Elderly people are remaining in their homes for longer. To help them maintain their independence and reduce the risks of electrical accidents, there are some simple steps you can take to make their homes safer.
Electrical safety starts at the switchboard. Ensure their switchboard has been upgraded to combination safety switches and circuit breakers (RCBOs) on every circuit. These offer the best protection for people and appliances from shocks, shorts and overloads.
As we age, our eyesight can fade, particularly in dull light. Poor lighting can lead to increased trips and falls.
An easy and relatively inexpensive way to increase safety is to ensure that there is adequate lighting when working or moving around. Check the lighting levels are appropriate for the person living in the home as these may need to be adjusted over time.
- Ensure there is sufficient task lighting in the kitchen above cooktops, the sink and main food preparation areas.
- Install lighting along skirting boards along hallways, corridors and stairs.
- Install nightlights for hallways, bathrooms and toilets.
- Install motion-activated lighting in cupboards and pantries to make it easier to see items.
- Install touch lamps by the bedside and any lounge areas that the person frequents to read or undertake a hobby. Touch lamps are easier to operate than switched lamps.
- Avoid lamps with glass lampshades – aim for soft fabric shades in case they are bumped or knocked.
- Ensure stairway lighting has a switch at both the top and bottom of the stairs.
- Swap out old toggle light switches for rocker switches as they are easier to operate. You can also consider rocker switches that glow in the dark to make them easier to see at night.
- Ensure all light switches are located close to the doorway, so they can be turned on before entering a room.
- Swap all halogen downlights for LEDs to reduce fire risks.
Some of these solutions are as easy as replacing lamps or fittings and installing “motion sensors” to existing light switches in high traffic areas (i.e. hallways, entranceways, bathrooms, and stairwells). There are also purpose-built products that are specially designed for retrofitting to skirting and stairs. A site visit from an experienced electrical contractor who can work with your budget and needs is a great idea.
Make sure that all exterior doors are well lit, with motion activated lighting on all doors to make it easier for the resident to move around outside their home in the evening.
Also, consider having a lit up external house number, in case emergency vehicles need to find the home at night, and possibly a lock box in a well-lit location for keys to allow emergency services or domestic carers to gain access if needed.
Kitchen Safety Enhancements
The kitchen is where many accidents happen in a home. Here are a few ideas to increase safety in the kitchen.
- Check that stoves and hotplates have knobs towards the front of the unit and don’t require the resident to lean over hot elements to turn them off.
- Ensure hotplates have a safety auto shut-off feature or are induction cooktops to reduce them being accidentally being left on.
- Ensure kettles and toasters have auto shut-off features.
- Move microwave ovens down to the counter top instead of being overhead.
- Place non-slip placemats under the kettle, toaster and other appliances.
- Remove all floor mats within the kitchen to reduce trip hazards.
- Change the dishwasher to one with drawers to reduce bending.
General Electrical Safety Tips
- Ensure the house is compliant with smoke alarm legislation and has smoke alarms in each bedroom and level of the house.
- Replace old irons with ones with an automatic shut-off feature.
- Move all electrical and phone cables, so they are not running across the floor and creating a trip hazard.
- Consider a front-loading washing machine that is on a raised platform, so the person does not need to bend.
- Ensure all rats, mice and possums are promptly dealt with as they can chew wires.
- Add phone extensions to several rooms in the house, including the kitchen, bathroom and toilet, so the person is never far from help.
- Check the condition of all electrical leads, power boards and appliances. Many people have held their appliances for years, and the cords are frayed or dangerous. We recommend testing and tagging all electrical items throughout the home for added peace of mind.
- Check all heating pads and electric blankets on a regular basis.
- Check the condition of all power outlets. If they are warm, spark, have soot around them, wobble, are cracked or hum, then replace the outlet.
- Sometimes we become harder of hearing when we age. Install a doorbell that is linked to a flashing light to help bring attention that there is someone at the door.
- Add a security screening camera to the front door so the resident can check visitors before opening the door.
- Remove and throw away all double adaptors. Replace them with power boards or install additional power points.
- Adjust the hot water system temperature and ensure the tempering valves only deliver hot water at a maximum of 50°C.
- Consider the installation of a smart “on call alarm” unit that is operated by a pendant, wristband or other types of sensors such as a bed, chair, fall, or activity sensors. These units can dial out or send an SMS in the case of an incident to different people on a pre-set list.
Increasing electrical safety at home for your ageing relative or friend will help keep them safe, secure and independent for as long as possible.