Home Modification Resources

Safety for Older Consumers

Safety for Older Consumers Home Safety Checklist book coverEach year, many older Americans are injured in and around their homes. The U.S. Consumer-Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that in 1981, over 622,000 people over age 65 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with products they live with and use everyday.

CPSC believes that many of these injuries 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 checklist to spot possible safety problems which may be present in your home. Check YES or NO to answer each question. Then go back over the list and take action to correct those items which may need attention.

Keep this checklist as a reminder of safe practices, and use it periodically to re-check your home.

This checklist 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. These are highlighted at the beginning of the checklist and short reminders are included in each other section of the checklist.

We encourage photocopying or reprinting this information.


We have provided the following home safety checklist. Please feel free to go through the list, check all "yes" and "no" responses that apply, and finally print out your results


ALL AREAS OF THE HOME

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; woodburning stoves; and your emergency exit plan. 

CHECK ALL CORDS

QUESTIONS

 Are lamp, extension, and telephone cords placed out of the flow of traffic?  

Yes  No 

Are cords out from beneath furniture and rugs or carpeting?  

Yes  No 

Are cords attached to the walls, baseboards, etc. with nails or staples?

Yes  No 

Are electrical cords in good condition, not frayed or cracked?

Yes  No 

Do extension cords carry more than their proper load, as indicated by the ratings labeled on the cord and the appliance?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 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 which run under carpeting may cause a fire.

  • Remove cords from under furniture or carpeting.
  • Replace damaged or frayed cords.

 

Nails or staples can damage cords, presenting fire and schock 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.

 

Overloaded extension cords may cause fires. Standard 18 gauge extension cords can carry 1250 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 sufficient amp or wattage rating.

 

CHECK ALL RUGS, RUNNERS AND MATS

QUESTIONS Are all small rugs and runners slip-resistant?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

CPSC estimates that in 1982, over 2500 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.
  • Purchase rugs with slip-resistant backing.
  • Check rugs and mats periodically to see if backing needs to be replaced.
  • Place rubber matting under rugs. (Rubber matting that can be cut to size is available.)
  • Purchase new rugs with slip-resistant backing.

NOTE: 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.

CHECK THE TELEPHONE AREA

QUESTIONS Are emergency numbers posted on or near the telephone?

Yes  No 

Do you have access to a telephone if you fall (or experience some other emergency which prevents you from standing and reaching a wall phone)?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 In case of emergency, telephone numbers for the Police, Fire Department, and 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.
  • Have at least one telephone located where it would be accessible in the event of an accident which leaves you unable to stand.

CHECK SMOKE DETECTORS

QUESTIONS

 Are smoke detectors properly located?

Yes  No 

Do you have properly working smoke detectors?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 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 6-12 inches below the ceiling on the wall.
  • Locate smoke detectors away from air vents.

Many home fire injuries and deaths 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.
  • Replace any smoke detectors which can not be re aired.

 

NOTE: Some fire departments or local governments will provide assistance in acquiring or installing smoke detectors.

CHECK ELECTRICAL OUTLETS AND SWITCHES

QUESTIONS Are any outlets and switches unusually warm or hot to the touch?

Yes  No 

Do all outlets and switches have cover plates, so that no wiring is exposed?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Unusually warm or hot outlets or switches may infact cause injury.

  • Unplug cords from outlets and do not use the switches
  • Have an electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.

Exposed wiring presents a shock hazard.

  • Add a cover plate.

CHECK LIGHT BULBS

QUESTIONS

 Are light bulbs the appropriate size and type for the lamp or fixture?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

A bulb of too high wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating. Ceiling fixtures, recessed lights, and "hooded" lamps will trap heat.

  • Replace with a bulb of the correct type and wattage. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

CHECK SPACE HEATERS

QUESTIONS

 Are heaters which come with a 3-prong plug being used in a 3-hole outlet or with a properly attached adapter?

Yes  No 

Are small stoves and heaters placed where they can not be knocked over, and away from furnishings and flammable materials, such as curtains or rugs?

Yes  No 

If your home has space heating equipment, such as a kerosene heater, do you understand the installation and operating instructions thoroughly?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

The grounding feature provided by a 3-hole receptacle or an adapter for a 2-hole receptacle is a safety feature designed to lessen the risk of shock.

  • Never defeat the grounding feature.
  • If you do not have a 3-hole outlet, use an adapter to connect the heater's 3-prong plug. Make sure the adapter ground wire or tab is attached to the outlet.

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.

Unvented heaters should be used with room doors open or 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 special risk.

  • Review the installation and operating instructions.
  • Call you local fire department if you have additional questions.

CHECK WOODBURNING HEATING EQUIPMENT

QUESTIONS Is woodburning equipment installed properly?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 Woodburning 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.

NOTE: Some insurance companies will not cover fire losses if wood stoves are not installed according to local codes.

CHECK THE EMERGENCY EXIT PLAN

QUESTIONS

 Do you have an emergency exit plan and an alternate emergency exit plan in case of a fire?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

 Once a fire starts, it spreads rapidly. Since you may not have much time to get out and there may be a lot of confusion, it is important that everyone knows what to do.

  • Develop an emergency exit plan.
  • Choose a meeting place outside your home so you can be sure that everyone has escaped.
  • Practice the plan from time to time to make sure everyone is capable of escape quickly and safely.

* Remember periodically to re-check your home.

KITCHEN

In the kitchen, check the range area, all electrical cords, lighting, the step stool, all throw rugs and mats, and the telephone area.

CHECK THE RANGE AREA

QUESTIONS Are towels, curtains, and other things that might catch fire located away from the range?

Yes  No 

Do you wear clothing (with short or close-fitting sleeves) while you are cooking?

Yes  No 

Are kitchen ventilation systems or range exhausts functioning properly and are they in use while you are cooking?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Placing or storing non-cooking equipment like potholders, dish towels, or plastic utensils on or near the range may result in fires or burns.

  • Store flammable and combustible items away from range and oven.
  • Remove any towels hanging on oven handles. If towels hang close to a burner, change the location of the towel rack.
  • If necessary, shorten or remove curtains which could brush against heat sources. CPSC estimates that 70% of all people who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age. Long sleeves are more likely to catch fire than are short sleeves. Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds.
  • Roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.

Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthful levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fired appliances are in use.

  • Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors or smoke.

CHECK ELECTRICAL CORDS

QUESTIONS

 Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink or range areas?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Electrical appliances and power cords can cause shock or electrocution if they come in contact with water. Cords can also be damaged by excess heat.

  • Move cords and appliances away from sink areas and hot surfaces.
  • Move appliances closer to wall outlets or to different outlets so you won't need extension cords.
  • If extension cords must be used, install wiring guides so that cords will not hang near sink, range, or working areas.
  • Consider adding new outlets for convenience and safety; ask your electrician to install outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. A GFCI is a shock-protection device that will detect electrical fault and shut off electricity before serious injury or death occurs.

For more information on cords, refer to the beginning of the checklist.

CHECK LIGHTING

QUESTIONS Does good, even lighting exist over the stove, sink, and countertop work areas, especially where food is sliced or cut?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Low lighting and glare can contribute to burns or cuts. Improve lighting by:

  • Opening curtains and blinds (unless this causes too much glare).
  • Using the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage for the fixture, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Reducing glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing the blinds or curtains.
  • Installing additional light fixtures, e.g. under cabinet/over countertop lighting.

* (Make sure that the bulbs you use ar the right type and wattage for the light fixture.)

CHECK STEP STOOL

QUESTIONS

 Do you have a step stool which is stable and in good repair?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. CPSC estimates that in 1982, 1500 people over 65 were treated in hospital emergency rooms when they fell from chairs on which they were standing.

  • If you don't have a step stool, consider buying one. Choose one with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.
  • Before climbing on any step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable.
  • Tighten screws and braces on the step stool.
  • Discard step stools with broken parts.

* Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

LIVING ROOM/FAMILY ROOM

In the living room/family room, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, lighting, the fireplace and chimney, the telephone area, and all passageways.

CHECK FIREPLACE AND CHIMNEY

QUESTIONS

 Are the chimneys clear from accumulation of leaves, or other debris that can clog them?

Yes  No 

Has the chimney been cleaned within the past year?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

A clogged chimney can cause a poorly burning fire to result in poisonous fumes and smoke coming back into the house.

  • Do not use the chimney until the blockage has been removed.
  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.

Burning wood can cause a build up of a tarry substance (creosote) inside the chimney. This material can ignite and result in a serious chimney fire.

  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or liscensed professional

CHECK THE PHONE AREA

For information on the telephone area, refer to the beginning of the checklist.

CHECK PASSAGEWAYS

QUESTIONS

Are hallways, passageways between rooms, and other heavy traffic areas well lit?

Yes  No 

Are exits and passageways kept clear?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards.

  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Install night lights.
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds or curtains.

Furniture, boxes, or other items could be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of an emergency or fire:

  • Rearrange furniture to open passageways and walkways.
  • Remove boxes and clutter.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

BATHROOM

In the bathroom, check bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.

CHECK BATHTUB AND SHOWER AREAS

QUESTIONS

Are bathtubs and showers equipped with non-skid slipmats, abrasive strips, or surfaces that are not slippery?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Wet, soapy tile surfaces are slippery and may contribute to falls. Apply textured strips or appliques on the floors of tubs and showers.

CHECK BATHTUB AND SHOWER AREAS

  • Use non-skid mats in the tub or shower, and on the bathroom floor.
  • If you are unstable on your feet, use a stool with a non-skid surface, or grab bars in your shower can help prevent falls.
  • Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair if necessary

CHECK THE WATER TEMPERATURE

QUESTIONS

Is the water temperature 120 degrees or lower?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Water temperature above 120 degrees can cause tap water scalds.

Lower the setting on your hot water heater to "Low" or 120 degrees. If you are unfamiliar with the controls of your water heater, ask a qualified person to adjust it for you. If your hot water system is controlled by your landlords, ask them to consider lowering the setting.

NOTE: If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap.

  • Always check water temperature by hand before entering bath or shower.
  • Taking baths, rather than showers, reduces the risk of a scald from suddenly changing water temperatures.

CHECK LIGHTING

QUESTIONS

Is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

A light switch near the door will prevent you from walking through a dark area.

  • Install a night light. Inexpensive lights that plug into outlets are available.
  • Consider replacing the existing switch with a "glow switch" that can be seen in the dark.

CHECK SMALL ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES

QUESTIONS

Are small electrical appliances such as hair dryers, shavers, curling irons, etc. unplugged when not in use?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hairdryer, can be potentially hazardous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could cause a lethal shock.

  • Unplug all small appliances when not in use.
  • Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged.
  • Consider installing a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.

CHECK MEDICATIONS

QUESTIONS

Are all medicines stored in the containers that they came in and are they clearly marked?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up. Taking the wrong medicine or missing a dosage of medicine you need can be dangerous.

CHECK MEDICATIONS

  • Be sure that all containers are clearly marked with the contents, doctor's instructions, expiration date, and patient's name.
  • Dispose of outdated medicines properly.
  • Request non child-resistant closures from your pharmacist only when you cannot use child-resistant closures.

NOTE:

Many poisonings occur when children visiting grandparents go through the medicine cabinet or grandmother's purse. In homes where grandchildren or other youngsters are frequent visitors, medicines should be purchased in containers with child-resistant caps, and the caps properly closed after each use. Store medicines beyond the reach of children.

BEDROOMS

In the bedroom, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, and areas around beds.

CHECK AREAS AROUND BEDS

QUESTIONS

Are lamps or light switches within reach of each bed?

Yes  No 

Do you ever go to sleep with a heating pad which is turned on?

Yes  No 

Is there a telephone close to your bed?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Lamps or switches located close to each bed will enable people getting up at night to see where they are going.

  • Rearrange furniture closer to switches or move lamps closer to beds.
  • Install night lights.

Never go to sleep with a heating pad if it is turned on because it can cause serious burns even at relatively low settings.

In case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

BASEMENT/GARAGE/WORKSHOP/STORAGE AREAS

In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting, fuse boxes or circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.

QUESTIONS

Are work areas, especially areas where power tools are used, well lit?

Yes  No 

Can you turn on the lights without first having to walk through a dark area?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Power tools were involved in over 5200 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms to people 65 and over in 1982. Three fourths of these were finger injuries. Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will accidentally cut your finger.

Either install additional light, or avoid working with power tools in the area.

Basements, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp or pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous.

  • Keep an operating flashlight handy.
  • Have an electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.

Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can present a serious fire hazard.

CHECK FLAMMABLE AND VOLATILE LIQUIDS

QUESTIONS

Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled. Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.

NOTE: CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.

CHECK FLAMMABLE AND VOLATILE LIQUIDS

QUESTIONS

Are gasoline, paints, solvents, or others products that give off vapors or fumes stored away from ignition?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored, out of living areas in properly labeled, non-safe containers

STAIRS

For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.

QUESTIONS

Are stairs well lighted?

Yes  No 

Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of inside stairs?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.

Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the light fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb larger than 60 watts.)

Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.

Have a qualified person add additional light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.

If no other light is available, keep an operating flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs.

Install night lights at nearby outlets.

Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.

CHECK APPLIANCES AND POWER TOOLS

QUESTIONS

Has the grounding feature on any 3-prong plug been defeated by removal of the grounding pin or by improperly using an adapter?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Improperly grounded appliances can lead to electric shock. Check with your service person or an electrician if you are in doubt.

CHECK FLAMMABLE AND VOLATILE LIQUIDS

QUESTIONS

Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled. Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.

NOTE: CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.

STAIRS

For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.

QUESTIONS

Are stairs well lighted?

Yes  No 

Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of inside stairs?

Yes  No 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.

Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.

Have a qualified person add additional light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.

If no other light is available, keep an operating flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs. Install night lights at nearby outlets. Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.

CHECK THE HANDRAILS

QUESTIONS

Are sturdy handrails fastened securely on both sides of the stairway?

Yes  No 

Do the handrails run continuously from the top to the bottom of the entire flight of stairs?

Yes  No 

Are the coverings on the steps in good condition?

Yes  No 

Can you clearly see the edges of the steps?

Yes  No 

Is anything stored on the stairway, even temporarily?

Yes  No 

 

RECOMMENDATIONS The handrail should provide a comfortable grip and should always be used when climbing up or going down the steps.

  • Repair broken handrails.
  • Tighten fixtures that hold handrails to the wall.
  • If no handrails are present, install at least one handrail (on the right side as you face down the stairs).

If the handrail doesn't extend continuously the full length of the stairs, people who are not aware of this might think they have come to the last step when the handrail stops. Misjudging the last step can cause a fall. A handgrip should be available for even one step.

  • While using the stairs, try to remember that if the handrail begins beyond the first step or ends before the last step, you must be especially careful.
  • Replace a short handrail with a longer one.

Worn treads or worn or loose carpeting can lead to insecure footing, resulting in slips or falls.

Worn or torn coverings or nails sticking out from coverings could snag your foot or cause you to trip.

Falls may occur if the edges of the steps are blurred or hard to see.

  • Paint edges of outdoor steps white to see them better at night.
  • Add extra lighting.
  • If you plan to carpet your stairs, avoid deep pile carpeting or patterned or dark colored carpeting that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly.

Once you have completed the checklist, please feel free to print out and share your results with others.

 

A project of the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification,
in affiliation with the Fall Prevention Center of Excellence, funded by the Archstone Foundation.
Located at the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center, Los Angeles, California 90089-0191 (213) 740-1364.