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Precautions Prevent Accidents in Homes
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Whether giving homes a thorough cleaning or a last-minute makeover before guests arrive, take care to avoid injuries and hazards in the home.
Back and limb injuries from lifting or falling and allergic reactions to dust and cleansers are just a few of the factors that can make cleaning house a dangerous business.
Linda Patterson, extension health specialist at Mississippi State University, said a few precautions can help avoid hazards in homes and yards.
"Most people don't realize the high number of deaths that occur each year as a result of falls around the home," Patterson said. "Most falls can be prevented if a few simple precautions are taken."
To help avoid falls, don't walk down stairs with heavy loads, keep stair handrails in good shape, make sure stair rugs are firmly in place, keep stairwells free of clutter and make sure they are well-lit.
Don't stretch electrical cords across pathways and clean up spills immediately to avoid slipping or tripping, Patterson said.
Ladders are another source of injuries around homes, but they can be used safely.
"With a leaning ladder, make sure that the horizontal distance from the bottom of a ladder to the object it leans against is at least one-fourth of the ladder's length," Patterson said. "Make sure step ladders are fully opened and the side braces are locked."
Don't use makeshift ladders such as tables, chairs or stacked boxes.
Cleaning out closets and storage rooms often involves a lot of lifting, one of the most common causes of back injury.
"If a load or object looks like it might cause back strain, get help in lifting it," Patterson said. "If you do lift and carry heavy objects, be sure to do it correctly."
To pick up a heavy object, bend your knees and squat as close to the load as possible, with your feet about a shoulder's width apart. Get a good grip, tighten your stomach muscles and lift the load using your thigh muscles, while keeping your back straight.
Hold the load close to your body as you carry it, and use the same squatting motions to put the object down.
Another possible hazard of cleaning out closets and indoor or outdoor storage rooms is spider bites. The two most dangerous spiders in Mississippi are the black widow and the brown recluse.
The brown recluse is more common in the northern half of the state.
Brown recluse spiders are fairly common in homes and hide in almost any dark, quiet area such as closets and storage rooms. They are small and fawn-colored with a violin pattern in varying shades of brown on the front part of the head. The bite of a brown recluse is often painful and causes serious local reactions.
The female black widow, another poisonous spider, is recognizable by her glossy black color and distinctive red hourglass mark on the abdomen. The spiders are about one-half inch long, and their bite often is painless -- but has severe effects.
Black widow bites cause cramping, abdominal pain, wheezing, difficulty breathing, hives and other skin rashes. Black widows also are found outdoors in wood piles or old piles of brick.
To avoid spider bites, be on the lookout for them and keep areas well-lit while cleaning. Check the contents of old bags, boxes, boots and shoes with a flashlight before reaching inside them.
Patterson recommended treatment by a physician if bitten.
"With a few extra precautions and a little planning, housework doesn't have to be hazardous to your health," Patterson said. "Organize medicine cabinets to make sure you have the proper supplies to treat allergic reactions, minor cuts and other injuries."