Fall-proofing your home

Dear Mr. Dad: In the past two weeks I’ve heard from three friends whose children have been hurt in a fall at home. I thought my childproofing days were behind me, but now I’m worried that the same thing could happen at my house. What can I do to make sure my kids are safe in their own home?

A: Great question. There are nearly 6000 fall-related deaths every year in the US, and falls are the No.1 reason for injury and death caused at home. In fact, children are at risk for taking a fall from the time they start crawling until they’re well into their pre-teens. Fall-proofing your house doesn’t have to be a big, complicated, or expensive deal. But it will require some effort. And fortunately, it’s never to late to start.

Here are some steps that you can use to minimize the falling risk in your home. Some were suggested by the Home Safety Council.

  • Identify potential “fall zones”—places in your home where falls are especially common or could be especially dangerous. The easiest way to do this is to invite a small group of wild 5-year old boys over to your house and follow them around. If that’s not possible, you’ll have to do a thorough walk-through to identify trouble areas.
  • Keep cookie jars and any other tempting treats off of high shelves. I understand wanting to keep sweets as a treat, but better a cookie than a cast or a bunch of stitches.
  • Say No to mats and area rugs that don’t have a slip-proof surface on the bottom.
  • Have night-lights in hallways and bathrooms.
  • Make sure you have adequate lighting around places such as landings and stairways. Installing motion-sensor lights is an excellent way to illuminate potential tripping hazards.
  • All stairways should have handrails on both sides that run all the way from top to bottom. Keep mail, toys, and other stuff off the stairs, and repair any broken steps.
  • If you have small children, makes you have working safety gates at the tops and bottoms of stairs and that you have side rails to keep them from falling out of bed.
  • The bathroom is the most fall-prone area in the house. Keep the floors dry, install handrails and non-skid mats or strips inside the tub and shower.
  • Keep all other tiled areas in your house clean and dry. Or consider adding non-skid tape.
  • Remind your children to walk up and down the steps.
  • Outside your house, make sure you have good lighting on porches and walkways. Keep paths and stairs clear of debris, and install handrails if necessary. Keep roots, branches, and other tripping hazards trimmed.
  • If you have a swing set or other playground equipment, cover the entire area with plenty of woodchips, sand, or rubber.

According to the Home Safety Council (HSC), fewer than 20 percent of households are adequately protected against falls. According to their research, less than half of U.S. adults (48 percent) have proper lighting at the top and bottom of stairs, less than a quarter (24 percent) have installed grab bars in the shower, and only 22 percent have handrails on both sides of the stairs. For more information on fall-proofing your home, visit the HSC website, at www.homesafetycouncil.org