Hazards In The Home – especially those that are most likely to impact children
All parents care about the health and safety of their young children, but in almost all homes there are hazards for children at home. Yes, in what should be the safest place on earth for them, their own home, there can be hazards that are dangerous to their health and well-being.
There is a health safety act that is specifically targeted at children’s safety, The Children’s Health Act of 2000 addresses children’s safety at Children’s Day Care facilities, including schools, but the focus is primarily on health issues, not the prevention of accidents and so, in reality, there is no ‘health act guidance’ for what is acceptable and what is not as regards our homes. One area of focus of this website – Safety-At-Home.org (www.Safety-At-Home.org) – is on sharing information that can help you, as parents, make our homes as free as possible of hazards for children. Of course, we want to help you make your home as free as possible from hazards for the entire family and for guests and visitors. Awareness of potential hazards and taking action to mitigate them is important and essential.
A simple listing of hazards in the home looks something like this:
Attics and Basements
Although we generally focus on the main living areas of a home – family room, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms – if we are to be thorough, as we want to consider all areas that are accessible to members of the family, if we have them, we should also include attics and basements in our list.
Attics and basements, for those homes that have them, might be just storage places, or they might be converted, partially or fully, into additional living spaces.
If they are storage spaces, how secure are they from both the aspect of entry, being able to gain access, and from a safety aspect? There are many resources available on the Internet for getting ideas for making conversions, but this website isn’t one of them. Even so, if you have experience of attic or basement conversions, we invite you to use the comments form at the end of this web page to post links to resources that you have used and found helpful regarding Safety-At-Home, especially in relation to children.
Next to the kitchen, bathrooms are considered the second most dangerous room in the home as far as accidents that cause physical injury go. Slips and falls are the cause of most accidents with cuts from sharp blades being second on the list.
Their bedrooms are a place that children are likely to spend a lot of time, and much of that time will be unsupervised. Making sure that there are no hazards in all bedrooms is important.
One of the most dangerous things in many child bedrooms is the chest of drawers that is not secured against toppling. Even if a child doesn’t attempt to climb the drawers, just the weight of whatever is in the top drawers can cause a chest of drawers to become dangerous when the top drawers are pulled out.
Closets should not be play places but often are. We’ve all heard of ‘Hide and Seek’ (‘Hide and Go Seek’ in some parts of the world) – and probably played it ourselves. Simply put, closets are favorite places where things get put away into in a hurry, and it’s often because of that that closets unintentionally become places that not only store all sorts of things, but they all too often become hazardous places. What is there in any of your closets that could be a hazard to a child? Things that might fall off shelves and cause injury; or are there chemicals, sharp tools including knives, and maybe even home-defense weapons, aka guns? Proper, secure – sometimes meaning locked – storage makes the most sense. Large plastic bags such as trash bags and also those provided by dry cleaners can be a danger to a child playing with them, experimenting with them as something to dress up in or even hide in, which can result in them getting suffocated. Plastic bags can be a huge hazard, in part because they easily fall to the floor unnoticed and neglected until a child finds them. Even thin, single-use plastic shopping bags can be dangerous in the hands of toddlers and small children.
Dining rooms come in many types, ranging from small and basic, simple and functional to those that are large with seating to accommodate the entire family and many guests. Regardless of size and sophistication, dining rooms all have several hazard elements in common. The first is cutlery – knives and forks. If left out, these can be easily picked up by a small child and cause injury. Second, are tablecloths. Small children can easily reach and grasp tablecloths which might seem like a good way for a toddler to get assistance in standing and unintentionally pull the tablecloth which will slide easily on a polished dining table. If there is nothing on the table other than the tablecloth, the child can become panicked when the tablecloth falls down over the child, enveloping them completely under it. However, if there are items on the table, unless they are heavy items – heavy enough to prevent the tablecloth from sliding – then whatever is on the table is likely to be brought down off the table, falling and maybe hitting the child.
A third item on the dining room list is small electrical appliances that come with light-weight power cords. All too often the power cords are easily grasped by an inquisitive child and even when placing the appliance on a sideboard or counter that is along the wall – which at least avoids power cords trailing across the floor – small children can still often be at risk of playing with the cord that is left plugged into the power socket in the wall. (One solution to this is to use heavy-duty power strips that prevent a small child from pulling the cord that is plugged into the wall socket out and also will prevent them from pulling the light-weight cord out of the power strip. (There is more on this topic in our post on ‘Child Safety In The Home‘.)
The hallway in many homes may not appear to be a place with hazards. However, if the hallway leads to an external door, which it does in many homes, that entrance is often a good place where accidents occur because of trips and falls. For example, that doormat that doesn’t lay flat, perhaps a corner curls up, and so is a hazard to anyone but in a home with children who have a propensity for rushing around an old doormat can be a major hazard.
Scissors and envelope openers – some of which have exposed sharp blades – are items often left on desks. Even staplers can be hazardous to the inquisitive child. Power cords for electronic devices that can be reached and pulled can result in desk calculators and other small electronics falling onto a child, but so too can desk lamps and other electrical appliances that are heavier.
An office doesn’t have to be cluttered or messy to offer up hazards. What about the office chair? It swivels, right? A toddler pulling themselves up by reaching up and grabbing hold of the seat or one of the arm supports may get themselves vertical or almost vertical when a slight movement either left or right will send the chair spinning, and what does the child fall face-first onto? One of those ‘spoke feet’ of the office chair which, although maybe has no sharp edges, typically has a sharp corner on the end, and also is never-the-less hard and so is highly likely to cause a significant or even serious bruise; one that might require an emergency visit to the hospital.
Keeping the door of the office closed, or even locking it, is probably a sensible habit to develop.
Because it is used for preparing and cooking, the kitchen is one of the top three most hazardous rooms in the house. In addition to storing food items the kitchen in most homes also features storage of cleaning products, many of which are hazardous, the kitchen is where cooking utensils are stored. Many cooking utensils – knives, forks, skewers, and scissors – have sharp edges, as do chopping and slicing blades for food processors, and the blades on mandolins are especially sharp and dangerous. Even cheese graters and cheese planes have sharp blades that can be dangerous to small fingers.
Other cooking utensils, those used for cooking – pots, pans, bowls, jugs, etc. – maybe don’t have sharp edges but they can be heavy enough if pulled off the counter by a small child, can cause bruises and even concussion. A pan handle left pointing out over the edge of the stove might be in reach of a child and, if that pan is hot, the contents – especially oil, meat juices, or water – can inflict serious scalding. A second reason for not leaving the handles of pots or pans sticking out in any kitchen, whether on the stove and hot or on a counter, is that that pot or pan can easily be knocked and, especially if empty or near empty, can be toppled of the stovetop or counter.
Then there are all kinds of things that get stored in under-the-counter drawers and cupboards which often include items that don’t stack neatly together resulting in less-than-stable stacks of utensils of one kind or another, stacks that are easily toppled. Items that are in drawers are generally safe from toppling, but drawers provide the determined and creative child with a way of reaching the countertop. If they choose to pull out a bottom or lower drawer and climb on it, they are likely also to grab hold of an upper drawer handle and use that to pull themselves up. In doing so they can easily pull the drawer out and will lose their balance. If the drawer can be pulled out completely without having to be lifted, then the drawer and its entire contents are likely to be dumped on the child.
The final word regarding the kitchen and the often-adjacent laundry room has to go to the under-sink cupboard where bleach and bleach-based cleaning products get stored. If that is the case for your kitchen, secure, child-proof door locks are an absolute must – or move the cleaning products to an out-of-reach cupboard in the laundry room.
Living Room / Family Room
With a focus on smaller children, toddlers and older up through perhaps 7 or 8 years-old, an important point to consider in the living room or family room is ‘corners’. Corners on furniture from the coffee table or side table to the corner on a bookcase or TV stand. Any hard surface corner that is within head height of your small child.
Next, as has been mentioned previously for other living spaces, comes power cords. The power cord for a standard lamp or a table lamp, for example. Making sure that these cords are out of the way so no one, adult or child, will trip on them. Also making sure that the crawling baby in your home cannot ‘play’ with the power cord that is plugged into the wall socket. Using a heavy power strip with a 3-pronged plug on its cord that plugs into the wall socket is safer than a 2-pin power plug on a lightweight power cord. The 2-pin plug can much more easily be pulled out of the power socket than can the 3-pronged plug.
Cords that operate drapes and blinds are a hazard if they are looped and that loop can be put around a small child’s throat. If any of your blinds, shades, drapes or curtains have cords that are loops, be sure that they are well out of reach of small children. Remove the loops if necessary (https://safety-at-home.org/dangers-in-the-home/)
A loft, if your home has one, might be another bedroom, or it might be your home office, but it could also be an extra family room, a kid’s playroom or just about any kind of room except for maybe a kitchen or a bathroom. That said, whatever purpose your loft – if you have one – serves, simply refer to whichever other living space (or spaces) the loft is similar to for thoughts on what the hazards to children might be.
Pathways in my thinking are most likely outdoors not indoors and so they are subject to weather, and possibly slippery when wet, and certainly slippery and dangerous during winter months if you live in an area that experiences overnight frosts or freezing temperatures. Having a sand and salt or salt gravel mixture on hand is a good idea if freezing temperatures should be the case, and handrails might be appropriate, especially on pathways with an incline.
Uneven paths are often the cause of trips and falls, and if you have elderly people living in your home or as frequent visitors, and again handrails might be appropriate in some places.
Coming back inside the home, unless the home is single level, there will be stairs. There is a section on stairways on our ‘Dangers In The Home’ web page. In short, when there are ‘crawlers’ and ‘toddlers’ around, safety gates at both the top and bottom of stairs are a must, and far the safety of all ages, carpeting on stairs must be securely fastened down and any wear that exposes bare carpet threads means replacement. When there are elderly living in the home or your home has frequent elderly visitors, two handrails that can fully bear a persons weight are better than just a single rail.
Steps can be found both inside and outside the home; at the front door and other external entry doors, and inside the home wherever there is a change of floor level, sometimes just single steps and sometimes small flights of steps. All represent a hazard. Different safety solutions will work best in different situations. Properly installed edging is a good solution, and as an alternative that advertises the step or steps is choosing contrasting carpet colors.
Many accidents on steps both indoors and outdoors, occur at dusk as well as after dark if lighting is minimal or non-existent. Needless to say, good lighting is always appropriate to minimizing the risk of slips, trips and falls on steps.
Outdoors – in addition to steps associated with entry doorways – steps are often found in pathways; pathways that lead from the street or from the driveway to the home, as well as pathways that lead one through the garden and connect the front yard to the back yard. Uneven or loose slabs that steps might be made from represent increased risk and so appropriate action should be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk of trips, falls and consequent injuries. If steps are made from wood, they can be extremely dangerous when wet, and so non-slip surfaces should be installed.
When there are elderly living in the home or your home has frequent elderly visitors, if you have small flights of steps of more than just two, often installing a handrail is a sensible and prudent action to take.
Windows represent two primary hazards; those associated with open windows and those associated with window furnishings – blinds, curtains, drapes and shades, any of which can utilize cords to open and close them. In the ‘Living Room’ section above we referenced, ‘Cords that operate drapes and blinds are a hazard if they are looped and that loop can be put around a small child’s throat’. Also, we provided a link to our ‘Dangers At Home’ web page which has a little more information on this topic.
Regarding open windows, windows often need to be capable of being opened for emergency situations. But even so, window should also be fitted with child-proof locks. Child-proof locks that don’t require keys are best from the point of view of avoiding the problem of finding a key which had to be hidden out of view and out of reach of a child. This means finding child-proof locks that are compatible with the type of windows in your home and ones that require adult or near-adult strength hands and a level of knowledge or logical thinking that prevents a child from opening the window but allows the child-proof lock to be opened in an emergency.
Regrettably there are too many different window types for us to properly address this on this page, but we will respond to you if you post a question below and provide details of the window type installed in your home.
A third hazard from windows is that of broken windows. Broken windows mean broken glass and so and we can also include broken picture frames, broken mirrors, and even broken drinking glasses or cooking utensils in our discussion. Most times that glass, is broken, even in the case of windows, it’s not usually because a person has crashed into the window except perhaps when the glass ‘window’ is a glass panel in a door; a panel that is low down below waist height. Such glass panels should always be made from tempered safety glass as they are more likely to be broken by something crashing into them. That said, with all broken glass – except for safety glass which breaks into granule-like pieces – the broken pieces of glass, referred to as shards, are dangerously sharp and are capable of cutting deep and serious wounds. Not only are the large, meaning pieces of glass that one can easily, but carefully, pick up dangerous, but so are tiny slivers of glass. Extreme care needs to be taken when cleaning up broken glass, and with children around, the whole area around where the glass has broken has to immediately be made a no-go zone, and absolutely no-one with bare or just stocking (sock) covered feet should be allowed in the area. Removing glass slivers often requires a visit to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room.
Web Pages and Posts on Safety-At-Home.org
ur current list of web pages and posts at the time of last update looks like this:
Making A Home Safe
· Common Accidents In The Home
· Dangers In The Home
· Health Hazards In The Home
· Child Safety In The Home
· Child Safety – Babies & Toddlers
· Senior & Elderly Safety At Home
· Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
· Home Safety Tips Checklists
And our always evolving Home Safety Resources section
Other pages and posts include:
Making Your Home Secure
· Locks and Security Systems
· Security Doors for the Home
· Wander Prevention
Making Your Home Safe
· Fire Safety – Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
· Home Safety Security Systems - Cameras
· Home Security Safes – Safes for Valuables, Documents, and Guns