YOU'LL BE AFRAID TO STAY HOME AFTER YOU READ Heil Ewart's new book, "Unsafe as Houses" (Blandford Press, 1981).
According to Ewart, "More people die from accidents in the home than are killed on the roads or at work each year" and ". . . falls account for almost half the accidents that occur in the home."
Another big home killer is fire, although it's usually the smoke and not the flame that kills. Says Ewart: "Eighty percent of the people who die in fires often have no burn marks on them. They are killed by the toxic inhalation of smoke and fume long before the flames ever touch them."
Although not as high on the list as fires and falls, glass also accounts for a percentage of home accidents. Homes today are full of glass -- in large picture windows, in patio doors, bath and shower enclosures, overhead glazing and low-level glass screens. Most accidents with glass occur when people think a glass door is open when it is closed.
Ewart believes that most of these accidents -- falls, fires, glass -- can be prevented if the home dweller takes some precautions.
With the money situation as tight as it is, more and more people are making their own house renovations. When doing them, however, it's important that you proceed with care, particularly when working around electrical wires. Ewart recommends: ". . . when drilling holes in the walls, remove the relevant lighting and power fuses . . . use a hand drill. If you need to use a powerdrill, the electrical supply must come from an area of the house where the electricity has not been switched off. A safety-approved extension lead will be needed."
Another common house hazard is the pan fire. To avoid this, Ewart suggests the obvious: Remove the pan from the heat before leaving the kitchen. Never fill a pan more than one-third full of oil or fat, he continues. Never heat oil to a blue haze. If the oil or fat starts to smoke, then it is overheating and about to ignite. Never put a lid on a deep-fat pan when heating or frying -- this can lead to condensation dripping into the hot fat and can cause a fire.
To put out a pan fire, says Ewart, do not pick it up and take it to the sink. The water from the faucet will send the fire flames shooting upward to the ceiling. I made this mistake once while babysitting as a 13-year-old. The flames not only headed for the ceiling, but traveled by way of the kitchen curtains. The fire went out on its own once it was removed from the water. But paying for new curtains when you only make 50 cents an hour is not easy.
When putting out a pan fire, Ewart suggests turning off the heat and covering the pan with a lid or large plate or wet towel. If using a wet towel, wet it under a tap and wring it out quickly, until just damp. Then use the towel to smother the fire. The towel should be held at an angle of about 45 degrees to the pan, sloping upwards in front of you to protect you from the flames. If you place the towel flat down on the pan, the flames will fan out and burn you severely. "On no account put a dripping or very wet cloth over the pan, or try to use water to put out the fire. Burning oil or fat will cascade all over you and all over the kitchen."
An alternative to the towel method is to use one of the approved fire blankets now on the market.
Once you have put out the fire, don't remove the covering since there's a possibility that the oil or fat will re-ignite. Leave the pan and its cover for a half-hour or until it has completely cooled down.
Living in a house requires that the resident have some basic knowledge of a domestic wiring system. One very common home maintenance problem is the electrical shock that comes from coming into contact with faulty and unearthed appliances. Ewart explains that a domestic wiring system consists of three wires: "The live wire carries electricity from the generator at the power station, the neutral wire takes it back. And the earth wire serves as the vital safety wire, by taking the current safely to earth if a short circuit should occur. This can happen if the live wire touches the frame of an appliance. Instead of the current passing through us, the circuit is completed via the earth wire."
Ewart's diagrams of the basic plug with old and new wiring color coding, as well as his diagrams of fuses, are simple but useful.
Occasionally Ewart's advice tends to be obvious, such as "Great danger is caused by people dozing off while smoking in an armchair or in bed. Never do this."
Other points to note:
* Don't overload sockets. "Ideally, there should be a separate socket outlet for every appliance. If you make a habit of using two appliances from one point, you will find it more convenient and much safer to have the single socket replaced by a double socket . . ." rather than using too many appliances from an adapter placed in a single socket.
* To prevent falls on staircases, lay carpets with the pile sloping upward. Make sure it's securely fixed and held with stair rods, if these are fitted. Frayed or worn carpets catch toes and cause falls -- as do rugs or mats at the bottom of the stairs. It is a fallacy that rubber mats prevent slipping. In practice, they do quite the reverse, according to Ewart.
* Use safer glazing materials when you install glass at home. Although they may cost more to purchase, they cost no more than ordinary glass to install, and once put in they are much less likely to be broken. If you're buying a new house, the difference in cost between safe and unsafe glazing in neglible. Ewart reminds the reader that "ordinary or annealed glass shatters and its dagger-like slivers can cause death or injuries that result in handicaps or scarring for life."
"Tempered or toughened glass," says Ewart, "is made by taking ordinary annealed glass and putting it through a simple heat-treatment process . . . The end result is a sheet of glass up to five times tougher than the original annealed sheet."
Tempered glass is break-safe, meaning if it does break under an exceptionally strong blow, the entire sheet shatters into thousands of small and relatively harmless pieces. The chances of anyone being cut or pierced are minimal. Ewart recommends tempered glass for large panels in doors, glass surrounding doors and low-level glazing. Also use it in shower and bath enclosures to prevent slipping.
* In the garden, treat the lawn mower "with respect." Before mowing, pick up loose stones, glass, twigs, nails, bits of wire and other objects that could get caught in the mower. Always wear gloves and sensible shoes (not sandals or bare feet). Never fill oil mowers in a shed or garage -- fill them outside to avoid the danger of explosive fumes. Always disconnect the spark plug cable before refilling. And before touching the blades to clean them, switch off and unplug the mower or hedge trimmer. Keep children away from them.
* Ewart recommends fencing to keep children in the garden and off the street. Lily ponds and goldfish ponds should have some form of fencing to prevent children from falling into them. If you have a swing in your garden, line it with a soft, round-edged, shock-absorbent material. Hundreds of accidents are caused each year by hard-edged seats of swings striking children's heads, according to Ewart. One inexpensive way to edge a hard seat is with an old rubber car tire. Teach children to climb trees safely if they have a tree house.
* Ewart points out that additional safeguards may be necessary at home for the elderly and the disabled. Little things should be considered, like the design of chairs (higher rather than lower), leather-soled shoes rather than rubber-soled, and sensible seats for use in the bath. A hot-water bottle should not be used in bed without a cover around it.
Ewart also devotes 40 pages to first aid in the home, including what to do for heart attacks, electric shock, drowning, choking, suffocation, unconsciousness, poisoning, burns, splinters and eye injuries.