Don't fall for it

How to be safer in your home and surroundings

Page last updated: 06 May 2011

The following section lists some common changes to your surroundings that will help increase safety. When you are checking your home for these, it is a good idea to get help from somebody who has not seen your home before. They may spot problems that you may not notice, having lived with them for so long.

Remove general hazards

General hazards are things like an electric cord across a walkway. They are dangerous for young and old. Removing general hazards will benefit all people who use that area, not only you.

Common problem areas are lighting, tripping, slipping and structural hazards.

1) Lighting

Changes to our eyesight with age were discussed earlier in the booklet (page 9). These changes mean that it is important to make it easy for your eyes to do their best.

What you can do:
  • Increase the amount of light, particularly in frequently used areas and at night. Don’t forget to turn lights on before you walk around. (Low energy light globes will help to keep the power cost down.)
  • At night, leave lights on in the passage way and other places you might walk.
  • Light switches should be easy to reach. Two way light switches can help in corridors or rooms where there is more than one entry, and on stairs.
  • Decrease daytime glare with net curtains or blinds in your windows.
  • Make obstacles or hazards stand out. For example, highlight the edges of steps with brightly coloured tape or paint; have your furniture a contrasting colour to the walls and floor (for example dark blue chairs, off-white wall, and light blue floor).
  • Avoid heavily patterned floor coverings as they can make it hard to see small obstacles or the edges of steps, because they ‘blend in’.
  • Outside, try to remove anything that throws shadows across paths.
Where you can find help or advice:
  • Commonwealth Carelink
  • An occupational therapist (OT)
  • Vision Australia
  • Independent Living Centre
  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs
See page 29 for contact details.


2) Slipping

Slipping can be caused by:
  • unsafe footwear, such as loose slippers or narrow heels
  • slippery surfaces such as wet or polished floor, or spills of fat or food
What you can do:Top of page
  • Wear safe shoes (refer to page 10).
  • Use non-slip mats in wet areas, such as the shower and bathroom.
  • For larger wet areas it may be better to have the whole floor/bath/shower treated to make it non-slip, or replace the floor with non-slip material.
  • Use a hand rail or a seat in the shower or bath.
  • Avoid talcum powder on tiles, vinyl or wooden floors - it makes them very slippery.
  • In the kitchen or eating areas, pick up dropped food and mop up spills as soon as they happen.
  • Do not polish floors.
  • Non-skid tape is very useful both for highlighting edges, and providing extra grip on steps and stairs.
  • Remove mats and rugs or make sure they have either non-slip backing or are secured with double sided tape.
  • Keep outside paths clear of moss, slime and fallen leaves.
  • Make sure the walking surfaces in and around the home have non-slip surfaces.

Where you can find help or advice
  • Look in the Yellow Pages under ‘Floor Treatment Products’
  • Non-slip paint and backing is available from hardware stores
  • Contact the Independent Living Centre
  • Talk to an occupational therapist (OT)
  • The Department of Veterans’ Affairs
See page 29 for contact details.


3) Tripping

As we lose the ‘spring in our step’ we don’t pick up our feet as much when moving around, so we are more inclined to trip over even small things.
What you can do:
  • Keep walkways clear – remove clutter.
  • Tuck electric cords under furniture or around skirting boards. Tape them down. A power board can reduce the number of long cords around a room.
  • Fit a ‘draught excluder’ to the bottom of the door, rather than use a ‘door sausage’ that can be tripped over.
  • Remove, or mark, even small changes in floor level with contrasting colour or tape so they are easily seen.
  • Check outdoor paths for cracks and uneven areas.
  • Make sure quilts, bed-spreads and curtains do not fall across the floor.
  • Remove mats and rugs, or have them well secured. Get rid of mats that curl or fold over easily.
  • Remove or repair torn or stretched carpet.
  • Choose outside door mats with sloping edges.
  • Don’t leave things lying around the garden – roll up the hose.
  • Dogs and cats like to be close. Check where your pet is before you move.

4) Change structural hazards

These are built-in features of the home that can be a danger. An example is a step at the entrance to the shower that you have to step over with wet feet when getting out of the shower.

Other structural hazards develop because the house is not maintained, for example a broken step.
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Think about changes or additions to the structure of the house that may make it safer and easier to manage.

What you can do:
Plan to keep your home well maintained. Think about the safest and most convenient place in your home for each thing you do. For example it may be better to move the bedroom to the spare room so that it is nearer to the toilet for when you get up at night, or consider a commode chair.

Another example is to have all the items you need to make a cup of tea or coffee near the kettle and in a convenient place between waist and shoulder height.
  • Re-hang the bathroom and toilet doors so that they open outwards (if you fall, someone can reach you).
  • Install rails in the bathroom and toilet, and near front and back door and any steps.
  • Have soap holders recessed so that you will not hit them if you slip in the shower/bath.
  • Consult an occupational therapist about eliminating the “hob” or step into the shower if possible.
  • Talk to an occupational therapist about equipment that may make things easier and safer. For example, using a bath board or bath seat if your shower is over the bath, or using blocks to raise
  • the bed height.
Where you can find help or advice
  • Your local council may be able to assist you with home maintenance through a Home and Community Care (HACC) program
  • The Independent Living Centre
  • An occupational therapist (OT)
  • Get a home safety checklist from an occupational therapist
See page 29 for a list of support services for older people.


5) Remove personal hazards

Apart from general hazards that are a problem for most people, there are also personal hazards. These are things that affect a person because of their particular health problems.

For example, someone with cataracts can be troubled by glare that is not a problem for other people. People with arthritic knees find low chairs and sofas a particular
problem.

Changing things in the environment can often make the person not only safer, but more independent. To cater for a person’s particular needs it is wise to get some expert advice.

Where you can find help or advice:
  • Contact an occupational therapist
  • The Independent Living Centre
See page 29 for a list of support services for older people.


6) Public Places

Hazards also exist in environments away from your home. These include uneven, broken, loose or wet footpaths and poor lighting.

To keep yourself as safe as possible:
  • Don’t rush, take your time.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings, including unsafe surfaces, obstacles, animals, children or cyclists. Scan the area before walking.
  • If you use a walking aid, glasses or hearing aid, always remember to take them with you.
  • Wear safe shoes (see page 10).
  • Take extra care on buses, trams and trains. Have your fare or ticket ready before getting on and ask the driver not to move off until you are seated.
  • If you notice a hazard in a public place (e.g. footpath or shopping centre) you should consider reporting it to the appropriate authority.
  • Many councils and shopping centres are grateful to be informed. This may prevent someone else from falling.
  • A walking aid can remind others to be more careful and considerate of you.
  • Take a walking stick on an outing Enjoy your shopping, go when it is not so busy