Safety Check: Avoiding Hazards at Home

| Caregiver Support

Senior woman setting up house alarm with young man

November 6 to 12 is National Senior Safety Week in Canada. Safety requires year-round vigilance, of course, but the awareness week is a good reminder of how we can all pitch in. Let’s look at four areas where you can take action: home security, fire safety, carbon monoxide safety and fall prevention.

Home security

There are many ways, both low-tech and high-tech, to improve security around the home and discourage intruders. Here are some ideas to put into practice:

  • Ensure locks on doors and windows are in good condition. If replacing door locks, opt for deadbolts. Consider installing security bars on basement windows.
  • Always lock your doors and close your garage door, even if you are just going out for a few minutes.
  • Don’t leave a spare key outside the home.
  • Install bright lighting with motion sensors at entrances.
  • If resources allow, install a home security system – including alarms, motion sensors and cameras – from a security company, electronics store or telecom providers.
  • If you are going on a trip, keep curtain drawn and use a timer to turn lights on and off. Suspend your newspaper delivery, and ask a neighbour to pick up the mail.

Fire safety

Seven out of 10 fires in Canada happen in homes. It’s important to have working smoke alarms and take other steps to improve fire safety.

  • Install a smoke alarm outside each bedroom and one on each floor (including the basement).
  • Test smoke alarms every month, and replace the batteries according to the manufacturer’s directions. Replace smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand for small fires, inspect it regularly and make sure you know how to use it. Good places to put a fire extinguisher include the kitchen (away from heat sources), on upper floors, at the top of a basement staircase, and near an exit route.
  • If you smoke, make sure to extinguish cigarettes completely. Never leave a lit cigarette unattended. Check furniture for embers, which can smoulder for hours.
  • Only buy electrical appliances that meet Canadian safety regulations. Use them according to manufacturers’ instructions
  • Replace worn, broken or frayed cords, and use indoor and outdoor cords as directed. Unplug appliances (such as curling irons, irons and kettles) when you’re not using them.
  • Extension cords should not be used under rugs, behind radiators, inside baseboards, or through walls, doors or ceilings.
  • Keep large appliances clean and in good working order, especially clothes dryers – lack of dryer maintenance is a major cause of fires at home. Remove lint from the lint screen every time you do laundry, and turn off the dryer if you go out or go to bed.
  • Do not use candles near flammable objects (such as curtains, clothing or bedding), and never leave a burning candle unattended. Always keep candles away from children and pets.
  • Create an evacuation plan and practice it a few times.

Carbon monoxide safety

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas that’s produced by the incomplete burning of fuels such as gasoline, natural gas, propane, heating oil or wood. Because carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and tasteless, it’s often called the “silent killer.” CO is especially dangerous if it builds up in an enclosed space (such as a home, cottage, garage, furnace room, RV, etc.). Here’s how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Install a certified carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home or cottage and near each sleeping area.
  • Don’t install CO detectors near bathrooms, windows, vents, heating or fuel-burning appliances or smoke alarms (unless you have a combination smoke-and-CO alarm).
  • When buying detectors, look for a CSA or ULC symbol to ensure they’re certified.
  • Test your alarms once a month by pressing the button. Replace batteries annually or whenever needed. Replace alarms every seven to 10 years (check the manufacturer’s instructions).
  • Don’t heat your home with a gas stove, and don’t use portable fuel-burning appliances – such as a barbecue, hibachi grill, heater or generator – indoors or in confined spaces (such a camper or tent). A garage with an open door is not okay – carbon monoxide could still leak into your home.
  • Have all of your fuel-burning appliances – including your furnace, gas fireplace, gas water heater, gas stove, gas dryer, gas barbecue, fuel-burning space heaters and portable generators – inspected once a year by TSSA-certified fuel technician.
  • Poor ventilation and airflow contribute to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Check your home’s ventilation and remove any obstructions (such as blockages in your vents or a bird’s nest in your chimney). In wintertime, keep vents clear of snow.
  • Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. They resemble flu symptoms: nausea, headache, drowsiness, burning eyes, confusion and loss of consciousness (but no fever).
  • If anyone in the home feels ill – including pets – evacuate immediately and call 911 or the fire department, even if your CO alarms have not sounded.
  • Learn more about carbon monoxide.

Fall prevention

Every year in Canada, one in three seniors suffers a fall, and half will fall more than once. Half of these falls occur at home. A fall can lead to serious health problems, so it’s essential to reduce the risk. Here are things you can do around the home:

  • Remove clutter, area rugs, cables and other tripping hazards from floors, walkways and stairs.
  • Ensure there is good lighting around the home, including bathrooms, hallways and stairs.
  • Install or maintain railings along staircases, even short flights. Consider adding railings to hallways.
  • Install grab bars in bathtubs and showers and beside toilets.
  • For extra stability, use a shower bench or chair, and install a raised toilet seat.
  • Place a non-slip rubber mat in the tub. Check that bath mats on the floor have a non-slip backing.
  • Put things that you use often (such as dishes and mugs) in easy-to-reach spots.
  • Repair any broken steps, walkways, pavement, etc., around the home.
  • Use lights or contrasting paint along outdoor walkways and steps to improve visibility at night.
  • Wear sensible, supportive, well-fitting shoes and slippers with non-skid soles (not just socks or stockings).
  • Avoid clothing that is too loose or long and could interfere with walking.
  • If helpful, use an assistive device such as a walker or a cane. Make sure it is the correct height.
  • Clear snow and ice from entrances and walkways.
  • Talk to your physician about your health conditions and the medications you take, and whether they increase the risk of falls.

Bayshore Home Health offers a wide range of home care services to help Canadians live independently for as long as possible. Contact us at 1-877-289-3997 for details.