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Home & Garden

Household dangers sometimes overlooked

| Saturday, June 9, 2012, 4:04 p.m.

Stone floors can create an attractive household look, but can be awfully slippery in a bathroom.

A glass-topped coffee table adds to the drama of modern design, but can be a danger if a 3-year-old climbs on top of it.

Matters such as these can create household dangers that sometimes are overlooked or forgotten. It is common to make sure heating and electrical systems are not going to be a problem, but there are plenty of small threats that are part of the warnings of June's National Safety Month.

"It isn't a question of right or wrong," says Russ Kendzior, president of the Texas-based National Floor Safety Institute. "It is more an issue of appropriate vs. inappropriate. Marble floors look great, but put them in a bathroom where they get wet and you might have trouble."

Tess Benham, program manager of the National Safety Council, sees "safety by design" as the best way of avoiding injuries at home. Stair guards to protect children, rugs to offset the slipperiness of floors and firmly mounted handrails along steps all are simple items that never should be forgotten.

"A loose handrail is a repair that should not be ignored," she says.

Greensburg architect Lee Calisti says good design always is a way to avoid problems. For instance, he says he avoids creating a one-step rise anywhere. That change in levels is easy to miss, so he tries to create as least a three- or four-step difference to "create the image of change."

Many matters of safety are required, says Sewickley township home builder Don Horn. But others are a matter of common sense. For example, a three-rise set of steps to a porch does not require a railing by the International Building Code, he says. But who wouldn't want one, he wonders.

Other matters of common sense are not regulated, but should be, says Joseph Santelli from the Monessen tempered glass firm that bears his name. Tempered glass is required in doors and sidelights to allow broken glass to crumble rather that fall in a brutal, cutting manner.

"But a glass coffee table is not and that isn't going to be a problem until a little kid is standing on it and it breaks," he says. "That can be nasty."

Falls total up to trouble

Because of their variety, falls are among the most common household threat.

The safety council reports falls cause 8.7 million emergency room visits each year and that one in three people 65 and older falls each year. Kendzior says they are the largest cause of accidental death for those 75 and older and treatment costs $60 billion a year.

Because of that level of threat, the week of June 17 of National Safety Month has been dedicated to preventing slips, trips and falls.

Those falls range from children falling down steps that are unguarded, Benham says, to older people slipping on tile, stone or even wooden floors.

She and Calisti agree on the danger of that one-step rise. In addition to being part of the nearly invisible stairs, a small change in level from room to room can be a dangerous element of design, they agree.

Horn says it goes back to the concept of the "sunken living room," and agrees the drop can lead to frequent trips.

Besides being cautious about such design dangers, Benham warns about the need to have proper rugs on possibly slippery floors.

The dangers of falls are so great a slip-rating system has been recently added to flooring materials by the American National Standards Institute, Kendzior says. That nonprofit agency develops standards for practices and products that establish levels of performance.

The systems rate flooring 1 through 10, with the higher numbers having better traction.

Looking through the danger of glass

Benham says tempered glass is required for any window below 18 inches above the floor. The crumbling of tempered glass will reduce injury if a child falls into it. Such injuries often are caused by top-heavy kids falling forward into glass, she says.

"You just have to be careful in all cases with your kids," she says. "Window locks can keep them from being opened too much. Naturally, you don't want to place furniture near windows where kids can climb up on them."

While some use of tempered glass is required by code, Calisti says, he thinks it is also important where dangers could exist. A window near a flight of steps, for instance, could be high enough it doesn't need tempered glass, he says. But its placement might make tempered glass useful.

"Spending a little more money seems like a good idea if you can avoid injury," he says.

Santelli agrees, saying tempered glass costs only 15 to 20 percent more than the usual type.

John Drengenberg, consumer safety director of the Chicago-based Underwriters Laboratories, says such small elements of common sense also are keys to safety with electricity around the home.

"Water and electricity definitely do not mix," he says, warning that casual use of electric hair dryers, razors or even entertainment devices pose potential of fatal dangers.

Besides being the safety director, he also is an electrical engineer and warns that little problems such as lights that burn out frequently could indicated bigger circuit problems.

He also emphasizes the need for ground fault circuit interrupters, the outlets that shut off power "in milliseconds" after water touches them.

Being cautious around the home is the key to safety, he says. Carefree attitudes are part of our younger days, he says, but change as responsibilities increase.

"When you are a homeowner, or have a family, you don't ignore safety anymore," he says.

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