Top Five Hidden Home Hazards
Each year, 33.1 million people are injured by consumer products in the home. Being aware of hidden hazards inside your home can save lives and prevent life-altering injuries. We invite you to watch our Safety Video and download the materials below to learn how you can protect your family from the Top Five Hidden Home Hazards identified by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Bunk beds are frequently used as a child's first regular bed after he/she outgrows a crib - either at about age 2 or 35 inches (890 mm) in height. Some bunk beds also are used separately as twin beds for older children and even adults.
Each year, thousands of children under age 15 receive hospital emergency room treatment for injuries associated with bunk beds. Most of these injuries are fairly minor and occur when children fall from the beds. Horseplay frequently contributes to these accidents. There are other less obvious yet potentially very serious hazards associated with bunk bed structures that have entrapped children and resulted in suffocation or strangulation deaths.
Guardrail spacing - On some beds, the space between the guardrail and mattress or the bed frame and mattress is large enough to allow a young child to slip through. Deaths have occurred when children became suspended by the head in these spaces and strangled.
Guardrails which are attached to the bed by hooks and remain in place by their own weight can dislodge, allowing a child to become entrapped under the guardrail or fall. Attach additional boards to the bunk bed to close up any gap more than 31/2 inches (89 mm) between the lower edge of the guardrails and the upper edge of the bed frame to prevent possible entrapment and strangulation.
Use of the bed without rails on both sides - Most bunk beds are used with one side located against a wall and are sold with only one guardrail for the upper bunk to prevent falls from the side away from the wall. Deaths have occurred when very young children rolled off the bed and became entrapped between the wall and the side of the bed not having a guardrail. This hazard is not unique to bunk beds. Regular beds can present the same hazard.
Dislodgement of mattress foundation - The mattress foundation in some bunk beds merely rests on small ledges attached to the bed frame. They can dislodge, particularly if a child, underneath the bunk, pushes or kicks upwards on the mattress. Suffocation deaths have occurred when mattress foundations fell on children playing on the floor or occupying the lower bunk. Fasten additional cross ties underneath the mattress foundation of both beds.
Wrong size mattress - Bunk bed structures and mattresses come in two lengths - regular and extra long. Extra long is 5 inches (127 mm) longer than regular. Therefore, if a regular length mattress is purchased for an extra long bed, there can be a 5-inch (127 mm) opening between the mattress and headboard or footboard. Strangulation deaths have occurred when children fell through openings created between the mattress and headboard or footboard when a regular length mattress was used in an extra long bed frame.
Protect Your Home and Family from Electrical Fires
Family Safety Advocate, Jacquie Palisi shares ways to safeguard your home and family from electrical fires, along with simple ways to help keep kids safe around electrical outlets. Download our Electrical Safety Tips below to help prevent the loss of life and property caused by electrical disasters.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that each year, about 4,000 injuries associated with electric extension cords are treated in hospital emergency rooms. About half the injuries involve fractures, lacerations, contusions, or sprains from people tripping over extension cords. Thirteen percent of the injuries involve children under five years of age; electrical burns to the mouth accounted for half the injuries to young children.
CPSC also estimates that about 3,300 residential fires originate in extension cords each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 others. The most frequent causes of such fires are short circuits, overloading, damage, and/or misuse of extension cords.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 8,000 to 10,000 victims are treated annually in U.S. hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with the tip over of furniture. CPSC also receives reports of about 6 deaths each year. The majority of these injuries and deaths are to children.
These injuries and deaths frequently occur when children climb onto, fall against, or pull themselves up on such items as shelves, bookcases, dressers, bureaus, desks, chests, and television stands. In some cases, televisions on furniture tip over. Children often climb up the open drawers of furniture. Place TVs on lower furniture, as far back as possible. Use angle-braces or anchors to secure furniture to the wall.
Garage Door Openers
Homeowners with automatic garage door openers that do not automatically reverse should repair or replace them. New openers that do reverse prevent young children from being trapped and killed under closing garage doors.
According to reports received by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 60 children between the ages of 2 and 14 have been trapped and killed under automatic garage doors since March 1982. This is approximately 4 such deaths per year. Other children have suffered brain damage or serious injuries when the closing door contacted them, and failed to stop and reverse its direction.
CPSC urges consumers to check the condition and operation of their garage door and the opener. A properly operating garage door will be "balanced." This means that the door will stay in place when stopped in any partially opened position. A severely unbalanced garage door could unexpectedly crash to the floor possibly striking someone under the open door.
Household Batteries Can Cause Chemical Burns
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that approximately 3,700 people a year are treated in hospital emergency rooms for battery-related chemical burns. Approximately 20 percent of people treated in hospital emergency rooms for battery-related chemical burns are children under the age of 16.
Keep Kids Safe from Accidental Burns
As part of National Burn Prevention Week, Family Safety Advocate, Jacquie Palisi shares simple precautions you can take to help protect your child from scalds and burns. For additional ways to reduce the risk of accidental burns, view and download our Burn Prevention Safety Tips below.
Household batteries can overheat and rupture in several ways:
- RE-CHARGING THE WRONG BATTERY OR USING THE WRONG CHARGER. - If you try to re-charge a battery not intended to be re-charged, the battery can overheat and rupture. If you have a rechargeable battery, be sure to use the proper battery charger intended for the size and type of battery you have. Do not use an automobile battery charger to recharge flashlight batteries because the batteries could rupture.
- MIXING BATTERIES. -- If you use alkaline and carbon-zinc batteries together in the same appliance or if you mix old batteries with new freshly-charged ones in the same appliance, the batteries can overheat and rupture. Always use a complete set of new batteries of the same type when replacing batteries.
- PUTTING BATTERIES IN BACKWARDS. -- If a battery is reversed (positive end where the negative end belongs and vice versa), it can overheat and rupture. This has happened when young children install batteries backwards. Warn children not to take out batteries or install them. Parents should install batteries in household appliances and children's toys.
Prepare Your Family for an Emergency
Family Safety Advocate, Jacquie Palisi advises parents how to best prepare their family for an emergency by creating a Family Disaster Plan. For a step by step guide on how to create your emergency plan, download our Family Disaster Plan materials below.
Disasters may strike quickly and without warning. These events can be frightening for adults, but they are traumatic for children if they don't know what to do.
During a disaster, your family may have to leave your home and daily routine. Children may become anxious, confused, or frightened. It is important to give children guidance that will help them reduce their fears.
Family Disaster Plan
Disaster can strike quickly and without warning. It can force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services--water, gas, electricity or telephones--were cut off? Local officials and relief workers will be on the scene after a disaster, but they cannot reach everyone right away.
Four Steps to Safety:
- Find Out What Could Happen to You
- Contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management office before a disaster occurs--be prepared to take notes.
- Ask what types of disasters are most likely to happen. Request information on how to prepare for each.
- Learn about your community's warning signals: what they sound like and what you should do when you hear them.
- Ask about animal care after a disaster. Animals are not allowed inside emergency shelters because of health regulations.
- Find out how to help elderly or disabled persons, if needed.
- Find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or day care center, and other places where your family spends time.
- Create a Disaster Plan
- Meet with your family and discuss why you need to prepare for disaster. Explain the dangers of fire, severe weather, and earthquakes to children. Plan to share responsibilities and work together as a team.
- Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.
- Pick two places to meet:
- Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
- Outside your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Everyone must know the address and phone number.
- Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are. Everyone must know your contact's phone number.
- Discuss what to do in an evacuation. Plan how to take care of your pets.
- Complete This Checklist
- Post emergency telephone numbers by phones (fire, police, ambulance, etc.).
- Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services number for emergency help.
- Show each family member how and when to turn off the utilities (water, gas, and electricity) at the main switches.
- Check if you have adequate insurance coverage.
- Get training from the fire department for each family member on how to use the fire extinguisher (ABC type), and show them where it's kept.
- Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms.
- Conduct a home hazard hunt.
- Stock emergency supplies and assemble a disaster supply kit.
- Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.
- Determine the best escape routes from your home. Find two ways out of each room.
- Find the safe places in your home for each type of disaster.
- Practice and Maintain Your Plan
- Quiz your kids every six months or so.
- Conduct fire and emergency evacuations.
- Replace stored water and stored food every six months.
- Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer's instructions.
- Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
Home Hazard Hunt:
In a disaster, ordinary items in the home can cause injury and damage. Anything that can move, fall, break, or cause a fire is a potential hazard.
- Repair defective electrical wiring and leaky gas connections.
- Fasten shelves securely.
- Place large, heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Hang pictures and mirrors away from beds.
- Brace overhead light fixtures.
- Secure water heater. Strap to wall studs.
- Repair cracks in ceilings or foundations.
- Store weed killers, pesticides, and flammable products away from heat sources.
- Place oily polishing rags or waste in covered metal cans.
- Clean and repair chimneys, flue pipes, vent connectors, and gas vents.
Check for Damage in Your Home:
- Use flashlights. Do not light matches or turn on electrical switches, if you suspect damage.
- Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open windows, and get everyone outside quickly.
- Shut off any other damaged utilities. (You will need a professional to turn gas back on.)
- Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches, gasoline, and other flammable liquids immediately.
- Confine or secure your pets.
- Call your family contact--do not use the telephone again unless it is a life-threatening emergency.
- Check on your neighbors, especially elderly or disabled persons.
- Make sure you have an adequate water supply in case service is cut off.6
- Stay away from downed power lines.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of room (space) heaters. More than 300 persons die in these fires. An estimated 6,000 persons receive hospital emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.
Consumers should be aware of the following hazards when buying and using gas, wood, kerosene, and electric space heaters:
- Fires and burns caused by contact with or close proximity to the flame, heating element, or hot surface area.
- Fires and explosions caused by flammable fuels or defective wiring.
- Indoor air pollution caused by improper venting or incomplete combustion of fuel-burning equipment.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper venting of fuel-burning equipment. See tips on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning for more information
General Suggestions for All Space Heaters
CPSC offers the following general suggestions for selection, safe use, and maintenance of gas, wood, kerosene and electric space heaters:
- Select a space heater with a guard around the flame area or the heating element. This will help keep children, pets and clothing away from the heat source.
- When selecting a heater, look for one that has been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters have been determined to meet specific safety standards, and manufacturers are required to provide important use and care information to the consumer.
- Buy a heater that is the correct size for the area you want to heat. The wrong size heater could produce more pollutants and may not be an efficient use of energy.
- Read and follow the manufacturer's operating instructions. A good practice is to read aloud the instructions and warning labels to all members of the household to be certain that everyone understands how to operate the heater safely. Keep the owner's manual in a convenient place to refer to when needed.
- Keep children and pets away from space heaters. Some heaters have very hot surfaces. Children should not be permitted to either adjust the controls or move the heater.
- Keep doors open to the rest of the house if you are using an unvented fuel-burning space heater. This helps to prevent pollutant build-up and promotes proper combustion. Even vented heaters require ventilation for proper combustion.
- Never leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or leave the area. For fuel-fired heaters, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide could accumulate and uncontrolled burning could cause a fire.
- Never use or store flammable liquids (such as gasoline) around a space heater. The flammable vapors can flow from one part of the room to another and be ignited by the open flame or by an electrical spark.
- Be aware that mobile homes require specially designed heating equipment. Only electric or vented fuel-fired heaters should be used.
- Place heaters at least three feet away from objects such as bedding, furniture and drapes. Never use heaters to dry clothes or shoes. Do not place heaters where towels or other objects could fall on the heater and start a fire.
Different types of space heaters present some different safety problems. You should be aware of important information and advice about these specific types of heaters.
- Have gas and kerosene space heaters inspected annually by qualified persons to ensure that they are properly adjusted and clean. Keep the wick of the kerosene heater clean and properly adjusted. Appliances that are not working properly can release harmful and even fatal amounts of pollutants.
- Be certain that your heater is placed on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets.
- Keep the heater in a safe working condition. Replace missing guards and controls at once. Never operate a defective heater. Have all necessary repairs done by qualified repair persons.
Kerosene Space Heaters
- Never use gasoline in a kerosene heater. Even very small quantities of gasoline in the heater tank can cause a fire. Kerosene should never be stored or carried in a container that has had gasoline because the residual gasoline is enough to increase the flammability of the kerosene.
- Only use 1-K kerosene in kerosene heaters. Kerosene should be purchased from a dealer who can certify that it is 1-K grade kerosene. The fact that kerosene is "water clear" does not ensure that it is 1-K, since both 1-K and 2-K can appear clear.
- Never fill the fuel tank of a kerosene heater beyond the full mark because as the fuel warms, it expands and could spill and cause a fire.
- Do not attempt to remove the fuel tank, or refuel the heater when it is operating or hot. The heater should not be moved while it is operating.
- Refuel heater out of doors.
- If flare-up or uncontrolled flaming occurs, do not attempt to move the heater. If your heater is equipped with a manual shut-off switch, activate the switch to turn off the heater. Do not attempt to extinguish a kerosene-heater fire with water or blankets. If activation of the shut-off switch does not extinguish the flame, leave the area and immediately call the fire department.
- Keep kerosene stored outside in a sealed blue container labeled "Kerosene."
Portable Electric Space Heaters
Portable electric heaters manufactured after 1991 include many new performance requirements to enhance safety. For portable electric heaters that may present a fire hazard when tipped over, a tip-over switch will turn the heater off until it is turned upright again. New heaters also include indicator lights to let users know that the heater is plugged in or is turned on. Some manufacturers have included technically innovative safety controls such as infrared or proximity sensors, which can turn a heater off when objects come too close, or when children or pets are near. These kinds of controls may prevent burn injuries to children who might play too near a heater, or reduce the risk of ignition of combustible materials that could contact the heater.
- Use heaters on the floor. Never place heaters on furniture, since they may fall, causing parts in the heater to dislodge or break, which could result in a fire or shock hazard.
- Unless certified for that purpose, do not use heaters in wet or moist places, such as bathrooms; corrosion or other damage to parts in the heater may lead to a fire or shock hazard.
- Do not hide cords under rugs or carpets. Placing anything on top of the cord could cause the cord to overheat, and can cause a fire.
- Do not use an extension cord unless absolutely necessary. Using a light-duty, household extension cord with high-wattage appliances can start a fire. If you must use an extension cord, it must be marked #14 or #12 A WG; this tells the thickness or gauge of the wire in the cord. (The smaller the number, the greater the thickness of the wire.) For example, a cord sold as an air conditioner extension cord will have these heavy wires. Do not use a cord marked #16 or #18 AWG. Only use extension cords bearing the label of an independent testing laboratory such a U.L. or E.T.L.
- Be sure the plug fits snugly in the outlet. Since a loose plug can overheat, have a qualified repairman replace the worn-out plug or outlet. Since heaters draw lots of power, the cord and plug may feel warm. If the plug feels hot, unplug the heater and have a qualified repairman check for problems. If the heater and its plug are found to be working properly, have the outlet replaced. Using a heater with a hot cord or plug could start a fire.
- If a heater is used on an outlet protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and the GFCI trips, do not assume the GFCI is broken. Because GFCIs protect the location where leakage currents can cause a severe shock, stop using the heater and have it checked, even it if seems to be working properly.
- Broken heaters should be checked and repaired by a qualified appliance service center. Do not attempt to repair, adjust or replace parts in the heater yourself.
Wood Burning Heaters
- Existing building codes and manufacturer's instructions must be followed during installation.
- Buy wood-burning stoves that are certified as meeting EPA emission standards.
- Check chimney and stove pipes frequently during the heating season for creosote build-up and have them cleaned annually.
- Stoves must be placed on an approved floor protector or fire resistant floor.
- Do not burn trash or anything other than the proper fuel.
- Use a metal container for ash removal.
Gas Space Heaters
- All unvented gas-fired space heaters (manufactured after 1983) should be equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS). An ODS detects a reduced level of oxygen in the area where the heater is operating and shuts off the heater before a hazardous level of carbon monoxide accumulates. These heaters also have labels that warn users about the hazards of carbon monoxide.
- Always have your gas heater and venting system professionally installed and inspected according to local codes.
- Vented gas-fired heaters can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not vented properly.
If your space heater is meant to be vented, be sure that the heater and flue are professionally installed according to local codes. Vent systems require regular maintenance and inspections. Many carbon monoxide poisoning deaths occur every year because this is not done. A voluntary standard requirement provides that a thermal shut-off device be installed on vented heaters manufactured after June 1, 1984. This device is designed to interrupt heater operation if the appliance is not venting properly.
Be aware that older gas-fired space heaters may not be equipped with the safety devices required by current voluntary standards, such as an ODS or a pilot safety valve that will turn off the gas to the heater if the pilot light should go out. If the pilot light on your heater should go out, use the following safety tips:
- Light the match before you turn on the gas to the pilot. This avoids the risk of a flashback, which could occur if you allow gas to accumulate before you are ready to light the pilot.
- IF YOU SMELL GAS, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO LIGHT THE APPLIANCE. Turn off all controls and open a window or door and leave the area. Then call a gas service person. Do not touch any electrical switches.
- Remember that LP-gas (propane), unlike natural gas supplied from the gas utility distribution pipes, is heavier than air. If you believe a leak has occurred, go to a neighbor's phone to call your gas distributor or fire department. Do not operate any electrical switches or telephones in the building where the leak has occurred because a spark could cause an explosion.
Health Effects of Combustion Products
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that interferes with oxygen availability throughout the body. Exposed individuals and physicians may not recognize some symptoms as CO poisoning due to their similarity with viral illnesses such as influenza. Individuals with heart disease, chronic respiratory ailments, such as emphysema, and anemia, and also fetuses, infants, and young children have an increased susceptibility to CO poisoning. Low levels of CO can cause fatigue and chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. As CO exposures increase, symptoms progressively worsen through headaches, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. At very high CO exposures, loss of consciousness and death are possible.
Nitrogen dioxide can irritate the skin and the mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and throat. Depending upon the level and duration of exposure, respiratory effects range from slight irritation to burning and chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath. In addition, repeated exposure to elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide may contribute to bronchitis. Children who are exposed to low levels of nitrogen dioxide, often show increased susceptibility to respiratory infections. Others who may be especially sensitive to nitrogen dioxide exposure include people with chronic respiratory disease including bronchitis, asthma and emphysema.
Reducing Exposure to Combustion Products in Homes
Take special precautions when operating unvented space heaters. Consider potential effects of indoor air pollution when deciding to use unvented kerosene or gas space heaters. Follow the manufacturer's directions, especially about using the proper fuel and about providing fresh air while the heater is in use. This can be accomplished by keeping doors open to the rest of the house from the room where the heater is being used. In addition, keep the heater properly adjusted. Choose a space heater properly sized for the room you wish to heat and make sure that it is installed correctly. Keep flues and chimneys in good condition. Leaking chimneys and damaged flues can result in the release of harmful or even fatal concentrations of combustion gases, especially carbon monoxide. If operating any combustion type appliance, including space heaters, install a CO alarm. Use alarms that meet the current requirements of UL 2034 or IAS 6-96.
General Home-Safety Information
Regardless of the method you use to heat your home, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission encourages you to:
- Equip your home with a least one smoke alarm on each floor and outside sleeping areas.
- Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL standard 2034 or the IAS 6-96 standard in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home.
- Keep at least one dry-powder operative, ABC-type fire extinguisher in the home at all times.
- Keep areas around heat sources free of papers and trash.
- Store paints, solvents and flammable liquids away from all heat and ignition sources.
- Develop a fire-escape plan before a fire occurs. Be certain that all members of the household understand the plan and are able to carry out the plan in case of emergency.
- Be sure the plan includes a predetermined meeting place outside the house.
- If your clothing does catch fire, don't run! Drop down immediately, cover face with hands, and roll to smother the flames. Teach your family how to do this.
- Have annual safety checks on all home heating equipment.
Sources: The safety tips in this section were compiled from the following great internet resources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (http://www.cpsc.gov), "Helping Children Cope With Disaster" developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross. (http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/beprepared/forchildren.html), "Family Disaster Plan" developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross. (http://www.redcross.org/services/disaster/beprepared/familyplan.html)