Originally created 11/30/03

Home should be safe haven for holidays



NEW YORK - One of the best ways to ensure holiday gatherings are a success is to make sure everyone remains happy, healthy and safe.

Hosts go to great lengths to spruce up their homes, feed relatives delicious meals and give guests warm welcomes. But, while intentions are good, often when people open their doors to guests, they also open a path to potential dangers.

"The holidays are so hectic, you need to make adjustments before your guests come," said Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council. "Otherwise, an injury can totally ruin a holiday."

Children and seniors are disproportionately affected by home injuries and being in unfamiliar territory only compounds the problem. Grandparents or other older relatives, though, might be embarrassed if they are seen as having special needs so it might be best to characterize any safety checks or changes as general household improvements, Ms. Appy said.

Each room of the house should be examined from the perspective of each guest - and that might mean crawling on the floor looking for sharp table corners if a toddler will be around.

Parents also need to do this walkthrough when they are the visitors, Ms. Appy said, no matter how uncomfortable it might be to ask a host for permission to basically snoop through every room of the home. Surely everyone would appreciate someone stopping an accident before it happened, she added.

"With little ones, it's supervision, supervision, supervision. You are the one between a child and grave danger," she said.

According to the safety council's recent study "The State of Home Safety in America," 5.6 million people are hurt each year in slips and falls within the home.

If everyone either picked up throw rugs or used adhesive to hold them down, and if they cleaned the clutter away from walkways and stairs, that number would probably fall significantly, Ms. Appy said.

Other ways to reduce the risk of falls are:

  • Put handrails on both sides of stairwell.
  • Improve lighting. Also keep flashlights on the bedside tables in all bedrooms.
  • Put a nonslip mat or adhesive decals inside bathtubs and showers. And, since bathroom floors can be slippery, provide guests with rubber-sole flip-flops or slippers.
  • Make sure window guards are installed to keep youngsters from leaning too far out.
  • Use belts on high chairs and changing tables.
  • Put up baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairwells.
  • Don't use old baby walkers. (They've actually been recalled because of the risk of falling down stairs, noted Ms. Appy.)
  • Ms. Appy also noted that December is the peak time for candle fires.

    "You can never trust a candle. I love them, they are beautiful, and it's OK to love them but don't leave the room if they're lit," she said.

    People usually are very aware about the potential fire hazard a Christmas tree poses, Ms. Appy noted, but, statistically, a fire caused by an "everyday" hazard such as a candle or a pot on the stove is more likely.

    She urges parents to treat matches and lighters like guns: Keep them under lock and key, not in Mom's purse or next to Dad's tools in the garage that kids have easy access to.

    Families already should have in place an evacuation plan - and they should share it with all guests. Existing plans, which should include two exit routes and a place to meet outside the home to make sure everyone is accounted for, might need to be adjusted to accommodate visiting children and seniors who may be in need of assistance.

    Burns are a risk - even when there isn't a fire.

    Hot drinks placed precariously on table edges coupled with children racing around tables is an accident waiting to happen, said Ms. Appy, whose easy solution is to put coffee and tea in travel mugs.

    Scald burns from hot faucets are easily avoided if homeowners turn down their water thermostats to 120 degrees, which is hot enough to sanitize dishes but won't cause such a severe burn.

    Accidental poisoning is another risk that exists in households not used to hosting young children. It'll take only a few minutes to lock away medications (even vitamins) and move household cleaners out of reach of youngsters standing on their tippy toes, Ms. Appy said.



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