MOST of us are convinced we can look after ourselves and our families. We warn our children not to talk to strangers, we stick to the speed limit and we take cabs home rather than walking alone at night.
Yet many of us throw caution to the wind in the place that's statistically the most dangerous of all - our own homes.
"Every year about 4,000 people die in home accidents in the UK, compared to around 3,400 on the roads," says Roger Vincent, spokesman for the Royal Society For The Prevention of Accidents. Children account for nearly half of those injured -in fact, accidental injuries are the commonest cause of death in children. Roger says: "We're well protected outside the home, with lots of regulations on the roads and in the workplace. But at home we take surprising risks, largely because we see our homes as a safe haven."
Here's the lowdown on the most common types of domestic accident and how to avoid them...
"MORE than one million of the accidents that happen in the home each year are falls," says Roger. "The elderly are particularly at risk, partly because any falls they have are more likely to have serious complications - even a relatively minor tumble could lead to broken bones."
Slash your risk
KEEP FLOORS CLUTTER-FREE Roger says: "Clear up kids' toys - tripping over things at the top of the stairs can cause serious injuries."
CHECK YOUR CARPETS "Holes and frayed areas in carpets are a hazard as it's easy for someone's foot to get caught up in them," says Roger.
FIX LOOSE MATS AND RUGS "There's a real trend to have polished floors with mats and rugs over them - but while they may look good, they can be very slippery," Roger explains.
TAKE CARE ON THE STAIRS RoSPA recommends installing handrails on both sides of staircases. "Lots of accidents happen to people who are staying in friends' or relatives' homes," says Roger. "The stairs can be particularly dangerous in an unfamiliar house so if you have people staying with you, leave the staircase lights on at night."
If you have small children, always install a gate at the top of the stairs. "But you still need to watch kids near the stairs - children have a habit of finding their way over or through gates," adds Roger.
EVERY day the fire service is called out to 140 house fires and 800 people a year die in them. "It only takes an unguarded moment for a fire to start," says Roger. Within minutes, your home could be filled with poisonous fumes and smoke.
Slash your risk
INSTALL SMOKE ALARMS If a fire starts, your chances of survival depend on getting out quickly and a smoke alarm gives you an early warning. "But make sure they work," says Roger. "People often take out the batteries to use in toys or remote controls, then forget to replace them."
DITCH CHIP PANS According to the fire service these are the most common cause of domestic fires, with more than 4,000 people hurt by them a year. If you must cook chips, invest in one of the new thermostat-controlled electric deep-fat fryers which cut out before they overheat. Or for super-healthy chips, simply slice up pieces of potato, brush them with olive oil and bake them in the oven on a medium heat for around 30 minutes.
NEVER LEAVE CANDLES BURNING It may seem soothing to fall asleep with a candle flickering in your bedroom, but it's extremely dangerous. "Never leave a flame unattended," urges Roger.
STUB OUT CIGARETTES "And avoid smoking in bed where you may fall asleep with a lit cigarette in your hand," says Roger.
"TOO many people think they can do jobs that should really be done by professionals," says Roger. "They'll undertake work without the proper equipment, spray toxic chemicals without safety goggles and try to wallpaper the living-room balancing on stepladders in slippers at 9pm after a long day's work. No wonder 200,000 DIY fans turn up at A&E every year." And dodgy DIY could have long-term effects, with bad wiring causing fires, for example.
Slash your risk
PLAN AND PREPARE Roger says: "Make sure you've allowed enough time to complete a job and invest in all the right equipment."
WEAR THE RIGHT CLOTHING Use safety goggles and gloves if necessary, and wear shoes that fully cover your feet to avoid broken toes.
LEAVE IT TO THE PROFESSIONALS Be honest - do you really think you're up to the job? If you're not sure, call in a tradesman. According to RoSPA, plumbing, gas, electrical-fitting jobs and any work that requires ladders should probably be done by a professional.
POORLY maintained gas and electric fittings can lead to tragedy. Carbon monoxide poisoning kills 20 people a year. This gas can be given off by any fossil fuel. Electricity, too, causes many accidents.
Slash your risk
HAVE GAS FITTINGS CHECKED They should be serviced annually by a CORGI-registered installer (www.corgi-gas-safety.com). If gas flames burn orange instead of blue, it can be a sign that carbon monoxide is leaking. Coal and wood fires also emit the gas, so have your chimney swept regularly. Be aware of possible symptoms, such as drowsiness.
HAVE YOUR ELECTRIC WIRING SURVEYED This needs to be done every five years by an approved contractor (they should be NICEIC or ECA members). Have wiring surveyed if you're buying a new home.
CHECK APPLIANCES "Never use appliances with worn or damaged flexes and don't wire flexes together," says Roger. Keep portable mains-operated appliances out of the bathroom and have electric blankets serviced.
WATCH CHILDREN "Young children love to pull at wires so go cordless where you can and keep appliances out of their reach," says Roger. He recommends doing a child's eye check by crawling around on the floor so you're at child height and seeing what they can reach.
"KIDS should never be left unsupervised around water, even if it's only a few centimetres in a bath," says Roger. In the past 10 years 111 children have drowned in or around the home, many within moments of an adult turning their back.
Slash your risk
TAKE YOUR CHILD WITH YOU If it's bathtime and the phone rings, never leave your child, even just for a minute.
WATCH YOUR KIDS IN THE GARDEN Lots of homes have shallow ponds, which fascinate children. "If you're going to a friend's or relative's home, always walk around their garden before you allow your child out in it," advises Roger. "Around 80 per cent of pond drownings happen in other people's gardens."
KEEP KIDS AWAY FROM HOT WATER "Even a cup of tea left to cool for 15 minutes is hot enough to severely scald a child," points out Roger. "Never hold a hot drink while you're carrying or playing with a child, and when you're boiling things on the stove ensure handles are turned inwards so kids can't pull boiling liquid on themselves."
ATTACK OF THE CARDIGANS
THE most unlikely household items could land you in A&E. Figures on reasons for hospital visits are recorded by the Department of Trade and Industry, although they don't take details of exactly how the injuries happen. Here's a selection of surprising culprits...
- 739 people a year are injured by watering cans.
- 185 incidents involve bottle openers.
- 431 people end up in casualty after encounters with clothes pegs.
- 123 are hurt by curtain pelmets.
- 964 people come to grief with cardigans.
- 493 injuries are blamed on cakes and scones.
Find out more at www.rospa.com