Safety Tips: Home Storage Hazards

Well-ordered storage is more than a matter of being neat. Papers, clothes, and coats strewn about is one thing, but tools, firewood, and boxes cluttering walking space can be dangerous. If you’re setting your storage space in order, be sure to consider safety, too.

To prevent accidents, discard old paint cans, broken toys, and other useless items. Ensure that storage areas are well lit and the floor is clear. For more safety guidelines, contact fire, health, or other appropriate officials.

Tools and Toxic Substances

Children are inherently curious and often view workshops and garden sheds as places to explore. Trouble is, these same areas house tools and toxic substances. To ensure that no accidents occur when you’re not there to supervise, store toxic supplies and sharp tools wisely.

Hang tools with blades and bits high on walls with strong, secure hooks. And keep dangerous chemicals away from easily reached places, such as under sinks. Keep kitchen cleaning products away from the pantry. And don’t forget to pet-proof your storage spots.

Store tools and toxic substances in drawers and cabinets that have plastic safety latches, available at baby, department, or hardware stores. The hooked latch attaches to the inside of the cabinet frame. Once closed, you must unhook the latch from the frame to open the door or drawer – something a young child cannot easily do. But make sure you can open the latch yourself – it’s useless if it keeps you from your kitchen, workplace, or other storage areas. The latch should be made of sturdy plastic that won’t break or lose its flexibility. Check it regularly to make sure it hasn’t worked loose or become misaligned. On less frequently used units, install metal locks.

To keep children from getting into off-limit storage units, install doorknob covers. Cabinet locks keep cupboards, cabinets, or closets locked.

Power Tools and Wiring

Make sure there are enough electrical circuits in your workshop, kitchen, or any area in which you will use electrical devices. Power and kitchen tools should be on circuits separate from lighting. Check with an electrician.

New power tool outlets in the work area should be the grounded type. Use a master switch with a key to keep kids from playing with the tools.

Don’t plug too many things into an extension cord, or use extra-long cords with insufficient gauge wires, since the insulation could overheat and ignite. Don’t string extension cords under rugs or tie them to nails. Punctured insulation on wires can result in fire. Periodically inspect extension cords for cracks, fraying, and broken plugs.

Flammable Substances

Don’t let sawdust or wood chips pile up in workshops, and keep kitchens clear of discarded paper products.

Storing flammable liquids is a risky practice. Keep gasoline for lawn mowers and other equipment in a can specially designed for gasoline, with a closure valve, vapor vent, and pour spout. Store gasoline or kerosene outside the home in a detached shed or garage. Close flammable bathroom and kitchen cleaner containers tightly after using. Keep them high up in a closed closet. Keep all flammable liquids in their original containers, or in metal cans with labels and tight-fitting lids, in a well-ventilated area far from heat sources. For extra security, place them in a special fireproof metal cabinet.

Throw out gas-soaked rags, but make sure you hang them up to dry outside before putting them in the garbage. Store fireplace ashes in a metal container. Clean up any oil drippings.

Heating Equipment

Make sure that combustibles are not positioned anywhere near heating equipment such as a furnace, water heater, a chimney, or the oven or stove top. Leave at least three feet of space around all sides of such heating equipment. Install heat-safe tops to counters that are close to your stove.

To prevent fire in a storage area, have your heating equipment inspected and professionally cleaned at least once every year. If you use a basement, garage, or shed storage space as work area, you may want to use a portable heater. But don’t leave it unattended or place it where someone can tip it over.

Ladders and Staircases

Make sure ladders and staircases are adequate for the loads they will have to bear, and that they are in good condition. Stepping surfaces of kitchen stepladders should be smooth and flat. Never block a ladder or staircase with boxes or overflow storage.

Position a ladder so that its base is offset from the perpendicular by one-quarter of its length. The foot of a 20-foot ladder, for example, should be 5 feet away from the point directly beneath the top of the ladder. Fold-down ladders usually aren’t intended for heavy use.

Handrails on staircases should be solidly secured, and the steps clear and well lit with light switches at the top and bottom. A minimum of six and a half feet of headroom all the way up is often required by code.


The best way to foil burglars is to use a security hasp and a heavy-duty padlock with a solid case and a steel shackle attached to an integral bolt. When closed, the hasp covers the screws that attach it to the unit. Hinges mounted to the inside edges of both the frame and door, and fitted with non-removable hinge pins, are the most secure.

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