By Anessa V. Cohen

I am reprinting the following article published by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, as an in-depth home safety guide for the elderly, although much of this article has relevance to all age groups.

Each year, according to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly 1 million people over age 65 are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with the products they live with and use every day. The death rate from accidental injuries in the home is approximately three times greater for older people than for the younger population. Specifically, there are 60 deaths per 100,000 persons 65 and older, while there are 20 deaths per 100,000 persons under 65.

Slips and falls are the main cause of injury for older people in the home. The CPSC recommends the use of grab-bars and non-slip mats in the bathtub, handrails on both sides of the stairs, and slip-resistant carpets and rugs. Burns occur from hot tap water and from open flame. The CPSC recommends that consumers turn down the temperature of their water heater to 120°F to help prevent scalds. The CPSC also recommends the installation and maintenance of at least one smoke detector on every floor of the home. Older consumers should consider purchasing nightwear that is flame-resistant and choose garments made of tightly woven fabrics, such as 100% polyester, 100% nylon, or 100% wool.

The CPSC believes that many injuries to elderly persons in their homes result from hazards that are easy to overlook, but also easy to fix. By spotting these hazards and taking some simple steps to correct them, many injuries might be prevented. Use this list to spot possible safety problems that may be present in your home. Keep this list as a reminder of safe practices, and use it periodically to recheck your home. This list is organized by areas in the home. However, there are some potential hazards that need to be checked in more than just one area of your home.

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In all areas of your home, check all electrical and telephone cords; rugs, runners, and mats; telephone areas; smoke detectors; electrical outlets and switches; light bulbs; space heaters; wood-burning stoves; and your emergency exit plan.

Rugs And Runners

Are all small rugs and runners slip-resistant? The CPSC estimates that in 1982, over 2,500 people 65 and over were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that resulted from tripping over rugs and runners. Falls are also the most common cause of fatal injury for older people.

Remove rugs and runners that tend to slide.

Apply double-faced adhesive carpet tape or rubber matting to the backs of rugs and runners. Over time, adhesive on tape can wear away. Rugs with slip- resistant backing also become less effective as they are washed. Periodically, check rugs and mats to see if new tape or backing is needed.

Place rubber matting under rugs. (Rubber matting that can be cut to size is available.)

Purchase new rugs with slip-resistant backing.

Emergency Numbers

Are emergency numbers posted on or near the telephone? In case of emergency, telephone numbers for the police, fire department, and the local poison control center, along with a neighbor’s number, should be readily available.

Write the numbers in large print and tape them to the phone, or place them near the phone where they can be seen easily.

Do you have access to a telephone if you fall, or experience some other emergency that prevents you from standing and reaching a wall phone? Have at least one telephone located where it would be accessible in the event of an accident that leaves you unable to stand.

Smoke Detectors

Are smoke detectors properly located? At least one smoke detector should be placed on every floor of your home.

Read the instructions that come with the smoke detector for advice on the best place to install it. Make sure detectors are placed near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling on the wall. Locate smoke detectors away from air vents.

Do you have properly working smoke detectors? Many fire injuries and deaths in homes are caused by smoke and toxic gases, rather than the fire itself. Smoke detectors provide an early warning and can wake you in the event of a fire. Purchase a smoke detector if you do not have one.

Check and replace batteries and bulbs according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Vacuum the grillwork of your smoke detector periodically. Replace any smoke detectors that cannot be repaired.


Are lamp, extension, and telephone cords placed outside the flow of traffic? Cords stretched across walkways may cause someone to trip.

Arrange furniture so that outlets are available for lamps and appliances without the use of extension cords. If you must use an extension cord, place it on the floor against a wall where people cannot trip over it. Move the phone so that telephone cords will not lie where people walk.

Furniture resting on cords can damage them, creating fire and shock hazards. Electric cords that run under carpeting may cause a fire. Remove cords from under furniture or carpeting, and replace damaged and frayed cords.

Are cords attached to the walls, baseboards, etc., with nails or staples? Nails and staples can damage cords, presenting fire and shock hazards. Remove nails, staples, etc. Check wiring for damage. Use tape to attach cords to walls or floors.

Damaged cords may cause a shock or fire. Replace frayed or cracked cords. Do extension cords carry more than their proper load, as indicated by the ratings labeled on the cord and the appliance? Overloaded extension cords may cause fires. Standard 18-gauge extension cords can carry 1,250 watts. If the rating on the cord is exceeded because of the power requirements of one or more appliances being used on the cord, change the cord to a higher-rated one, or unplug some appliances. If an extension cord is needed, use one having a sufficient amp or wattage rating.

Outlets And Switches

Are any outlets or switches unusually warm or hot to the touch? Unusually warm or hot outlets or switches may indicate that an unsafe wiring condition exists. Unplug cords from outlets and do not use the switches. Have an electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.

Do all outlets and switches have cover plates, so that no wiring is exposed? Exposed wiring presents a shock hazard.

Light Bulbs And Heaters

Are light bulbs the appropriate size and type for the lamp or fixture? A bulb of too high a wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating. Ceiling fixtures, recessed lights, and “hooded” lamps will trap heat. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

Are heaters that come with a three-prong plug being used in a three-hole outlet or with a properly attached adapter? The grounding feature provided by a three-hole receptacle or an adapter for a two-hole receptacle is a safety feature designed to lessen the risk of shock.

Are small stoves and heaters placed where they cannot be knocked over, and away from furnishings and flammable materials, such as curtains and rugs? Heaters can cause fires or serious burns if they cause you to trip or if they are knocked over. Relocate heaters away from passageways and flammable materials such as curtains, rugs, furniture, etc.

If your home has space heating equipment, such as a kerosene heater, a gas heater, or an LP gas heater, do you understand the installation and operating instructions thoroughly? Unvented heaters should be used with the room door open or a window slightly open to provide ventilation. The correct fuel, as recommended by the manufacturer, should always be used. Vented heaters should have proper venting, and the venting system should be checked frequently. Improper venting is the most frequent cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, and older consumers are at particular risk.

Is wood-burning equipment installed properly? Wood-burning stoves should be installed by a qualified person, according to local building codes. Local building code officials or fire marshals can provide requirements and recommendations for installation.

Stay tuned for more helpful tips next week. v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage originator with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to


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