Tips for Summertime Home Safety

Summer should be a carefree time, full of barbecues, pool parties, vacations and other enjoyable activities. And so it is for most people – especially when they plan ahead with safety in mind. Sure, there are summertime hazards and headaches, but heading them off at the pass is half the battle. Here’s a look at some ways to keep summertime safe:

– Summertime is the season for trips, and that might mean a stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Older relatives who aren’t used to having small fry around might want to inspect for hazards before they arrive.

Some potential trouble spots inside the home: outlets without covers, dangling cords on appliances or window blinds, toxic houseplants, and small knickknacks that could choke a baby or toddler.

“Anything smaller than your thumb is a potential choking hazard,” said Dr. Lisa Chamberlain of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California.

Young children might also decide to take a stroll into the neighborhood – without grownups’ knowledge – so invest in some doorknob covers that make it more difficult for them to get out. Also be careful that youngsters don’t escape through pet doors, said Chamberlain.

Meri-K Appy, president of the national Home Safety Council, notes that a “safety crawl-through” of your home can help point out potential problems. At a kid’s-eye level, you’ll see forgotten items under the couch – swallowable stuff like coins and paper clips – and easily accessible cupboards full of cleaning products, cosmetics or garden chemicals that need to be put up out of reach.

Make sure medications have childproof lids, too, and are put away.

– During the summer, it’s only natural to open a window and let the breeze blow through your home. However, a serious hazard that is gaining new recognition is unguarded windows. “In the past two weeks, we’ve had three children come into the ICU after falling out of windows,” said Dr. S. Agarwal, a critical care fellow at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.

Nationally, about 20 children a year are killed and almost 5,000 are injured after falling through windows. Even a fall of a story or two can be serious, and toddlers are especially at risk because they tend to go down headfirst, Agarwal said.

There is a simple and inexpensive solution: window guards, readily available at hardware stores, which when installed can prevent such tragedies. (A screen won’t stop a fall.)

Other preventative measures: moving furniture away from windows – making it harder for kids to climb to them – and locking sliding windows in place.

Another common hazard are the cords for drawing curtains or blinds. Youngsters can strangle on these, so loop them out of reach, or cut them short.

– A dry summer lies ahead for California, but a few simple steps can go a long way toward keeping homes safe from fire.

The new standard for wildfire prevention is 100 feet of defensible space – that is, brush needs to be cleared in a 100-foot radius around the house, according to Jan Cokely, executive coordinator of the Santa Clara County FireSafe Council.

Cutting trees back from homes is also vital, Cokely said. “PG&E will come out and trim limbs away from power lines for free,” she notes.

Cokely said homeowners can help by using outdoor power tools only before 10 a.m. Stray sparks from weed whackers and chain saws during the hot part of the day can ignite dry grass and lead to wildfires.

Other tips from the Home Safety Council’s Appy: Use caution with outdoor barbecues, firepits and torches – don’t leave them unattended at any time – and treat any kind of flammable liquid with care. For instance, “People take gasoline for granted,” said Appy. “But gas vapors are heavier than air and can build up in enclosed spaces, like a garage or shed. A spark can cause an explosion and devastating burns.”

Try to avoid storing gasoline, she said, and if you must, only in approved, tightly sealed containers.

– Suburban back yards are wonderful places to gather with family and friends, but a little caution and forethought can provide safe fun for everyone.

One of the hot spots: the backyard pool. “Pools need to be enclosed with a fence and have a self-latching gate” to prevent children and pets from entering the pool without supervision, said Chamberlain. Fences should be sturdy and at least 5 feet high.

Adults supervising a pool party need to be aware of everything that’s going on and actively watching for problems, not reading a magazine or chatting with neighbors.

And small children can drown even in a wading pool or a bucket – in as little as one inch of water.

Appy said that backyard play structures should be scrutinized carefully. “You should have a nice, sturdy playset. The new ones are better designed,” she said.

A good surface underneath the play structure is also important. Rather than dirt or grass, provide rubber or wood mulch, sand or pea gravel to soften a fall.

As with pool play, a careful adult should be in charge when youngsters are present.

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