NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Safe at Home

Safe at Home

            Your home should be a haven for your family and friends and especially the one place where your children will be protected from harm. Still, more than 3 million kids get hurt at home each year, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit organization devoted to preventing unintentional injuries. Young children can spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors, so a healthy home environment is critical -- and yet many hazards aren't obvious. Compare your home environment to the following preventive steps.

            Check the Temperature - You probably know that your young child could drown in the bathtub, but he/she is just as likely to get seriously burned. Hot water can burn skin just like fire. A baby or toddler who is exposed to 140 degrees F water can be scalded in less than five seconds -- so make sure your hot-water heater is set to 120 degrees F, and always test the water temperature yourself before placing your child in the tub. Never leave children alone near water, including bathtubs, buckets and swimming pools.

            Safeguard Windows - Every year, more than 4,000 kids end up in the emergency room after tumbling out of a window. It's crucial to install window guards (rows of bars no more than four inches apart that screw securely into the sides of window frames but can be released quickly by an adult in case of fire) or window stops (which prevent windows from opening more than four inches) on all upper-level windows. Babies and toddlers can be strangled by cords on blinds and shades, so place cribs and other furniture away from windows. Cordless window coverings are the best choice for kids' bedrooms.

            Foil Falls.  Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury for kids ages 14 and under, but your child's risk of being hurt in a fall -- down stairs or off furniture, for example -- multiplies once he or she is mobile. Install wall-mounted baby gates at both the top and bottom of stairs, and cushion corners and edges of tables and fireplace hearths with padding to protect your child from banging his/her head on them if he/she topples over. Keep your floors free of anything that may cause tripping, such as toys, shoes, or magazines

            Check for Lead -If your home was built before 1978, there's probably lead in the paint under the top coats on your walls and windows, as well as in old floor varnish. When lead dust is stirred up during a renovation (or when paint starts to chip), the toxic particles put your child at risk of developmental and learning problems -- so it's important to hire a contractor who's certified in safely removing leaded materials.

            Check for Radon -Approximately one in 15 homes (including apartments) in the U.S. has a high level of radon, a radioactive gas released when uranium naturally breaks down in soil, rocks, and water. Radon is believed to be the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, but because you can't see or smell it, you won't know if you're being exposed without testing for it. Fortunately, an inexpensive test kit that's available at home-improvement stores will be reliable in this case: Leave it out for as long as the directions recommend, then promptly return it for analysis. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a reading of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or greater to be unsafe. If your levels are high, you'll need to have a certified radon-mitigation contractor install a piping system to vent the gas out from under your home.

            Have Fire Drills - Kids ages 5 and younger are twice as likely to die in a residential fire as older children or adults as it is harder for them to escape on their own. It's critical to have a smoke alarm on every floor including the basement as well as outside and inside every bedroom. Remember to test them monthly. You should also have one multipurpose fire extinguisher for every 600 square feet of living space. Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of children’s reach. Never smoke in bed. It is the leading cause of fire-related deaths. Keep anything that can catch fire away from fireplaces, heaters, and radiators. Replace frayed electrical wires.

            Check for Carbon Monoxide- Low to moderate levels of this colorless and odorless gas can cause symptoms similar to the flu (without fever). But as levels increase, the toxic effects of carbon monoxide (CO) can be deadly, especially for children, because the gas prevents oxygen from getting to the heart and brain. Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. The most important way to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning is to make sure that all your fuel-burning appliances are working properly. Have your heating system (and chimney and flues) inspected each year.  CO can also be created by equipment like portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers that are powered by an internal combustion engine.       

            Lock Up Poisonous Products -That means not only cleaners, medications, and caustic cosmetic items like nail-polish remover but also perfume, bath oil, mouthwash, aftershave, and vitamins. More than 1 million kids are poisoned by ingesting common household items every year. Store food and non-food products separately to prevent confusion and protect your family from container contamination and toxic spills. Post the Poison Control Center's toll-free number (800-222-1222) near every phone in your house.

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