In the best of times, maintaining a secure and functional household can be challenging. Add in a global pandemic and home safety gets even more complicated. Spending nearly 24/7 at home —  kids running amok, endless Zoom calls, and wreckage from takeout boxes and impulse buys accumulating at an alarming rate — can make us more vulnerable to the hazards of home sweet home.

Turns out we’re not imagining things. Statistics show an increase in home injuries and accidents since the first COVID-19 safer-at-home orders began in early 2020. According to ConsumerReports.org, poison-control calls due to ingestion of hand sanitizer in kids 12 and under increased over 50% in March 2020 compared to the January before. Likewise (as of April 2020), MayoClinic reports an increase of patients with injuries from kitchen cuts, gun accidents, and tool mishaps.

These metrics aren’t necessarily surprising, but they do underscore the need for increased home safety measures. There may be lots of things we can’t control about the outside world, but we all have the power to do what we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones at home.

Not sure where to start on home safety? We’ve created this 9-step guide to help you identify common household hazards, lower your risks of injury and accidents, and secure your home for everyone — especially children, elders, and pets. Take a little time now to learn how to inspect, upgrade, and prepare your home for the unexpected. Keep scrolling!    

A father helping his young child clean.

1. Give your home a detox

Let’s start with the top cause of injury-related death in the country: accidental poisoning. Ingestion of toxic substances averages about 37% of preventable fatalities in the U.S. annually — an especially disturbing statistic when you consider how most of those deaths are due to the misuse and abuse of drugs in the household.

Poison hazards take many household forms, so awareness is key. Review the list below and either remove the item, substitute non-toxic items whenever possible, or make sure it’s safely out of the reach of children. Here are some of the most common sources of poison in the home:

  • Cosmetics and personal care products
  • Pharmaceuticals for both medicinal and nonmedicinal use
  • Illicit drugs
  • E-cigs and liquid nicotine products
  • Batteries
  • Cleaning products (substitute with baby-friendly cleaning products)
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Lead paint
  • Contaminated food
  • Toxic houseplants
  • Pesticides such as rat poison
  • Hydrocarbons such as gasoline, lighter fluid, and paint thinner

Watch this video to learn how risks change as we age:

2. Protect yourself from physical hazards in your home and yard

Despite our fondness for parkour videos, it turns out humans haven’t quite figured out this whole biped thing. Accidental falls caused 22% of injury-related deaths in 2019 —  nearly as many caused by motor vehicle collisions!

These home safety tips will help ensure secure footing for everyone in your home, whatever their age, mobility, and stunt style: 

  • Remove clutter from main living areas to avoid trip and fall hazards.
  • Clear ice and snow as soon as possible. Keep rock salt and a pair of treaded shoes on hand for all those frigid mornings walking out to your car.
  • Cover and lock your outdoor pool. (This helps to prevent accidental falls and drownings, as well as minimizes heating costs, keeps out debris, and conserves water normally lost to evaporation.)
  • Place mats under rugs to keep them from bunching or slipping.
  • Place a rubber anti-slip mat in your shower.
  • Take care when using step stools and portable ladders by placing at proper angles on secure surfaces — never stacked, never on wheels, and never with your buddy as the anchor.  
Pro Tip: Cleaning and organizing your home not only prevents falls, it also removes fire hazards and streamlines your home maintenance tasks. If you’re short on room, consider renting a portable container to store seldom-used items so you can keep your living spaces clear and easier to navigate. It’s also a convenient way to clear a safe path, protect your belongings, and avoid construction hazards during a remodel.

3. Modify your home for children, elders, and pets. 

It’s one thing to keep your home secure and functional for yourself; it’s another to ensure it’s safe for grandparents, toddlers, and curious puppies. There’s all manner of household hazards to consider when bringing a new family member into the mix, but here’s a quick checklist to get you started: 

  • Unload and lock away firearms and store ammunition separately. Even if you don’t have kids, this is a crucial way to prevent gun deaths in the home.
  • Place night lights along halls, stairways, and bathrooms.
  • Install childproof locks, furniture wall attachments, and buffers on sharp edges and corners.
  • Check which houseplants are nontoxic for children and pets. (For example, a ponytail palm is safe, but a peace lily is not.)
  • Keep your water heater at 120 degrees to avoid scorching tap and shower temperatures.
  • Create a family escape plan for emergencies. This means identifying potential exits; practicing your evacuation route; and dedicating a family member to assist pets, kids, and grandparents out of the home.   
Pro Tip: Long-term safety for elders is often a matter of physically modifying your home, from installing grab bars in the bathroom to adding a wheelchair ramp to the front porch. For more tips on creating a safe and livable space for your elderly family members (or for your own retirement), check out this post about remodeling your home for aging in place.

4. Take steps to avoid home break-ins

Even though reports of property crimes have declined dramatically in recent decades, you can significantly decrease your own risk of being a victim by taking a few steps like these to secure your home: 

  • Install motion detectors on your front and back porch, garage, and any outbuildings. (Speaking of perps, your local raccoon syndicate will be so peeved by the new feature.)
  • Invest in a home alarm system. According to a recent Rutgers study, a house with an alarm system (and its neighboring residences) is significantly less likely to be burglarized than one without.
  • Admit to yourself that putting a key under the doormat just won’t cut it. Find less obvious locations to hide a spare, whether you’re home or out of town.
  • Keep blinds and curtains closed at night and when you don’t need the sunlight. (Bonus! This helps with energy costs.)
  • Use home safety as the perfect excuse to adopt a guard dog.
  • Keep in mind that over half of home burglaries are perpetrated by someone who knows the resident. Don’t share alarm codes and do change the locks when needed.
  • Make a home security checklist for when you leave town:
    • Lock up doors, windows, and garage.
    • Ask a trusted neighbor to gather mail and check on the house.
    • Don’t announce vacations on social media, and don’t leave a note on the door alerting visitors to your absence.
    • Create the illusion that someone is home by leaving lights on, playing the television or radio, and, if possible, parking a second car in the driveway.
    • Set your home security alarms.
    • Use smartphone software to monitor your home while you’re away.

5. Follow tips for fire safety

Between 2014 and 2018, the majority of U.S. civilian fire deaths (over 75%) were caused by fires started in the home. Most of these were caused by five common household culprits: cooking errors, heating issues, faulty electrical distribution, intentional fire setting, and smoking accidents. Most of these hazards can be avoided with a few standard household precautions:

  • As cooking hazards are the top cause of house fires, take care to monitor your stovetop, oven, pressure pots, toaster, and microwave while in use. (Items should be unplugged when not in use.)
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand, as grease and electrical fires can’t be put out with water.
  • Prevent electrical hazards by throwing away faulty appliances, keeping plug-in items away from water, and checking for outdated electrical work in the home’s structure.
  • Keep clutter away from stoves and space heaters. (Looking at you, fleece-blanket fort.)
  • Never leave an open flame unattended, even from a small candle or cigarette.
  • Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and set reminders on your calendar to   test them every six months. 
  • Clean the dryer vent annually. Removing buildup from your dryer filter before each load of laundry isn’t enough. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, this seemingly harmless lint trap is the cause of nearly 3,000 house fires each year.
  • If you have a fireplace, install a safety screen, clean out ash between uses, and keep it on a regular maintenance schedule with a professional.
Pro Tip: The risk of a home fire or carbon monoxide poisoning goes up in the winter as people turn on furnaces, use fireplaces and space heaters, and (unadvisedly!) turn on their cars to warm up while still in the garage. As you prepare for colder months, take a few extra precautions around the home: set an appointment to service your furnace and water heater; replace all smoke detector batteries; and check that a carbon monoxide detector is installed near each separate sleeping area.

6. Take food and kitchen precautions

Americans spent a lot of time in their kitchens in 2020. And between all those Zoom-meeting snacks and home-chef experiments, things probably got a little “dicey” with the cooking and cleaning. As you take on new culinary adventures, here’s how to keep your kitchen safe, clean, and hazard-free: 

  • Wash your hands with hot water and antibacterial soap before preparing food.
  • Keep meat separate from other groceries when purchasing, storing, and preparing.
  • Cook raw eggs, dairy, and meat to appropriate temperatures before eating.
  • Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer within two hours of preparing. Rinse your fresh produce before eating or cooking. This removes nasty contagions like E. coli and norovirus.
  • Disinfect the lids on packaged goods before opening. That can of diced tomatoes may hoard bacteria and contagions from its time in transit and storage.  

And of course, don’t forget those fire prevention tips! Your kitchen is the easiest place to start a blaze.

7. Protect your home from pest and chemical hazards

With all its nooks, crannies, and porous surfaces, your house is likely home to more than just you and your cat. Consider these safety measures to protect yourself from unwanted bedfellows, be they organic, chemical, or just good old-fashioned ick:

  • Test for lead and radon. Homes built before 1978 are more likely to contain lead in their paint, soil, and pipes, but radon can be present in almost any home, regardless of what year it was built. You can measure both lead and radon with a home test kit or hire a professional.
  • Check for funky stuff in wet and musty areas of your house. Spongy materials like paper, ceiling tiles, wood products, cardboard, insulation, carpet, and upholstery are common breeding grounds for mold, bacteria, and other icky home invaders.
  • Weatherproof your home’s structure and seal up cracks. This keeps rodents and insects from invading your indoor living spaces.
  • Use natural pesticides and essential oils to avoid contamination of food, clothes, eating surfaces, and your sewer or septic system.

You can’t keep your home clear of every microorganism (nor should you), but you can take steps to make your living spaces less susceptible to the most harmful forms of mold, parasites, and environmental toxins.

8. Don’t neglect your cybersecurity

The internet may not feel like a physical part of your home, but it’s a major breach point when it comes to your family’s safety, privacy, and data security. Cybersecurity isn’t just for corporations. Follow these steps to protect you and your family from cyber risks:  

  • Talk to your kids and elders about online safety.
  • Change your preset WiFi key to a unique new password containing letters, numbers, and special characters. Most routers come with generic credentials like “admin” or “password” — all too easy for hackers to guess.  
  • Keep your router’s software up to date.
  • Never post your address or phone number online.
  • When banking or shopping online, check that sites are secure. Website addresses with “https://” are more secure than sites with “http://”
  • Finally, come up with unusual passwords for different online accounts and change often. To help keep track, you may want to try a password manager.  

Ready to audit your online safety? Explore more tips for account security and web privacy from the National Cybersecurity Alliance.

9. Make a safety plan for emergencies and disaster preparedness

You may not have control of the world beyond your property line, but you can make your home a safe haven during an emergency, natural disaster, or unexpected threat to your family. We’ve outlined some key steps in this article on disaster preparedness, including setting a meeting place for your family, stocking your emergency response kit, and protecting your home with maintenance and repair efforts. After a year like 2020, these shelter and safety protocols feel more important than ever!

Whether you’re fixing old hazards or looking to prevent future issues, we hope this checklist helps you take a proactive approach to home safety. When our homes are functioning normally (or hey, when we’re not in the middle of a lockdown), we tend to take defense measures like fireproofing and food sanitation for granted. It may even take an emergency room visit to admit we’ve been a little too careless all along. Don’t let these hidden household culprits get the better of you: Dive into our simple home safety tips this weekend!  

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