The Emergency-Free Home - Safety for the old and the young

Some precautions can help prevent home accidents. Older persons need special consideration because they may not be as mobile or as observant as they once were. Young children tend to actively and continuously explore what they see as their world.

Safety for Children

Some steps that will make home life safer for children are obvious. Toy boxes or chests should not have lids that can crush small fingers, for example. Windows should have safety locks so that children cannot open them more than two or three inches.

The bars of a child's bed should not be more than two-and- one-half inches apart. Baby carriages should not tip over easily, and should have safety harnesses.

Other precautions: High chairs should not have sharp edges or points, open tubes that might trap small limbs, or mechanisms that could pinch. Night clothes must be flame-resistant, and all clothes should be free of cords or other ties. Clothing for toddlers should allow free movement and growth.

Examine your child's room. Beds or cots should be solid and smooth, with no sharp projections and no horizontal bars that could make it easy for your child to climb out. If you are using a baby bed, it should have a dropside mechanism that is childproof. Avoid plastic sheets in favor of absorbent cotton, and the sheets should be fitted or tightly tucked in.

Children's furniture should be soft, low, and free of sharp edges. The furniture should be positioned so that young children cannot climb onto shelves or window sills.

Toys should be selected carefully and maintained in a safe condition. The Consumer Product Safety Commission notes that all toys that come into your home should be adapted to your child's age, interests, and skill level. They should have quality design and construction. Instructions of use should be read carefully and followed. Labels can guide you to some extent. Plastic wrappings, if any, should be discarded immediately.

Check periodically for breakage or wear and tear that makes toys unsafe. Check, too, for surfaces with splinters. Repaint toys only with lead-free paint, and look for and remove rust or weak parts on outdoor toys in particular. Here are some important safety measures regarding toys:

  1. • Teach your child to put his toys away when they are not in use. It's safer.
  2. • Make sure all toys conform to laws that ban small, swallowable parts.
  3. • Prohibit toy caps, some noise-making guns, and other toys that can produce loud noises that might damage hearing. (The law requires labels on boxes or caps that explode with a sound above a certain level: “WARNING: Do not fire closer than one foot to the ear. Do not use indoors.”)
  4. • Avoid leaving long strings or cords, on toys or off, in cribs or where young children can get at them.
  5. • Keep out of your home dangerous projectiles such as guided missiles, dart guns, flying toys, and lawn darts. If you have very young children, exercise caution with balloons and other toys that may be best suited for older children.
  6. • Monitor any electric toys so that they cannot shock or burn. Electric toys have to meet specific requirements for maximum surface temperatures, electrical construction, and appropriate warning labels. Electric toys with heating elements are not recommended for children under eight years old.
  7. • Make sure infants’ toys, such as rattles and teethers, are large enough that they cannot be swallowed.

A house check is in order if you have children. Is all furniture safe? Are stairs fitted with a handrail? Are there safety gates at the top and bottom? Are the stairs well lighted and free of ill-fitting carpets? In the bathroom, are all bath toys safe? Are they plastic? (They should be.) Have hand grips and rubber mats been properly placed, and are they also safe? Do you have non-slip flooring?

In the kitchen, in addition to the safety tips already noted, you will want to make sure that heavy items are out of the reach of little children; that only safe-to-play-with items are kept in children's-level cupboards; that doors have locks or bolts, where necessary; and that you use table mats instead of cloths if you eat at the kitchen table.

In the garage, do-it-yourself materials and tools should be kept in locked toolboxes, on safe, high shelves, or hanging out of reach. Discarded refrigerators or freezers should either be padlocked or have their doors removed.

Safety for the Elderly

Make your home safe for older family members or visitors before someone falls and incurs the most common of all injuries for older people: a broken hip. In addition to the safety measures that make your home safe for children, you can take further steps to protect older people in your home:

  1. • Provide night lights in rooms that may need them, and make sure bathrooms and other rooms have light switches near entry doors.
  2. • If possible, eliminate extension cords.
  3. • Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairways.
  4. • Provide toilet facilities on the same floor as an older person's bedroom.
  5. • If necessary, install a higher toilet seat.
  6. • Install handrails or grab bars for the toilet, bathtub, and stairway, and apply non-slip appliqués to tub bottoms and shower floors.
  7. • Remove casters from furniture, or keep castered furniture against a wall.
  8. • Where possible, give floors and carpets non-slip surfacing.
  9. • Make the top and bottom stair step a different color than the others.
  10. • Tape or tack down the edges of area rugs, runners, and mats that have a tendency to roll up or curl, or simply get rid of them.
  11. • To prevent scalds, keep temperatures in your water heater below 120° F.

Examine your home through the eyes of an older person. Would you have access to a telephone if you were to fall? Can you install at least one telephone that could be reached if you were unable to stand? In the kitchen, are towels or dishcloths hanging close to the toaster or the stove? Do you have good, even lighting over the stove, sink, and counter-top? Do you need additional lighting under a cabinet or over a countertop where you slice or cut foods?

Because hundreds of elderly persons are treated annually for injuries resulting from falls from boxes or chairs, a step-stool can be an extremely practical item of furniture. But the stool itself should be safe. It should have tight screws and braces, and it should have a handrail to hold while standing on the top step. If the stool has broken parts, it should be discarded.

Before stepping up, the stool should be fully opened and stable.


Clothing can present a number of safety hazards for older people. The CPSC has estimated that 70 percent of all persons who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age.

Some of those fires have started when older persons reached over hot or burning stove or range surfaces. It is safest not to wear clothes that have loose, flowing sleeves, or at least to tie or pin the sleeves snugly to your arm and wrist. Loose sleeves present another hazard: they can catch on pot or pan handles, overturning hot water or food and causing scalds. Awareness of how clothing can contribute to home safety also extends to the selection of nightwear.

Any program for making the home safe for older persons should include most of the other steps noted in this chapter, including those referring to electrical safety and flammable fabrics.

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