, cabinets, chest-of-drawer, refrigerators, and other appliances and furniture are generally very heavy, and should always be properly secured to nearby walls to prevent tipping. Furniture that wobbles, rather than sits flat, is especially likely to tip, especially in the event of a tremor or an earthquake.

Additionally, unsupervised children who attempt to climb on such furniture may tip it onto themselves. Ceilings have also—though rarely—been known to collapse. Keep an eye out for any new, growing, or abnormally large cracks in the ceiling, as these may be an indication of structural instability. If you do notice these cracks, evacuate the home and hire an inspector to come and assess the damage.

8. Poisons

Once again, children are at the greatest risk of being injured through accidental poisoning in the home. Cupboards and closets without locks (or with non-functioning locks) are often prime targets for curious children who don’t know better than to keep poisons (such as cleaning products, chemicals, medications, etc.) out of their mouths.

Higher, off of the ground cabinets may not be totally secure against unsupervised children with a knack for climbing, either. Keep a close inventory of all poisonous substances in your home, and places locks on any cupboards or drawers where they are kept. Adults who fail to read warnings on labels may also be at risk. Keep the telephone number of the Poison Information Center posted in a visible place.

9. Allergens

Not everyone is affected by allergies, but for those who are, mold can be a real danger in the home. Mold is a result of water vapour condensing onto surfaces, and is thus directly related to the humidity levels in a home. If a home’s humidity levels are above 60 per cent, then the likelihood of mold developing increases significantly9 (humidity levels can be determined by using a home humidity metre).

There are certain areas of the home that are more prone to mold infestations, such as bathrooms and toilets, and door and window frames. Any leaks or broken ceiling tiles in the roof (often resulting in discoloured ceilings and wall) may be indications of a potential mold risk, as can swollen walls or buckling floor boards. Regularly wipe down condensation from surfaces in the bathroom or kitchen, and keep air vents and weep holes clear of obstruction.

Your home can be a dangerous place, but it doesn’t have to be. By recognizing the hazards that share your personal space, and by knowing how to identify potential risks before they become a problem, you’ll be able to take the preventative (or corrective) measures necessary to ensure that you and your family can enjoy the safety and comfort that home has come to symbolise. After all, the rest of the world is dangerous enough; your home shouldn’t have to be.