Nobody ever expects a home accident to happen, but a slip down the stairs or a kitchen grease fire can happen in the blink of an eye -- even with careful homeowners. In England alone in 2007, nearly 2.7 million people were injured in a home accident [source: RoSPA]. In the United States, injury is the leading cause of death among children and young adults and nearly half of these accidents occur in the home, according to the National Safety Council. That same group states that in 2002, there were more than 33,000 deaths and 8,000,000 disabling injuries that occurred in the home [source: NSC]. That makes one death every 16 minutes and one disabling home injury every four seconds. When it comes to injury and death in home accidents, the leading culprits are falls, toxins and suffocation by ingested object or smoke inhalation. Poisoning is the No. 1 cause of death and claimed the lives of 12,500 in 2002 alone in the United States [source: NSC].
This probably causes you to glance around your house, wondering just what might kill you or injure you. If you don't have a carbon monoxide detector and you have a leaky hot water heater, the "silent killer" could take you out. A small kink in the carpet on your top stair could do it, too. A slippery bathtub, kitchen grease fire or absentminded reach into the garbage disposal could cause you some major problems. So could that dull kitchen knife, the pot of boiling water on the stovetop and the sharp corner of your living room coffee table. Scared yet?
Outdoor accidents involving gutter cleaning and lawn mowers are expected, but the inside of your home has plenty of dangers as well. Anything can happen in any room, but the kitchen and the bathroom are the most likely spots you could suffer an injury or fatality. Those are the two most dangerous rooms in the house.
Each year in the United States alone, more than 100,000 people go to the hospital emergency room due to a scalding injury. These burns are attributed to both the kitchen and the bath. Hot water alone causes 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths each year in the United States [source: Burn Injury Online]. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius); it only takes little more than one second of skin contact with 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.5 degrees Celsius) water to cause third-degree burns.
Dull kitchen knives are actually more dangerous than sharp ones because the worn edge makes it easier for the knife to slip. A knife slip means a nasty cut, stitches or potentially even the loss of one of your more treasured digits.
Modern gas ranges are a little safer than they were in the old days, but it's still possible for loose sleeves and long hair to go up in smoke. A glass casserole dish left on top of a range burner can explode, sending shards of glass in every direction. Harmful cleaning products under the sink can also be a great danger to children, so it's important to always put child safety latches on every accessible cabinet door.
These are all visible killers, but there are also some invisible killers that lurk in your kitchen -- bacteria. Everyone knows that handling raw poultry is serious business and requires cleaning every surface and utensil it's come into contact with. You also probably know about cross-contamination by letting that raw chicken breast come into contact with the salad veggies. What you might not realize is just how much bacteria can be elsewhere in your kitchen. A study conducted by environmental scientists in six countries found that 90 percent of all kitchen cloths failed the test for cleanliness. Kitchen sinks failed at a rate of 46 percent [source: ecology.com].
Sponges are also notorious for soaking up bacteria, which you then spread over anything you wipe with a sponge. E-coli and salmonella are both highly prevalent and neither is necessarily born in the kitchen. They can be brought into your home on pets, by your kids and on the food you buy in the grocery store. You'll most likely just have some nasty stomach issues or a flulike infection with this kind of bacterial exposure, but it can be serious for children, the elderly and pregnant women.
Bathrooms are also notoriously dangerous. First, there are sharp objects like razors, scissors, tweezers and nail files in use. Slips and falls are one of the leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States, and bathrooms are enemy No. 1 due to the water involved in bathing and sink use.
Another danger is the many medicines and prescription drugs often kept in bathrooms. This is mainly an issue with small children, who are prone to put just about anything they can get their hands on into their mouths. Never leave any medication where a child can reach it. Be wary of vitamins as well; they often look like candy and can be toxic to children. But you don't have to be a child to make a mistake. Misuse of prescription meds account for almost 1.5 million poisonings each year in the United States [source: Parenthood]. Just like with kitchen accidents, absentmindedness plays a part and you can easily accidentally mix the wrong medications and ingest a dangerous drug cocktail.
Bathroom cleaning products can also pose a danger. Bleach and ammonia are on the list of common cleaners, and if they're mixed together, they can create a deadly gas. They also can irritate the skin and eyes all on their own. You may have a heavy-duty drain cleaner in your bathroom closet to unclog a stubborn sink. That cleaner is heavy-duty in every way -- some contain hydrochloric acid as the active ingredient. Others use sodium hypochlorite, commonly known as bleach, and both can burn the skin on contact. Even the air freshener you have plugged in may have phenol or formaldehyde in it. Phenol in heavy doses can cause convulsions, respiratory problems and even death, and formaldehyde is a known carcinogen. Avoid accidents with children by not keeping any of these products stored in your bathroom, or even better -- make a switch to safe, all-natural cleaning products.
You also can suffer burns from the water in your shower or bath, just like in your kitchen. Set your hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) or below to prevent scalding accidents. Another no-brainer is to keep all electrical products away from the bath tub. A shock by dropping a hair dryer into a bathtub is a sure way to severely injure or kill you. Also be cautious of using the hair dryer around a wet sink.
To learn about more dangers and how to keep you safe, head to the next page. Just be careful not to slip!
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Accident Statistics." lpch.org, 2009. http://www.lpch.org/DiseaseHealthInfo/HealthLibrary/poison/stats.html
- Fitzgerald, Ed. "Kitchen Safety" ecology.com, July 16, 2008. http://ecology.com/ecology-today/2008/07/16/kitchen-safety/
- "Hasselhoff Injured." sfgate.com, 2006.http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/dailydish/detail?blogid=7&entry_id=6665
- "How to Make Your Bathroom Safe for Everyone." parenthood.com, 2009. http://www.parenthood.com/article-topics/how_to_make_your_bathroom_safe_for_everyone.html
- "How to Prevent and Treat At-Home Accidents." medicalnewstoday.com, June 19, 2005.http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/26379.php
- "Mold and Indoor Air Quality." bre.umd.edu, March-April, 2001. http://www.bre.umd.edu/agtopics/topics-marapr-21.html
- Pennington, Hugh. "The dangers lurking in the kitchen." bbc.co.uk, November 18, 2008.http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7734939.stm
- "Putting Home Safety to Work: How to Implement a Home Safety Program in Your Community." Home Safety Council, 2008. http://www.homesafetycouncil.org/homesafetymonth/hsm_webinar_p002.pdf
- "RoSPA General Accident Statistics." rospa.com, 2007. http://www.rospa.com/factsheets/general_accidents.pdf
- "Scalding / Water Burns." burninjuryonline.com, 2009. http://www.burninjuryonline.com/CM/Custom/SCALDING-INJURIES.asp
- "Slips & Falls: An Evaluation Of Causes and Prevention." issa.com, 2009. http://www.issa.com/data/File/regulatory/Bohm%203.pdf
- "What should I do to make my home as safe as possible for my child?" womenrepublic.co.uk, 2009. http://www.womenrepublic.co.uk/family_pregnancy/home_safe/