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10 Ways to Keep Your Family Safe

Recent world events may have you feeling especially concerned about your family's safety. The biggest threats to safety, though, are very close to home. According to the National Safety Council (NSC), motor vehicle accidents, falls, accidental poisoning, drowning, and choking are the leading causes of unintentional death in the United States. Don't overlook some of the easiest ways to keep your family safe. These 10 tips can help.

1. Buckle up. In the event of a car accident, this simple act can mean the difference between life and death. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 33, according to the NSC. About every 12-1/2 minutes, someone in the United States is killed because of an auto accident. Every 14 seconds, someone suffers a disabling injury. Seat belts save the lives of thousands of people every year.

2. Use child safety seats. Using a child safety seat can reduce the risk for fatal injury by 71 percent in children under age 1. Be sure to install the seat properly—close to 80 percent are not installed correctly. The safest place for a child safety seat is in the middle of the back seat. If a child must ride in the front passenger seat, the airbag should be turned off. For more information on how to install car seats, visit www.carseat.org.

3. Don't drink and drive. Consider this: Approximately 40 percent of auto accident deaths involve drinking. In drunk-driving deaths involving children, 64 percent of the children are riding in the drunk driver's car. About 3 in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol-related traffic accident at some point in their lives, the NSC says. If you will be drinking, designate a nondrinker to drive. Or call a cab.

4. Wear a helmet. Always use a helmet when biking or when playing sports, such as football, hockey or baseball. About 800 bicyclists die each year in crashes involving motor vehicles, the NSC says. A head injury often results in irreversible damage to the brain. Wearing a helmet can cut the risk for head injury by 85 percent. Enforce strict rules with your kids—no helmet, no playing the sport or biking. Set a good example by wearing your own helmet when biking.

5. Prevent falls. More than 50 percent of all falls occur in the home. The CDC reports that almost 14,000 people age 65 and older die each year of falls.

Children are almost as likely as seniors to be injured in a fall, but you can take steps to help keep both older adults and children safely upright. Keep your home clear of tripping hazards, such as electrical cords, throw rugs, and toys on the floor. Keep stairs free of clutter and place handrails on both sides of all stairs. Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs. Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower. Install grab bars next to the toilet and in the tub or shower.

Never leave a baby alone on a bed or changing table and use the safety straps on high chairs and strollers. Install gates to prevent access to stairways and balconies. And make sure spindles on staircases are four inches apart or less to prevent an infant's head from slipping through them.

6. Watch those windows. Screens are designed to keep insects out, not children in. If you install guards that keep children from opening windows more than a few inches, make sure that the guards can be released easily in case of fire. Periodically check your windows to make sure that they're not painted, nailed or swollen shut.

7. Prevent poisoning. Poisoning is a leading cause of death in the home, the NSC says. Poisoning claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people in 2001, the most recent year statistics are available. People at highest risk for poisoning at home are those ages 25 to 44. The main substances that cause accidental death are medicines, poisonous houseplants, cleaning products, and pesticides. Keep your medications locked away from inquisitive young fingers and always tighten child-resistant caps properly. Move your cleaning products to cabinets with safety latches. Keep your local poison control center phone number close to the phone.

8. Be watchful near water. More than 4,000 people drown every year, and children up to age 4 are the most susceptible. Never leave your child alone at a pool or beach or in a bathtub. If you have a swimming pool, fence it in, install self-closing doors leading to it and put toys away from curious eyes when not in use. For added protection, install a cover that prevents access to the water.

9. Keep children from choking. Suffocation is the leading cause of death in the home for children ages 4 and younger. Always put babies to sleep on their backs on a firm mattress, not on a soft cushion, pillow or blanket. Make sure to keep toys with long cords and window-shade pull cords away from small children. Children under 4 can choke on firm, round foods. such as popcorn, nuts, grapes, and hard candy, so introduce new foods carefully. Also keep small objects that a child could swallow—such as jewelry and tacks—safely out of reach.

10. Be prepared for fire. Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers can help prevent injury and death if a fire breaks out in your home. Test smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries twice a year. Make sure that everyone knows where to meet outside the house and teach children their last name, address and how to call 911 in case of an emergency. To help prevent fires at home, make sure all electrical appliances, electrical cords and outlets are in good condition; keep children, pets and combustible materials away from space heaters; if you smoke, don't smoke in bed or on upholstered furniture.