Utica Observer-Dispatch: Hidden Home Hazards (and what to do about them)

By AMY NEFF ROTH
Observer-Dispatch
Posted Jul 28, 2011

Your home may be your castle, but it's probably not as safe a hideaway as you think.

Every year home-related injuries cause almost 20,000 deaths and lead to 21 million medical visits, according to the Home Safety Council. And almost anything can prove hazardous - think of it as a corollary to Murphy's law.

“In our urgent care at Faxton St. Luke's Healthcare, we see injuries and illnesses caused by common household appliances, foodborne illnesses, insects and ticks, cleaning chemicals, wet surfaces, hot water burns and more,” said Dr. James Cimo, a Faxton Urgent Care doctor. “People should take more time and be more cautious while working in their home to help prevent injuries.”

Some danger spots are notoriously obvious: swimming pools, stairs and fireplaces come to mind.

But not all hazards are so easy to spot. Some rooms and equipment might be more dangerous than you think. Here are five hidden home hazards that might surprise you:

Bathrooms

Think bathrooms are a hotbed for germs? Think again. Kitchens actually harbor far more germs, especially on the kitchen sponge.

But that doesn't mean bathrooms are safe. Any time you mix water, bare feet and tile, you're setting the stage for a fall.

About 21.8 million people ages 15 and older were injured in the bathroom in 2008, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 234,000 of those victims ended up in an emergency room.

Another 43,000 children ages 18 and younger are treated in ERs each year for injuries that happen in the bathtub or shower, according to the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Bathtub drownings and hot water scalds also can cause serious injury or death, according to the Home Safety Council.

What you can do: Protect your family by using non-slip bathmats in and out of the tub; installing grab bars; staying within arm's reach of young children anywhere near water; setting the hot water heater to 120 degrees or less; and installing anti-scald devices on faucets.

TVs and DVD players

 Improperly secured TVs can cause injuries if they're pulled over. But the more common danger is the influence screen time can have on the habits of children and teens.

Studies have proven a link between how much smoking teens have seen in movies and their likelihood of smoking. They've also shown that children's exposure to soda and junk-food commercials affects their eating habits and desire for unhealthy foods.

The good news for teens is that movies geared toward young viewers are showing less tobacco use, according to data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July. The bad news is that older movies are readily available on DVD or through Netflix.

What you can do: Limit the amount of time children spend watching TV and using computers. Monitor what they're watching and discuss the issues it brings up.

Kiddie pools

 Kiddie pools use unfiltered, un-chlorinated water and often are less well supervised than larger pools. As a result, they can be dangerous.

Between 2001 and 2009, 209 kids under the age of 12 drowned in portable pools, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics in June. Almost all of them, 94 percent, were younger than five.

The authors recommended that manufacturers develop safety devices similar to those on larger pools, and called for an education campaign to alert parents to the danger.

What you can do: Supervise children at all times when they're in the pool. Empty out the water when the pool is not in use - this also will help prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses.

Carpets

Indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air in even the biggest cities, according to the EPA.

Carpets soak up allergens and irritants such as animal dander, dust mites, lead, pesticides, dirt and dust, according to the American Lung Association. Once wet, carpets also provide a great spot for mold and mildew to grow.

Replacing old carpets can create a new set of problems. New carpets and the products used to install them contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). People have reported symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation; headaches; skin irritations; shortness of breath; and fatigue after the installation of new carpeting, according to the EPA.

What you can do: Use hard flooring and washable rugs instead of carpeting (but be careful, rugs can create a tripping hazard); vacuum carpets at least three times a week with a HEPA filter; and keep carpet out of areas prone to damp, such as bathrooms and kitchens. When buying new carpet, choose low-VOC carpet; ask that a carpet be unrolled and aired for 72 hours before installation; and use window fans and room air conditioners to exhaust fumes for 48 to 72 hours after installation.

Bunk beds

It probably doesn't come as a surprise that upper bunks are not recommended for children under age 6. But plenty of older kids and young adults get hurt in bunk beds, too.

An estimated 36,000 children and young adults through age 21 sustain injuries related to bunk beds every year, according to a 16-year study, published in 2008, by the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

What you can do: To avoid injury, the center recommends using beds with guardrails on both sides of the upper bunk (with rails spaced no more than 3.5 inches apart to prevent entrapment); making sure the mattress foundation is secure and the mattress is the proper size for the bed; using night lights that light up the ladder; and keeping the bed away from ceiling fans and other fixtures.

Also watch out for:
  • Automatic garage doors: They're generally the heaviest and largest moving equipment in homes. Kids can get trapped under them, lower the door on someone else or get a hand caught in the mechanism.
     
  • Dryers: They start about 15,000 fires every year, causing 10 deaths and 310 injuries, according to Underwriters Laboratories. Regularly cleaning the lint trap can help keep them safe.
     
  • Holes and gaps: Even small openings can let bats or other animals into your home. And bats, which carry rabies, can bite a sleeping person without waking the sleeper and without leaving tooth marks, according to the CDC. If you wake in a room with a bat or find a bat in a room with a young child, catch the bat and call health authorities.