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Safety around the home

Use our checklists as a starting point to think about the basic safety aspects of your home – such as lighting, heating, power sockets and furniture.
8 min read
In this article
General safety guidelines Lighting and light bulbs Heating Power sockets Windows and curtains
Furniture and storage Fire safety Flood safety Access to important facilities

General safety guidelines

Simple actions, such as de-cluttering a room, can make a big difference to how easily and freely you can move around. If you use a walking aid, ensure that getting from the doorway to the bed is as straightforward as possible.

  • Consider re-positioning furniture or maybe even taking away non-vital furniture if this will make it easier to enter, exit and move around the bedroom. This may be particularly useful if you use a walking aid. Our article common causes of falls will help you consider why falls happen and how to help prevent them.
  • If a double bed isn’t necessary, replace it with a single bed to free up space.
  • Getting up during the night to go to the toilet is sometimes a concern for less mobile people; in which case, positioning a commode near the bed can be helpful if you can’t get to the bathroom in time.
  • Having a phone beside the bed will allow you to summon help if there is an emergency or if you become unwell during the night.
  • Looking at how to improve access in and out of the home is also important and will help to make trips out of the home easier. Read more in our articles in home adaptations.

Lighting and light bulbs

It’s worth considering how well your current lighting is working, as accidents can be avoided simply by having clearly lit rooms and spaces.

  • Make sure there's enough lighting throughout the home, not forgetting hallways, stairways and any walk-in cupboards and pantry spaces. Ensure that light bulbs have a high voltage and a shade that doesn’t diffuse the light level. Are light switches in a convenient place to be used when entering and leaving a room?
  • Choosing the right light bulbs is an important factor when improving your lighting. Read the Which? review guides to five tips for choosing the right light bulb and LED lights explained to help you.
  • Consider introducing task lighting to improve your comfort in certain situations (for example, when you’re reading in a chair or in bed). Daylight bulbs can also provide more clarity.
  • Check that light switches throughout the property are easy to find and in a convenient position for use. If this isn’t the case, consider having additional light switches fitted by an electrician.
  • In addition to the main lights, think about positioning lamps within easy reach of frequently used spaces: for example, next to a favourite reading chair in the living room or on a bedside table.
  • If the plug-in lamps have switches that aren’t easy to access, you could install remote-controlled socket adaptors. These devices allow you to turn off electrical equipment with a remote control.
  • Light bulbs that rate high on the colour rendition index (a numerical scale from 0 to 100 used in lighting to indicate how a light source will make the colour of an object appear to human eyes) are especially valuable for older people.
  • Keep a spare stock of light bulbs in a place that’s easy to access.
  • Wall-mounted, battery-operated lights can be a better and cheaper alternative to installing new electrical wiring. These come in a variety of styles and are operated by switch, pull cord or even movement sensors. They are particularly useful for cupboards and outdoor spaces.
  • If you get up in the night, consider fitting indoor motion sensors to activate lights or think about the benefits of smart technology, which will enable you to switch lights on and off from the security of your bed.
  • In the bedroom, if the main bedroom light switch is not near the bed, use a bedside lamp to illuminate the room once the main light is switched off. A touch-sensitive bedside lamp is easier to turn on in the middle of the night than a lamp with a standard switch. Alternatively, consider fitting an additional main light switch that can be turned on and off from the bed.

Heating

Make sure that your home is adequately heated as keeping warm becomes increasingly important in later life. If central heating is not available, investigate electrical heaters that have a low surface temperature.

It’s especially important that your bedroom is warm enough before getting out of bed. If using central heating, set the timer on the system so the heating comes on every morning at least one hour before you get up.

For more useful tips, read our guide to keeping warm in cold weather.

 

 

Power sockets

 

Bending down low to reach power sockets can be challenging if you have reduced flexibility, particularly if the sockets are positioned behind furniture. Arthritic fingers and hands can make gripping plugs just as difficult. Here are some options that may help.

  • Wall-mounted socket extensions: these can be fixed at a convenient height to save bending down. If you prefer to pull plugs out of the socket when the device isn’t in use, use hooks or clips to hold the plug and cable in place – otherwise plugs can fall to the floor, and you will have to bend to pick them up. Alternatively, ask an electrician to install additional sockets at a more convenient height.
  • Plug pulls: self-adhesive handles can be attached to plugs, making them easier to remove from the socket.
  • Remote controlled sockets: these plug into existing sockets and can be used with any device that has a three-pin plug. Using a remote control handset, you can turn the devices on or off from the comfort of your own chair, as long as the plugs remain in the remote-controlled sockets. You can buy these sockets in packs of up to four with a single handset that controls each socket individually.

Windows and curtains

Daylight and fresh air are essential to health and wellbeing. If you find it difficult, or impossible, to go outside regularly, there are ways to help access as much air and light as possible – safely.

  • Windows that are high up may be hard to reach and could be a potential hazard. A good solution is to fit automatic window openers. These often come with a remote control keypad, which can be mounted on a wall in a convenient location.
  • Alternatively, use a window pull, a long-handled tool with one end designed to loop around window handles or levers, making them easier to reach and open. They come in various lengths; buy one that will allow you to reach the window easily.
  • Ensure that curtain tracks are well-maintained and it doesn’t require excessive effort or strength to pull open the curtains. You may also wish to consider curtains or blinds operated by a pull-cord, as these are generally easier to use.
  • As with windows, curtains can be set to open and close automatically (and remotely) by fitting an automatic curtain control. These devices can either be operated by a push-button handset, or the curtains can be set to open and close at specific times each day.

Furniture and storage

Think about re-positioning furniture – or taking away unimportant furniture – if this will make it easier to enter, exit or move around certain rooms. This may be particularly sensible if you're using a walking aid and you’re thinking about potential trip hazards.

For items unavoidably stored in high places, have a small and sturdy stepladder to hand. Ensure that whichever one you choose provides good support with a handrail and slip-resistant feet to help maintain balance.

Fire safety

Fire is one of the biggest risks when it comes to safety in the home, and indoor flooding can also cause a great deal of damage and stress. There are things you can do to make sure the risk is minimised in your home.

Most Fire and Rescue departments in the UK offer free Home Fire Safety Checks; you may also be eligible to have free smoke alarms fitted in your home. Contact your local fire department for further information. 

In the meantime, there are many quick and easy things you can do to make a real and immediate difference to fire safety.

  • Ensure there are smoke detectors around the home, and that they are in good working order. Read the Which? Home & garden guide to smoke alarms for more guidance. We recommend that you have one smoke detector on each floor of your home.
  • Draw up a plan of what you would do in the event of a fire.
  • It’s always a good idea to have a phone beside the bed in case of emergency.
  • If you have a hearing impairment, particularly if you need to wear a hearing aid, then consider smoke detectors with a visual alert and/or a vibrating pad that sits under the pillow (in case of an incident during the night).
  • Some smoke, heat and gas detectors can be connected directly to a call centre, providing additional support and help in the event of a fire or other emergency.
  • If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, due to poor mobility or other health problems, discuss this with the local fire service or an occupational therapist, who can offer specific guidance on what to do in the event of a fire.

There are many quick and easy things you can do to make a real and immediate difference to fire safety.

Flood safety

Left unattended, a bathtub or sink can quickly overflow.

Ensure that you know where to find the mains water stop tap – and how to use it. Check to see that the tap is easily accessible, and is neither blocked nor obstructed. There are a number of devices specifically designed to prevent baths (or sinks) overflowing, or to sound an early warning alarm if this happens.

You can read more information about bath plugs and other memory aids in additional bathing aids.

Access to important facilities

Ensure you can access and easily reach the:

  • mains water stop tap
  • fuse box
  • electricity meter
  • gas meter
  • isolator switch for the cooker.

If this isn't possible, investigate having them moved or involve someone else who you can brief to switch them off – a neighbour, for example.

Displays on all the facilities should also be clear and easy to read. Prepayment meters should be in good working order and simple to operate.

Moving, adapting, replacing or installing any of these facilities should only be done by a qualified professional, such as a plumber for the water meter and an electrician for the fuse box. You should never attempt to undertake these tasks yourself.

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Last updated: 18 Sep 2018