More than 47 million people in the United States sought medical attention for nonfatal, preventable injuries in 2017. And more than half of the injuries happened in the home. You can prevent injuries in the home if you know what risks to look for and what steps to take to keep them from happening.
A reported 25.3 million preventable injuries happened inside United States homes in 2017, according to the National Safety Council. And 90,200 home injuries resulted in death.
The council ranks preventable injuries as the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer.
The deadliest home injuries, ranked in order, are poisoning, falls, choking and suffocation, drowning, and fires and burns. Injuries often involve harmful products.
Children make up a disproportionate share of many of these injuries. But everyone is at some risk of injuries and can benefit from making home safety a priority.
Poison control centers received 2.6 million calls in 2017. That averages about one call every 12 seconds.
About 2.1 million calls were about people being exposed to potentially dangerous substances. About 45 percent of the cases involved children who were younger than 6 years old, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. And 93 percent of cases happened in the home.
Poisoning is the leading cause of death due to an unintentional injury in the United States. It surpassed motor vehicle crashes as the top cause in 2011.
Sedatives and antipsychotics, antidepressants, antihistamines and cardiovascular drugs also ranked among the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ top 10 substances of 2017.
You should hide or lock up prescription drugs to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. Always leave these drugs in their original packaging, so they are not confused with other medicines.
Household cleaning products were the second most reported substance in calls to poison control centers in 2017, accounting for 7.4 percent of calls. Cosmetics and personal care products ranked third with 6.8 percent of calls, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
Household Products to Scrutinize
- Bathroom cleaners
- Detergent pods
- Floor or furniture polish
- Glass, wood and metal cleaners
- Oven cleaners
Cleaning solutions can cause respiratory issues, irritate eyes and burn skin. Some air fresheners may contain formaldehyde, which is highly toxic. And mouthwashes, throat lozenges, and disinfectant and antiseptic products may contain phenol, which in high amounts can cause burns, liver damage, irregular heartbeat and death.
Other ingredients in household cleaning products may include lead, ammonia, chlorine, and sulfuric and phosphoric acid. Children are more sensitive than adults to side effects of chemicals.
Pesticides are another household product that can impact indoor air quality, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People can bring pesticides into the home through contaminated soil, or the chemicals can enter the home through dust particles.
The National Safety Council recommends storing toxic household products out of reach of children, locking them up, and cleaning out old products that you are not likely to use. The CDC adds that people should keep cleaning solutions and other toxic products in their original packaging.
The National Safety Council ranks falls as the third leading cause of death from unintentional injuries for all ages and the number one cause of preventable injury-related deaths for people over 65 years old. The council estimates 34,673 people died from falls in 2016.
Older Americans can contact their Area Agency on Aging to join a community falls prevention program. And the National Institute on Aging suggests balance exercises, such as Tai Chi, or other exercises you can perform at home to improve balance and reduce falling risks.
You should also talk to your doctor if you notice balance problems. He or she can help you determine your risk of falling. Walking aids like canes or walkers can help reduce the risk for some people.
Cleaning up clutter and rearranging furniture to clear paths can make walking easier and reduce the risk of falls as well. Grab bars in the bathroom, handrails on both sides of stairs and well-lit rooms can also help.
House fires can take as little as five minutes to go from a spark to engulfing a home. They can be deadly within just two minutes of starting. Temperatures can be 600 degrees at eye level, hot enough to burn your lungs.
Fires or burns rank as the sixth leading cause of death from unintentional injuries, according to the National Safety Council. The council found 2,644 Americans died from burn and fire-related injuries in 2015.
Leading Causes of Fires in the Home
- Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home and kitchen fires and injuries
- Smoking is the leading cause of deaths from home fires in the United States
- Heating equipment is the second most common cause of home fire deaths; these fires peak in December, January and February
- Candle fires peak on New Year’s Day, Christmas and New Year’s Eve
- Electrical equipment was involved in 35,100 house fires per year between 2012 and 2016
Protect Your Family from Fire
Fires and burns in the home are preventable. And simple steps can improve your chances of surviving a house fire. Some are as simple as changing batteries or practicing family drills to teach your kids fire safety.
- GET A FIRE EXTINGUISHER
- The National Fire Safety Council says every home should have at least one fire extinguisher. You should make sure they are charged, not out of date and check for fire extinguisher recalls.
- CHECK SMOKE DETECTORS
- About 94 percent of all homes in the United States have smoke detectors, but the National Fire Safety Council estimates half of those don’t work because their batteries are either dead or missing. A good rule of thumb is to replace the batteries twice a year when you set your clocks forward or back. Smoke detectors can double your chances of surviving a fire.
- GET CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
- Carbon monoxide, also called CO, is odorless, colorless and deadly. CO fumes can build up indoors, poisoning anyone who breathes it in without its victims being aware it’s happening. Carbon monoxide detectors can alert you if fumes are leaking into your home.
- PRACTICE A HOME ESCAPE PLAN
- Make sure all family members are aware of two escape routes from every room. Choose a meeting place outside the home where the family gathers after the escape so everyone can be accounted for. And practice the home escape in both day and night drills so your family is familiar with different situations.
- TEACH YOUR CHILDREN FIRE SAFETY
- Children should know how and when to dial 911 in an emergency. The National Fire Safety Council has lesson guides to help teach your kids. Also, make sure babysitters know what to do in the event of a fire.
- STOP, DROP, COVER YOUR FACE AND ROLL
- Everyone in your family needs to know what to do if their clothing catches fire. Practice may prevent panic, especially with kids, in the event of a clothing fire. The National Fire Safety Council added “cover your face” to the familiar “stop, drop and roll” instructions. It found this extra step can prevent injuries to the face and eyes.
Keeping Kids Safe in Your Home
Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death for children and teens who are 1 to 19 years old. They account for 12,000 deaths every year. At least 2,000 of those injury-related deaths happen in the home.
Causes of Home Injury-Related Deaths for Children 14 and Younger
- Fires and burns
- Suffocation and choking
- Falls and tip-over incidents
Suffocation and Choking
Adult supervision is the best way to prevent suffocation in small children. Be aware of toys and foods that can be choking hazards and sign up for a CPR class in your neighborhood.
Drowning is the second leading cause of death for kids who are 1 through 4 years old, behind birth defects. The CDC recommends “learn to swim” classes for kids and CPR classes for older children, parents and anyone who owns a pool.
In 2015, JAMA Pediatrics reported that “hiding” guns from children simply does not work. It recommends that owners use a trigger lock, lockbox or gun safe to secure the gun while still keeping it ready for home protection. Studies have found storing guns safely can reduce the risk of firearm related injury and death by 70 percent.
Falls & Tip-Overs
Falls account for 8,000 emergency room visits every day by children and teens 19 years old and younger. Parents should never leave small children unattended on furniture and should pay particular attention to stairs, windows, porches and balconies or other places where falls are likely. Tip-overs can happen when a child climbs on furniture or appliances. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates a tip-over happens every 17 minutes in the United States. Televisions, dressers, bookcases and other furniture that can tip over should be anchored to the wall with a bracket or other safety fastener.
Laundry and dishwasher detergent pods pose a unique poisoning danger for younger children. In 2018, poison centers in the United States received more than 9,400 calls related to the pods poisoning children 5 years old and younger, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Detergent pods and other toxic household products should be locked up so children cannot get to them.
Dangers may lurk in the walls, floors and even the furniture in your home. You should be aware of these hidden dangers that may cause injuries, long-term health problems or unexpected repair costs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates children who are living in 4 million households in the United States are exposed to high levels of lead. Most lead poisoning comes from dust and paint in buildings built before 1978. It may also appear in drinking water due to old, lead pipes or pollution sources. Adults may be exposed to it as well, particularly if they do home renovations, or work in auto shops or with batteries.
Symptoms of lead poisoning often don’t appear until dangerous levels of the metal have accumulated in the body. The National Safety Council recommends having a doctor test your children for lead exposure. The council also advises people to keep painted surfaces well maintained and repair damage, including water damage, immediately.
Mold can cause respiratory problems in some people. People who already have lung conditions may suffer further complications. Mold grows in dark and damp places.
Controlling humidity, making quick repairs to leaky roofs and windows, and ventilating shower, laundry and cooking areas can help prevent mold. If you choose to clean up mold, never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Be sure to open windows and doors and wear eye protection and gloves.
Cast Iron Pipes
Cast iron pipes were a popular choice for plumbing before plastic pipes were available. They should last 80 to 100 years. But their life expectancy can be drastically shortened in humid environments like the Southeastern United States. In Florida, some of these pipes failed in just 25 years. Look for signs of early failure such as discolored water, leaks, odors, mold, backups or slow draining. These can all be signs that the pipes have failed.
Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas found in homes all over the United States. It is odorless and colorless. It occurs naturally from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. The gas can seep into houses from cracks in the floor.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates it cause 21,000 cancer deaths every year. The agency recommends testing for radon before you buy or sell a house.
Home Furnishings & Building Materials
The National Safety Council warns of potentially dangerous substances lurking in home furnishings, outdoor playsets and building materials. These include fire retardants found in furniture that are associated with hormone, nerve and reproductive disorders, and cancer. Treated wood, particle board and insulation may also cause health issues for children. And so can chemicals that protect outdoor playsets.
Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have insulation that contains asbestos, a mineral fiber that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma or asbestosis if inhaled. It may also be in paints, gaskets in old heating equipment, roofing and siding materials, and decorative molding.
If asbestos is disturbed or breaks down, it can become airborne, posing a danger to anyone who breathes in the particles. Never remove asbestos on your own; contact a professional to handle the job. Determining whether a building product in your home contains asbestos should also be left up to a professional asbestos inspector.
22 Cited Research Articles
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