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Home Safety Tips

Safety in the home has definitely improved since the 19th century, when one of the leading causes of accidental death in the home was by burning. Tragically, it wasn’t the houses that were catching fire. (Our forebears were very good at keeping fires safe in the grate; after all, they were lighting coal fires every day.) No, the danger was with those voluminous Victorian dresses. So often, they were made of highly flammable fabrics with all kinds of ribbons and details. So often, the women who wore them spent long hours cooking by open fires, or working beside the heat of them.

Smoke Detector
Smoke Detector

Those tragedies are long past, thankfully, but fire in the home remains deadly today. And even if home fires are uncommon, their effects are can be very serious. So always install smoke detectors, always install the right number in the right places (the fire brigade are fantastically helpful with this, or you can ask a good electrician), and always keep their batteries fresh. One hot tip is to change them on your birthday ever year. That way you never forget. And you get to spend your birthday with a nice fuzzy feeling of domestic responsibility.

If your smoke alarm doesn’t have a carbon monoxide detector, get a separate one – especially if you’re one of the increasing numbers of homes that has a wood-burning stove. This gas is invisible and un-smellable, and the first you’ll know about it, if it is ever released by a faulty stove or boiler, say, is a feeling of headache and dizziness. That’s if you’re lucky enough not to just fall asleep. The best protection, of course, is to service your heating appliances at the proper intervals.

It’s worth having a fire extinguisher, too. Perhaps more than one. It’s easy to feel bewildered by the range of types out there, and the varieties of fire they can be used on, but one sensible compromise is to have a foam extinguisher for your main one (they work on class A and B fires, which means solids and flammable liquids), and a CO2 extinguisher as well (they are designed to be used on class B and electrical fires). A fire blanket in the kitchen is sensible, too, in case the cooking oil ever catches fire.

You may have an extinguisher, do you know how to use it? Extinguishers all come with instructions, but if that does not work for you look for what’s out there on YouTube – as long as make sure you are watching a video from a responsible source, that is. If your video has an actual uniformed fire officer in it, it’s a good sign. 

Most home accidents are not catastrophic, however, and they don’t involve anything as scary as fires. They involve little slips and trips that – sometimes, if you are unlucky – can have large consequences. Even a single Lego brick can cause a back injury if you skid on it, or even just step awkwardly to avoid it. The top safety tips, then, are the ones that are all about developing little life habits.

So never pop something at the bottom of the stairs, thinking you will take it up with you when you go up later. Take it up straight away (a quick run up one flight is good for you!) or put it somewhere safer for later. Never set down your iron or your hair straighteners on anything other than a flat, hard surface. Do bother with a bath mat. Do put away toys.

Do everything mindfully, in short. Especially cooking. Even if we don’t face the dangers our ancestors did, what with all those open fires, turnspits and giant coal-burning ranges, cooking is the moment in the day when we get closest to naked flames, boiling water and spitting oils. (Unless your daily life is very different from mine…) Try to use back burners on your stove top, instead of the front ones. Turn pan handles so they don’t stick out. Open ovens cautiously. Drain your pasta using an oven glove and a colander, not with a tea towel and the lid. And – you know this one – never put anything in the toaster except toast. Clean it out once in a while, as well. It’s a surprisingly satisfying thing to do. 

One of the most dangerous times is when you move house, or in the aftermath of it. Statistically, a huge number of accidents take place when moving heavy objects, when working on ladders and stairs, and when people find themselves in unfamiliar environments. And all of those situations take place when people move home, move furniture and start doing some hasty emergency decorating. Take especial care at these times. Getting that chest of drawers up to the top floor is not worth a slipped disk or crushed foot.

Even when everything is not new, try to look at your home as if it was. Perform a private, domestic risk assessment once a year. If doing it on your own birthday every year feels too much, how about picking the birthday of a friend or relative? Imagine a toddler is coming to visit. Could they fall out of your windows? Are medicines, paints and gardening and cleaning chemicals stored in high cupboards or lockboxes? Are knives and tools stored safely? Are your temptingly sweetie-lookalike dishwasher pods well out of reach? Are the cords for your blinds short or otherwise restrained so a little neck couldn’t get tangled in them?

Even if toddlers aren’t coming round any time soon, just imagining that they are should help you see the potential perils in your home. Because safety is about being imaginative, and just a little anxious. The people who survive disasters, it has been proven, time and again, are the ones who worry about them happening in advance, and are ready for them when they come. Your home is not a disaster, but you can learn from those people. A tiny bit of deliberate worry over your home, from time to time, won’t turn you into a worrier. It should have the opposite effect – by giving you peace of mind.