HSC: Few Families Take Action to Prevent No. 1 Cause of Home Injury

Falls are the nation's leading cause of home injury and injury-related death, yet, according to new research from the Washington, D.C.-based Home Safety Council, only 25 percent of adults have taken any action at all to prevent injuries from falls in and around their homes. In particular, by failing to take critical falls-prevention measures, caregivers are leaving their loved ones at serious risk for the nearly 5.1 million injuries and close to 6,000 deaths that on average occur from falls each year.

To help raise awareness of the problem, HSC is encouraging families to follow a few simple safety steps to protect against falls in each area of the home. The council also reminds caregivers to pay particular attention to protecting those most vulnerable to fall injuries--young children and older adults. HSC research shows that children younger than age 5 and adults age 65 and older consistently experience the highest rates of fall-related injuries at home. "It's a grave concern that the majority of caregivers fail to recognize falls as a serious and potentially life-changing home danger," said HSC President Meri-K Appy. "We want people, especially those caring for children and older adults, to understand that making a few simple behavioral changes and inexpensive home modifications can protect their loved ones against falls. This is critical from early childhood to later in life--and all the years in between."

HSC is getting its message out in part through its new interactive safety Web site, MySafeHome.org, which offers the opportunity to explore a virtual home to learn about the safety actions and technology that can protect against the leading causes of injury—including falls—in every area of the home, indoors and out. The site also offers one-click access to tips and checklists to help families take a room-by-room approach to safeguarding against home injury and soon, to help caregivers keep family members safe during each phase of life, the site will include special sections targeted to new parents and caregivers of older adults.

The council says older adults in particular experience an average of more than 4,700 fall-related deaths and 1.5 million nonfatal fall injuries each year. Despite these statistics, HSC research polling adults in top U.S. cities shows families are not taking the proper steps to prevent falls among older adults. In fact, although the vast majority of respondents have friends and/or family members who are 65 years of age or older (78 percent), only slightly more than half (51 percent) have talked with them about the importance of falls prevention. HSC recommends the following fall prevention steps for the areas of the home where falling injuries are most common:

  • Stairways/Walkways -- All stairs and steps should be protected with a secure banister or hand-rail on each side that extends the full length of the stairs. Make sure all porches, hallways, and stairwells are well lit with a bright light at the top and bottom of stairs. Use the maximum safe wattage in light fixtures, and use nightlights to help light hallways, stairwells, and bathrooms during nighttime hours. Keep stairs, steps, landings, and all floors clear. Reduce clutter and safely tuck telephone and electrical cords out of walkways.
  • Bathroom -- Use a non-slip mat or install adhesive safety strips or decals in bathtubs and showers. If you use a bath mat on the floor, choose one that has a non-skid bottom. Install grab bars in bath and shower stalls. Do not use towel racks or wall-mounted soap dishes as grab bars; they can easily come loose, causing a fall. Keep the floor clean and dry. Promptly clean up grease, water, and other spills. If you use throw rugs in the bathroom or anywhere your home, place them over a rug-liner or choose rugs with non-skid backs to reduce your chance of slipping.
  • Ladder Use -- Always use sturdy step stools with hand rails when climbing is necessary. When climbing on a ladder is necessary, always stand at or below the highest safe standing level. For a stepladder, the safe standing level is the second rung from the top, and for an extension ladder, it's the fourth rung from the top.

For active children--who naturally climb, crawl, and roll--parents and other caregivers need to take precautions to make sure injuries are avoided. From the nursery to the stairway and even outdoors on the playground, children are at alarming risk for fall injuries, HSC notes. In fact, falls are the leading cause of nonfatal home injury for children from birth through age 14. Consider the following safety tips to protect your child from falls:

  • Nursery -- Be aware that conventional window screens are not designed to prevent a child's fall from a window. Install specially designed window guards on upper windows with a quick- release mechanism so that they can be easily opened by an adult in a fire emergency. Never leave young children unattended near open windows and move furniture away from windows in children's rooms to prevent them from reaching windows. Always use safety straps on high chairs, changing tables, and strollers. Wipe up spills when they happen.
  • Stairway/Walkway -- Use safety gates at the tops and bottoms of stairs. For the top of stairs, gates that screw to the wall are more secure than "pressure gates." In homes with children, make sure toys and games are not left on steps or landings. Do not allow children to play on stairs, balconies, or landings.
  • Playground -- Cover areas under and around play equipment with soft materials such as hardwood chips, mulch, pea gravel, and sand. Materials should be nine to 12 inches deep and extend six feet from all sides of play equipment. Check equipment for signs of deterioration or corrosion including rust, chipped paint, splitting or cracked plastic components, or loose splinters. Avoid putting play equipment close together. For example, stationary climbing equipment should have an uncluttered fall zone of at least six feet in all directions of equipment. Slides and platforms for climbing equipment should not exceed heights of six feet for school-age children or four feet for pre-school children. Avoid elevated platforms, walkways or ramps that lack adequate guardrails or other barriers. Watch for possible tripping hazards such as rocks and roots. Clear this debris from your child's play area. Always supervise children when they are using playground equipment.

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