How to Avoid Common Injuries in Your Home and Yard

7 min read  |  July 28, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

For most of us, our home is our sanctuary; it’s where we retreat to let our guard down. Ironically, many injuries occur in the very place we feel safe. According to the National Safety Council (ASC), 52,500,000 people suffered “nonfatal medically consulted” injuries in 2021. That same year, about 175,500 preventable injury-related deaths occurred in homes and communities.

The key word here is “preventable.” 

Often, injuries can be avoided by thinking ahead and using common sense. And while working in the yard is enjoyable for many, we still need to practice safety precautions when maintaining a landscape, especially during storm season.

Few individuals are more qualified to speak on this topic than David M. Lang, D.O., FACOEP, FACEP, clinical chief and medical director of Emergency Medicine at the University of Miami Health System. 

Dr. Lang says that sprains, strains, and fractures from falls are some of the most common injuries he treats in the ER. According to the NSC, falls accounted for 25% of fatal accidents in homes and communities in 2021. 

Before you scale a ladder to change a lightbulb or clean the gutters, ensure it’s sturdy and resting on level ground. It never hurts to have a “spotter” or helper to hold the ladder steady. Remember – certain medications cause dizziness; age also affects balance

“People should realize their limitations at any age and take precautions. The immortality of youth fades quickly,” Dr. Lang says.

Some hazards lurk at ground level – slippery throw rugs, electrical cords, clutter, and even pets can cause us to trip and fall. 

Although fall risk increases with age, the CDC says that falls are the leading cause of accidents in children. It’s not just tree climbing that gets kids in trouble. Jumping, running, and climbing on unstable furniture can cause a tumble. Protect your kids with these fall prevention tips

Dr. Lang says back and joint injuries are not unusual in the ER.

Without a strong core, it’s easy to strain your back while lifting or moving heavy objects.

To maintain correct form while lifting:

  • Keep a wide base of support with your legs
  • Squat
  • Bend your hips and knees 
  • Keep your back straight
  • Pick up the object, then slowly straighten your hips and knees
  • Hold the load close to your body at the level of your belly button

A back brace won’t protect your back if you lift something too heavy but it will remind you to keep your back straight. Ultimately, it’s better to ask for help than strain your back. 

Lacerations, or cuts, are next on the list and more apt to occur during storm cleanup, Dr. Lang says. Go to the ER if your wound is large, deep, or open, especially if the cut affects muscles or tendons. Facial injuries also require emergency care. If compression and bandaging don’t stop the bleeding, go to the ER or call 911. 

When should you call a professional for household projects?

You may feel qualified to do it yourself, but Dr. Lang believes that roofing, electrical work, and major plumbing projects are better left to professionals. He feels the same about hurricane cleanup, especially if it involves removing fallen trees or tearing down unstable structures such as walls, sheds, pools, or driveways. Even if you’re skilled with a chainsaw, save the bigger jobs for a licensed, insured tree expert.

If you do tackle cleanup tasks, wear safety goggles and protective clothing, including closed-toe shoes, stay hydrated, and ask a friend or family member to assist. Steer clear of power lines and standing water. 

Regarding hurricane season hazards, Dr. Lang says we should be aware of “the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning when running generators if the power is out during and after a storm. If using a generator, put carbon monoxide detectors in the house.” 

Generators should always be used outside, at least 20 feet from the house. Exhaust should not be directed toward windows, doors, or other openings. 

Every home has easily overlooked hazards.

Some household items are so commonplace we tend to forget their potential harm. Again, the NSC has some startling statistics: poisoning is the leading cause of accidental death in homes and communities.

Homes with young children (and homes that kids visit) should keep house and garden chemicals out of children’s reach. Keep the Poison Control Center number, 1-800-222-1222 posted on the refrigerator. When grandparents come over, make sure their medications are well out of reach. 

Take a look at your medicine cabinet or nightstand. Are there any medications you need to keep safe from inquisitive teens? It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Do you have an elderly relative taking several prescription drugs?

They might need help with medication management – either remembering to take the medicine at the same time each day or understanding side effects and drug interactions. Speak to their physician and pharmacist if you need guidance.  

Childproofing, 101

Babies and toddlers explore the world through touch and taste. Put potentially dangerous items – chemicals, medication, sharp or small objects – out of harm’s way. It sounds silly, but it’s not a bad idea to crawl around the house to see what’s within reach. 

To prevent suffocation and strangulation, keep small children away from plastic bags, excess bedclothes and pillows, window blind cords and electrical cords. 

If anyone in your home owns a firearm, ensure it is safely locked, and remove the bullets before locking it away. In 2020, firearm injuries were the leading cause of death among children in the United States. 

Basically, think like a kid. Everything – from batteries to wall sockets is fair game to their curious minds. 

Keep your cool, safely.                      

Swimming pools are a fun way to survive a sweltering summer, but watch children closely – drowning is a leading cause of death in children aged 1 -15. This advice is especially important during family gatherings when distractions abound. 

To prevent head injuries and broken bones, discourage kids from running on wet, slippery surfaces and forbid diving into the shallow end. Another way to prevent head injuries is to outfit kids and teens with helmets for biking and skateboarding

When does an injury require emergency care?

While urgent care centers and walk-in clinics can treat some injuries, other medical problems require emergency care: 

  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Large, deep or open wounds affecting muscles or tendons and facial wounds
  • A broken or fractured bone that appears deformed or protrudes through the skin
  • Suspected accidental poisoning: call 911 or the Poison Control Center, 1-800-222-1222 
  • A suspected drug overdose requires a call to 911
  • Obstructed breathing, or an obstructed airway, requires a call to 911 

Unless a head injury is severe, it can usually be treated in an urgent care center. The attending physician will then determine the possibility of a concussion and refer you to an emergency department center if necessary. 

For a detailed list of minor injuries or medical emergencies, read Should I Go to the ER or Urgent Care? 

Stock your first aid kit.

According to the American Red Cross, a family of four should stock the following items in first aid kits stored at home and in the car. (Replace aspirin, ointments, and wipes regularly if stored in a hot car.)

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5×9 inches) 
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes) 
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch) 
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets 
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets 
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each) 
  • 1 emergency blanket
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pairs of non-latex gloves, large size
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets 
  • 1 3-in. gauze roll bandage
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide) 
  • 5 3-in. x 3 in. sterile gauze pads 
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4×4 inches)  
  • Digital oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages 
  • Tweezers 
  • Emergency first aid instructions

Nancy Moreland is a regular contributor to the UHealth Collective. She has written for several major health care systems and the CDC. Her writing also appears in the Chicago Tribune and U.S. News & World Report.

Tags: avoid injury, Dr. David Lang, emergency care in Miami, life threatening, strains and sprains

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