Spotting the dangers

More accidents take place in the home than anywhere else, particularly in the kitchen and on the stairs. It’s important to keep your home well-lit and clutter free to avoid falls.

You could:

  • keep a torch or lamp by your bed
  • try installing night lights
  • fit two-way switches at the top and bottom of stairs
  • consider installing adaptations such as grab rails in the bathroom or an extra banister.

Contact your local council or Home Improvement Agency for advice.

You may be able to get a home hazard assessment to check for risks. Ask your GP or local council for information.

Fire prevention

As we get older we become more vulnerable to fires. Keeping up with home maintenance may become more difficult and our ability to detect fires can be reduced. Other risk factors include:

  • reduced mobility
  • sensory impairments, such as loss of hearing, sight, smell or touch
  • some medications
  • alcohol or substance misuse
  • smoking.

The main sources of fires in the home are cookers, candles, electric blankets, fires and heaters. You can reduce your risk if you:

  • fit a smoke alarm and test it regularly
  • unplug appliances at night and put out candles
  • don’t smoke anywhere you might fall asleep
  • use a fireguard
  • don’t dry clothes on fireguards or heaters
  • plan your escape route and keep exits clear.

You can get more safety tips from gov.uk/fire-safety-in-the-home.

Many local fire stations offer free home fire risk assessments for vulnerable people, such as older people who live alone or have mobility problems. You can find the contact details for your local fire and rescue service on the Chief Fire Officers Association website. 

If you have a sensory impairment, contact Action on Hearing Loss, Sense or the RNIB for more support with your specific needs.

Gas and solid fuel safety

You should get all your gas appliances serviced regularly and safety checked every year. If you are renting, your landlord is responsible for this. You can find a registered gas engineer on www.gassaferegister.co.uk.

You may be able to get a free gas safety check from your supplier if you are over pension qualifying age and receive certain benefits.  Contact your supplier to find out if they provide this service.

If your appliance uses solid fuel (coal, wood), you should have it cleaned and serviced regularly by a HETAS  registered installer.

Carbon monoxide

Unsafe gas, oil and solid fuel appliances can produce carbon monoxide (CO) which is extremely dangerous and can be fatal. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are similar to the flu, a virus or food poisoning and may include:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • feeling sick and vomiting
  • tiredness and confusion
  • shortness of breath.

You can’t see, smell or taste carbon monoxide but there may be some warning signs, such as:

  • dark staining on or around appliances
  • a pilot light that frequently goes out
  • a flame that is yellow or orange rather than blue on your gas hob
  • increased condensation inside windows.

If you suspect a leak, call the gas emergency number 0800 111 999.

You should also consider installing an audible carbon monoxide alarm.

Private landlords are required by law to install a CO alarm in rooms where there is a solid fuel appliance. You can get more information about solid fuel safety from the Solid Fuel Association.

Electrical safety

You should keep all your gadgets and electrical appliances clean and in good working order to avoid electrical fires. Check any cables for wear, especially if they are hidden behind furniture, and don’t overload sockets, extension leads or adaptors.

You should also:

  • make sure you buy electrical appliances with a British or European safety mark
  • get your wiring checked by a registered electrician at least every ten years
  • check plugs and wires on appliances
  • unplug appliances when you’re not using them or at night.

If you use an electric blanket you should get it tested after three years and look out for signs of wear, such as scorch marks, worn flex or frayed material. And never use a hot water bottle and an electric blanket together, even if the blanket is switched off. Consider replacing it after ten years. Electric blankets should be recycled with other electrical goods and not put in your domestic waste bin.

You can get more advice and information from Electrical Safety First.

Safety in the kitchen

Some of the most serious accidents happen in the kitchen but there are some simple things you can do to keep yourself safe:

  • try not to carry hot liquids too far – use a tray or a trolley
  • use a cordless kettle and only boil enough water for your needs
  • rearrange your work surfaces so the things you use most are to hand
  • keep counters near the cooker clear so you can put pans down
  • use the back rings on the cooker and hob
  • make sure pan handles don’t stick out
  • keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob.

If you have to leave the kitchen while you are cooking, it’s a good idea to take any pans off the heat. And make sure your kitchen appliances are kept clean and in good working order. A build-up of grease can lead to fires.

You might also want to consider getting some aids that can make it safer to use your kitchen, such as a kettle tipper or long handled grabber.

If a pan catches fire, never throw water over it. Turn off the heat if it’s safe to do so, leave the kitchen and close the door.

Don’t take any risks if there is a fire. Get out and dial 999.

Crime prevention

Most burglaries are opportunistic crimes. Burglars will look for open doors or windows so make sure you lock front and back doors and close windows, even if you only go out for a short time. Good window locks and strong deadlocks can make all the difference.

Other tips include:

  • fit a locking chain and spyhole on your front door
  • lock garages and sheds
  • make sure side gates are locked and store wheelie bins
  • don’t leave keys or ID within easy reach of doors
  • install good outside lighting
  • use timer switches on lights and radios so it seems someone is home when you go out
  • beware of rogue traders and bogus callers.

You can get advice from your local Crime Prevention Officer. Some areas have schemes to help older people. Contact your local police force for more information about crime prevention in your area.

You could also consider joining or setting up a neighbourhood watch scheme.

Living with dementia

Many people living with dementia want to stay in their own home as long as possible but having dementia can place you at higher risk so it’s important to plan ahead. There are a number of ways you can make your home safer and it’s a good idea to get advice, for example from an occupational therapist.

You should:

  • check your home for potential hazards
  • store dangerous substances securely
  • consider home adaptations
  • minimise the risk of fire by checking appliances and installing alarms
  • put plans in place for emergencies
  • consider telecare – such as wearable emergency alarms or sensors to check if you’ve left the gas on. See our factsheet for more information.

The Alzheimer's Society has a useful booklet on safety in the home.

Next steps

You can find contact details for your local council at gov.uk/find-your-local-council

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