“An Englishman’s home is his castle,” so the famous adage goes, but, believe it or not, the home also happens to be one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
In fact, a huge amount of injuries and deaths are caused by incidents or accidents in the apparent safety of your own home. This should come as little surprise since most people spend a lot of time at home and, for most people, this is where you are most likely to come in contact with some potentially very dangerous things like electricity, gas stoves, chemicals, etc.
But, just because a hazard is present, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are in danger. That being said, the high percentage of injuries and deaths in the home seems to indicate that people are more likely to take risks at home that they may otherwise not take elsewhere.
This is for a variety of reasons, but the main one is that most people, even professionals (who should know better) tend to be laxer with safety when at home.
How dangerous is your house?
The variety of hazards in your house do vary, but some common themes include incidents like accidental electrocution changing light fightings, falling downstairs or in the bath, the odd exotic animal attack, exposure to carbon monoxide and other noxious fumes, falling off roofs, and, of course, accidental fire starting — to name but a few. The types of injuries are also age-specific, with, for example, very young or elderly residents most likely to suffer from serious trips, slips, and falls — for obvious reasons.
According to some authorities on the matter, like the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Injuries (yes it really does exist), the house is the most likely place for accidents to actually occur — in Britain at least. Every year, more than 2.7 million Brits are admitted to the hospital with domestic-related injuries. It costs the British National Health Service somewhere in the order of £46 billion ($63 billion) to treat them.
Breaking down the stats for these injuries, it turns out the most dangerous place is your own kitchen, with around 60% of injuries occurring here. This is then followed by your garden, living room, bathroom, and stairs. The safest place appears to be the attic (roof space) and your garage, surprisingly enough.
Before you laugh, this is not an isolated problem in the United Kingdom. It is, in fact, a common theme in many other parts of the world.
In the United States, for example, somewhere in the order of 160,000 Americans are killed every year from some form of a preventable accident. Of these, 75% or so, are home-related. That dwarfs the 40,000, or so, people killed in car accidents in the USA.
Of these, the five preventable injuries that most commonly result in death in the home and community are, in order of most commonly fatal to least commonly fatal:
- Accidental poisoning
- Falling from heights
- Choking or mechanical asphyxiation
With regards to serious injury and deaths from these leading causes, different age groups are more at risk than others. According to one source, among children under age 15, for example, the leading cause of preventable death in the home (in the United States) is mechanical suffocation (for example, a baby getting tangled in bedclothes) followed by drowning.
In contrast, the leading cause of preventable deaths at home among adults 15 to 64 years old is, by far, poisoning (usually driven by opioid drug overdoses in the U.S.). The leading cause of death in the home among adults 65 and older is falls.
For most adult domestic accident injuries or deaths, males tend to be the most likely to get injured or killed in the home, which is probably not much of a surprise since they are most likely to take risks.
When it comes to kitchens being the most dangerous place, the reason is not that hard to decipher. This is because making food is potentially a pretty hazardous affair. Food preparation is most likely the time you’ll be manipulating hot liquids, handling very sharp objects, or coming into contact with potential pathogens on uncooked foods.
When it comes to the garden, as most people tend to do their own gardening, the variety of sharp tools, in some cases very dangerous ones like chainsaws and lawnmowers, greatly increase the chances of getting hurt — potentially seriously.
Food for thought.
What hazards are in your house?
To really hammer home (pun intended) how dangerous your house can be, let’s take a deeper dive into some of the most common hazards you can find there.
The items listed below are the most common causes of injury and death, but many others also exist. For this reason, this list shouldn’t be considered exhaustive.
1. Your house is literally filled with potential poisons and other hazardous materials
You probably never give this a second thought, but your home is filled with many potentially poisonous substances. Cleaning products, medicines, paint thinner, makeup removers, food that has gone bad, and even some plants, are prime examples.
In fact, unintentional poisoning is by far the most common form of household injury or fatality in most countries around the world.
Those members of the household susceptible to poisons do vary, but all members can potentially receive a dangerous dose of something if they are not careful. One of the most at-risk demographics in the home is obviously young children.
Accidental consumption of chemicals can be a very serious problem, but one that can be relatively easily avoided. For this reason, any potentially poisonous substances should always be kept out of reach of children. Put them somewhere high up, or in locked boxes or cabinets if at all possible.
For yourself and other adults, make sure you only ever use chemicals as instructed, and, where applicable, wear gloves, masks, etc., to prevent absorption through the skin, inhalation, or accidental consumption from touching your mouth or nose with your fingers after handling the chemicals. Never mix chemicals if you don’t know what you are doing, and never use highly volatile chemicals indoors without adequate ventilation. For medicines, only ever use these as instructed, and dispose of out-of-date medications safely.
Other serious forms of poisoning include things like carbon monoxide inhalation. This is usually the result of inefficient combustion of gas, wood, oil, or other carbon-based fuels. Carbon monoxide poisoning can be very serious — even fatal. To help mitigate against this, install carbon monoxide detectors and ensure appliances are regularly tested and serviced to ensure they burn as cleanly as possible.
Alcohol and drug abuse are, sadly, another leading cause of poison-related health issues in the home. Whether it be accidental consumption by a young child, overconsumption and the consequential damage to the body chemically, or from injuries sustained while under the influence.
Other, admittedly rarer, issues concern some types of building materials you may find in the home. Lead-based paints, asbestos, etc., can also be present in older enough houses. Exposure to these substances is usually only an issue when the material is disturbed and becomes airborne through drilling, sanding, during building works, etc., so be sure to either seek the advice of hazardous substances professionals or take necessary precautions.
In some areas, biohazards like toxic mold can also be a very serious problem in the home. Usually, a problem for areas of the home that are constantly subject to condensation, toxic mold, as the name suggests, can be a very serious health hazard.
Inhalation of spores from mold genera like aspergillus and stachybotrys can result in some very serious health impacts, ranging from allergies to more serious issues like impaired organ function and even death. Thankfully, mold can be fairly easily controlled through the correct use of ventilation, anti-mold paints, and condensation control.
2. Slips, trips, and falls are more common at home than you think
The next most common form of preventable injury or fatality at home comes from slips, trips, and falls. This can happen in the most unlikely of places and can be very serious for the very young, very old, or generally infirm.
More obvious issues like unlevel stairs, staircases without handrails, wet floors, clutter on floors and stairs, uneven floor surfaces, etc are very common causes for bad falls, but some other less obvious conditions can also increase the likelihood of a bad trip, slip, or fall.
Poor lighting or cold conditions can drastically heighten the potential for a bad fall as people are either less likely to see a hazard or are not thinking as clearly. For the elderly, trips, slips, and falls can be incredibly dangerous events that can either permanently disable them or, if bad enough, cause fatal injuries. But people of all ages can be seriously hurt if they take a bad enough fall. Especially if they are not taking due care of attention — like carrying heavy objects up or down a staircase, for example.
Young children, especially infants and toddlers, are at serious risk of injury from staircases if left unattended. Thankfully, relatively simple devices, like safety gates, can be installed to help mitigate this. And such events can so easily be avoided with fairly little effort.
For example, adding non-slip surfaces to areas like showers, baths, and staircases is a very cheap, and very effective method of helping prevent accidents. Good housekeeping is another major solution to preventing falls, through keeping clutter away from stair treads and floors, cleaning up spilled food and liquids ASAP, and arranging furniture in such a way as to allow plenty of room to move around. Sprawling cables are another major trip hazard, so these should be kept neat and tidy as best you can.
Ensuring adequate lighting in dangerous areas, keeping homes warm, etc, for elderly residents is another vitally important step to preventing serious accidents from occurring. Installing safety measures like stargates for homes with small children and handrails or stairlifts for the infirm is another excellent solution to this potentially very serious problem.
For elderly family members, you should also regularly visit them throughout the week if they live alone. But, of course, you do this anyway, don’t you?
Some tech options do exist to also help mitigate the worst injuries from a fall for the elderly, too. One example, called Helite Hip’Air, is a waist-worn device that deploys airbags should a serious fall occur.
While not the most flattering garment, such devices could potentially save many elderly lives if widely available.
3. Maybe you shouldn’t “do it yourself”
Doing things yourself is a great way to spend your time and improve your abode, but if you don’t really know what you are doing it can also be a potentially very dangerous undertaking. While doing simple things like painting walls or building furniture are less likely to result in serious harm, some other activities really should be completed by professionals.
However, in the United Kingdom, something like 4,000 people are admitted to hospitals each year following a fall related to performing DIY. Of these, 70 people, or so, actually lose their lives because of DIY accidents.
In most cases, the main cause is falling from a height, such as from stepladders or ladders, or off the roof, but others are killed by accidental electrocution or general lack of planning, experience, and knowledge of how to use tools or carry out the works in question.
What’s more, the vast majority of these accidents are completely preventable too.
Electrical work, gas work, and plumbing, for example, are all very common areas that require regular maintenance at home, but these really should be done by trained people. Obviously, simpler works like changing lightbulbs shouldn’t be too difficult (though many people are injured doing this — mostly by falling off a ladder), but even relatively simple work like changing light fittings, changing walls plugs, installing boilers, etc, can obviously be very dangerous.
In most cases, it is also a “false economy” to complete major works on your own. If you do not know what you are doing, the cost to rectify mistakes will probably be more than getting a professional to “get it right” in the first place.
For other basic tasks, wannabe DIYers really should ensure they plan their work correctly. They should also ensure they know how to use the tools they need, and, if using a stepladder or ladder, ensure it is well maintained and secured correctly before use.
Whenever possible, also get someone to help you out if needed — for example, by “footing” a ladder.
3. Accidental fires are another major hazard at home
Another major hazard in the home is the potential for fires to break out. Whether it be from leaving a pan unattended on a stove, leaving candles burning, falling asleep with a lit cigarette, or electrical fires from a faulty appliance, house fires are obviously potentially very dangerous events.
Sadly, however, they are more common than you might think at first. In the United States, for example, household fires account for around 27% of all reported fires every year. Of these, the most common causes are from cooking.
Unsurprisingly, household fires are most common in the autumn and winter (when most people spend more time indoors). All year-round, the most common time that fires at the home start is on the weekends. This appears to be a common theme in other parts of the world like the United Kingdom too.
In the UK, 37,000, or so, house fires occur every year, killing around 200, year-in-year-out. The most common cause of these fires is from electrical equipment misuse — most notably cooking appliances, such as deep fat fryers. All very tragic, but, like many other hazards in the home, most deaths, and serious injuries can be relatively easily avoided. One of the most important things to do is to ensure you have smoke and fire alarms installed. Having them installed has been shown to increase your likelihood of survival by as much as 4 times. But, just having them is not enough, you must ensure they are either connected to the mains or have charged batteries at all times.
Yes, having them go off when you are cooking is annoying, but that is a small price to pay to save your life and that of your family should the worst occur. The next most important thing you can do relates to good housekeeping when it comes to controlling fires.
For example, ensure electrical appliances are disconnected from the wall when not in use, make a habit of unplugging electric heaters when not in use, check cables and electrical equipment for defects, etc. You should also have at least some basic fire fighting gear at home, like an extinguisher or fire blanket in your kitchen, etc.
You should also keep any flammable substances or fire starting equipment (matches, lighters, etc) far out of reach of children too. If you smoke, ensure you only ever smoke outdoors.
5. Kitchens are filled with very sharp things!
Knives are obviously potentially very dangerous things, but you can’t really make your own food without at least one or two. Since these implements are specifically designed to cut things, it is no surprise that they can, and will, cause you injury if you are not careful.
Of all the food items that require a knife to slice, bread or bagels appear to be one of the most dangerous. In some places, like the United States, bagel and bread slicing injuries are common that this has actually earned its own acronym — BRI, or bagel-related injury.
To avoid this kind of injury, especially with bagels, it is always advised to lay the bagel down on a kitchen surface to cut, rather than holding it upright in your hand. Also, believe it or not, it is always best to use a sharp blade rather than a dull one.
The reason for this is that a dulled blade is more likely to slip. You should also always cut away from your fingers and body whenever possible.
Another potential problem with knives occurs when you wash them. For example, it is quite common to fill a sink with soapy water and chuck many things in prior to washing them. This is a potential disaster waiting to happen!
If you do cut yourself accidentally, depending on the severity, be sure to clean the wound thoroughly, dry it, and then wrap it in a sterile bandage while applying pressure on the injury.
If it is particularly serious, elevate the wound and get yourself to a medical professional ASAP.
6. Stovetops can cook you too!
Kitchen stoves are one of the greatest domestic appliance inventions of all time. But, if you are not careful, they can cause you serious harm too.
Whether it be an electric stovetop or a natural gas one, the chances of receiving a pretty nasty burn are all too common. Hot pans, boiling liquids, naked flames, or super-hot surfaces, are all potential hazards that can sear your skin in seconds. If you are cooking with oils or other flammable substances, there is even the chance that you could, potentially, set parts of your body alight. However, this is very much the exception to the rule.
In most cases, people admitted to hospital from kitchen stove-related injuries suffer from minor burns. To avoid the most serious of accidents, make sure you take care when moving pots and pans, and always turn off the stove when not in use. Try to keep a fire extinguisher or fire blanket close by — just in case.
If you have small children in the house, always keep hot fluids towards the back of the stove, and never leave handles poking out over the edge. Children can, and often do, pull them out of curiosity and can end up scalded. If you do receive a burn or scald, try to submerge the burn in cool (not cold) running water and wait for at least twenty minutes. DO NOT APPLY ICE OR COLD WATER as this can cause additional damage. For more serious burns, try to wrap the wound in non-stick wrappings, like clingfilm, and get to the hospital as quickly as you can. You can also treat the pain with some orally administered over-the-counter pain killers.
7. Blenders (and food processors) can blend more than just food…
Blenders are amazing pieces of technology, but they are more than capable of causing you very serious injury. While it might sound like blender accidents are probably freak accidents, they are, in fact, one of the most common forms of household injury seen in hospitals. Over the last decade or so, hospital admissions from blender-related accidents have almost tripled.
This shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise either. One of the “must-haves” for a well-stocked kitchen, most come with very powerful motors that can spin at 18,000 revolutions a minute. This is great for churning up food and liquids, but it is more than enough to potentially blend your extremities too.
Take one example from 2014. A 34-year-old woman was making falafel when a chickpea got caught in the blades. While she had turned off the device, she left the appliance plugging into the wall and, while attempting to free it, accidentally activated the blender.
The result was, well, quite horrific to say the least. Sadly for those injured, accidents can be easily avoided by taking some basic precautions like, for example, only using your fingers once the device is unplugged from the wall.
8. Many people drown in the “safety” of their own home every year too
Believe it or not, many people actually drown at home every year. According to the latest statistics available for the United States, for example, somewhere in the region of 3,600 lost their lives by drowning at home in 2019 alone. Although some of these were in pools, around two-thirds of child drownings in the home occur in the bath, especially for very young children.
But how, exactly, can you drown in your own home? For certain demographics, once again the very young and infirm, it is surprisingly easily done.
Young children, for example, can drown in as little as 2 inches of water. This can occur in the bath or in the garden paddling pool, but any body of water above this level is enough if a child under about 4 is left unsupervised. One of the reasons this can occur is referred to as Big Head — Little Body Syndrome. Very young children fall over a lot and may lack the core strength to get their faces back out of the water, especially if they panic. For this reason, it is vitally important that young children are constantly supervised by their parents, or another responsible adult when playing in paddling pools or during bathtime.
When not in use, always drain paddling pools and baths so as to prevent accidental drowning, too. If you have a hot tub or swimming pool, always ensure they are securely covered as soon as possible after use.
Ponds and other bodies of water should also be fenced off or netted over to prevent young children from falling in, and ensure children can’t turn on hoses if at all possible. Indoors, ensure toilet lids are always closed, and close (or secure) bathroom doors and toilet lids when not in use too.
With regards to adults, the elderly and infirm are obviously most at risk from drowning, especially those at risk of seizures or heart problems. For this reason, they should either be supervised by another family member or consider taking showers rather than baths whenever possible. Passing out while bathing, either from drug or alcohol use or from a medical condition, is another cause of adult drowning accidents.
9. Exercise equipment is fairly likely to injure you
Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to improve your wellbeing and potentially extend your natural life. But, in some circumstances, for example, if done incorrectly, it can be one of the major causes of injury too.
With regards to injuries at home, exercise is another one of the leading causes of hospital admissions every year. From simple strains and sprains to more serious injuries, home exercising can be potentially very dangerous if conducted unsafely. In more recent years, following the COVID-19 outbreak, home exercise injuries have grown enormously as people have turned to exercising at home instead of the gym.
One of the leading causes of injuries is from trips or falls, but others include skeletomuscular damage from weight lifting, blunt force trauma from exercise equipment impacts, etc. Weight lifting while using inappropriate seating, like plastic chairs, has been a growing issue as well. Another major issue, especially over the last few years, has been the use of old, worn, or improvised exercise equipment. From using chairs as a form of makeshift dipping rig to broken dumbells, many of these injuries that occur could easily have been avoided with proper equipment use.
One of the simplest methods of avoiding household injuries from exercising is to keep your training basic and avoid using equipment unless it is designed for that particular use and you actually know how to use it. There are plenty of exercise programs online or via apps that can be used with little, to no equipment needed. Or, alternatively, sign up to a gym and receive proper instruction and training from a personal trainer.
And that, household hazard enthusiasts is your lot for today.
While many homes are filled with potential hazards and dangers, if you take some basic precautions and a dose of common sense, there is no reason your home shouldn’t be a place of solace and safety. The basic thrust of most of the advice above is to not get complacent as accidents can and will happen anywhere you go if you are not careful.
Your home is, indeed, your castle. Just make sure you make it as safe as it can possibly be.