The dangers posed by the unsafe use of candles was in the news recently when Sharon Osborne, co-host of the CBS daytime talk show The Talk, left a candle burning in her home overnight and it started a fire. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, although Sharon’s husband Ozzie sustained burns to his hand when he tried to put out the fire. Home candle fires are not a rare occurrence. FEMA estimates that there are 15,260 home candle fires each year, some resulting in injury and even death. More than half of these fires start because the candle is too close to combustible materials. However, candle fires are preventable if we take proper precautions when using them, and don’t use candles when it’s unsafe to do so.
As millions of people regularly use decorative candles, a review of some candle safety tips is in order.
- Never leave burning candles unattended.
- Keep candles at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn.
- Use sturdy candle holders that can’t be easily knocked over. Candle holders should be placed on a clear, stable surface, away from children and pets.
- The National Candle Association recommends that candlewicks be trimmed to 1/4 inch each time before burning. Long wicks can cause uneven burning and dripping.
- Keep the pool of wax in the candle clear of debris such as wick trimmings.
- Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for candle use. Most candles should not be burned longer than a couple of hours at a time.
- Do not burn a candle all the way down. It’s recommended that you leave 2 inches of wax, or 1/2 inch of wax if the candle is in a container.
- Extinguish a candle with a candle snuffer rather than blowing it out, as hot wax can splatter.
- Never use water to extinguish a candle.
- If oxygen is used in your home, do not use candles.
Flameless candles are a safe alternative to lit candles and still produce the soft, glowing effect we enjoy with lit candles. Bypass burning candles during a power outage and instead use battery powered flashlights and lanterns for safer lighting. Lastly, any review of candle safety is incomplete without a reminder to check all smoke alarms in your home. Working smoke alarms greatly increase your chances of surviving a home fire, so take a few minutes to ensure your smoke alarms do indeed work properly.
More Americans than ever are unmarried and living alone, so starting the year with a review of some home and lifestyle safety tips for singles seems like a good idea. I lived for many years as a single woman in a big city with a relatively high crime rate. Looking back, I realize that my single friends and I were often not as safety oriented in our homes and lifestyles as we could have been. Here are some safety practices that singles, especially women, should make a part of everyday life.
For your home:
- All exterior doors should have deadbolts and the front door should have a peephole. Never open the door to anyone you don’t know.
- Consider installing a security alarm and if you already have one, use it. There are also less costly barking dog alarms that are motion activated when someone comes to the door. I had one of these in a previous home.
- Never hide door keys around the outside of your house. That is an open invitation for thieves to break in.
- Falling in your home when you’re alone is not just a danger for seniors. Falls in the home are common and can happen to anyone. Be sure all throw rugs, bathmats and carpets are securely anchored and skid-proof.
- Use night lights in hallways and bathrooms.
- Keep a flashlight and cell phone near your bed. Lock your bedroom door when you sleep.
- Take your cell phone into the bathroom when you shower, so you can call for help if you fall and are injured. Slipping on wet tile is a common accident that is not limited to seniors.
- Keep all shrubs around windows trimmed so no one can hide there.
The President uses a peephole in the Oval Office door.
General lifestyle safety tips:
- If you come home late at night, try to be on the phone with someone when you arrive. The person on the other end can call for help if you need it.
- If a door or window is open when you return home, leave immediately and call the police. You do not want to surprise an intruder in your home.
- When walking to your car in a parking lot, be alert to your surroundings. Have your car keys in your hand and don’t be listening to music.
- Don’t discuss your daily routine, especially not on social media. No one needs to know the time you leave and return home each day.
Hopefully, you’re already practicing all the safety tips listed here in your everyday life. If not, now is a good time to make a few safety resolutions for 2013. Live safely!
Last weekend I took a Safety Passport Training Course given for Directors Guild members working in the film industry. As a long time DGA member, I was very interested to learn about current industry safety practices. In addition, I was curious to see how much of the safety training presented was applicable to life outside a film set. In fact, much of the safety training we received that day was focused on getting the assistant directors and unit production managers in the room thinking like safety professionals. Of course, that kind of ‘safety first’ thinking certainly has positive applications in everyday life.
As soon as we sat down to begin the course, the instructor pointed out all exits and he instructed us to meet in the parking lot in the event the building had to be evacuated.
- TIP #1: Be aware of all exits not just in your home, but in every public space you enter. This includes movie theaters, restaurants, gyms, workplaces, schools and hotels. Have a planned exit route from a space before there’s an emergency.
As the course progressed, we went over the requirements contained in the Injury and Illness Prevention Program materials. Two important safety take away reminders:
- TIP #2: Use all personal protective safety equipment needed for the job. This includes goggles, hard hats, ear protection, gloves and respiratory protection.
- TIP #3: Do not use equipment you are not trained to use. At home, that means know how to use a fire extinguisher and read and understand all safety instructions for household tools such as saws and lawn mowers.
After we reviewed the essentials of the Injury and Illness Prevention Program, we moved on to our specific responsibilities as supervisors in the film set workplace. The first order of business at crew call on a film set is always to hold a safety meeting. This meeting is conducted by the first assistant director and addresses safety concerns specific to the day’s work and the location.
- TIP #4: While you may not hold an actual safety meeting at home, it’s a good idea to think through and address all safety concerns for any project. Whether you’re going up on a ladder or using a chain saw, think the task through and deal with any potential safety issues before they become problems.
Finally, we were presented with the three elements of the Safety Matrix: Location, People and Equipment. We were instructed that whenever two of these elements come together, it’s important to look at the consequences of that interaction. For example, a filming location with limited access and poor ventillation combined with a large crew and stunt performers. While we examined several hypothetical film location scenarios, I couldn’t help but think of the implications of this safety matrix for interactions in everyday life. I won’t list a tip here. I leave it to you to fill in the blanks and think about how your own life can flow more safely from one location to the next.
I hadn’t planned on doing a blog post on ladder safety. However, last night I had dinner with a friend who just broke his leg falling off a ladder and it dawned on me that a review of some ladder safety tips may be in order, as many people are using ladders at this time of year to put up and take down holiday decorations. Men and women who do not regularly use ladders are utilizing them this time of year, and many are not using their ladders in the safest manner possible. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year there are more than 164,000 emergency room visits in the U.S. for treatment of ladder related injuries. Here are some safety precautions for safe ladder use:
- Check the maximum load rating for the ladder being used. Be sure that load rating is not being exceeded. Remember, the load is user plus materials, and only one person should be on the ladder at a time.
- Be sure your ladder is the proper length for the job. That means that at least three feet should extend over the roofline or working surface. The top three rungs of a straight, single or extension ladder should not be stood on.
- All metal ladders should have slip resistant feet and the surface the ladder is placed upon should be dry and not slippery. (This is how my friend was injured. His ladder slipped out from under him on a wet surface.)
- Be sure all locks on extension ladders are properly engaged.
- Do not place a ladder in front of a door that opens out towards the ladder unless it is locked or guarded.
- Never stand on the top step or bucket shelf of a stepladder.
- Keep your body centered between the rails of the ladder at all times. Move the ladder when necessary, rather than leaning far to the side while working.
- Maintain three points of contact with the ladder.
- Wear slip resistant shoes. Flip flops are not safe footwear for climbing ladders.
- Follow instruction labels on ladders.
- Do not leave a raised ladder unattended.
I always insist that anyone we hire to work on our property practice proper ladder safety. The workman I ordered down from the top of a step ladder that was too short for the job may not have been too happy, but it’s safety first around here, and that includes ladders. Climb safely.
If you have pets, you know that the holidays can provide many opportunities for your pet to get into mischief that can compromise her safety. Many homes are decorated to the max, and all those lovely decorations can pose a real threat to your pet’s safety. Pet owners may take the time to choose just the right holiday costume for their furry friend while neglecting to check around the house for pet safety hazards. So before you put Spot into his Santa garb, let’s review a few safety tips recommended by the ASPCA that can save you a trip to the vet:
- Get that Christmas tree securely anchored so it can’t tip over. If you have a real tree, be sure your pet can’t get to the tree water. It could contain toxic chemicals, making your pet ill.
- Forego the tinsel on your Christmas tree if you have cats. Cats love the stuff but can become sick if they swallow it. There are plenty of other ways to achieve the sparkly look for your tree without endangering your cat.
- Use flameless rather than real candles. While flickering candles create a lovely holiday mood, they can be knocked over by pets and cause a fire. Flameless candles have improved in quality over the years and are a safe and attractive alternative for a home with pets.
- Keep your pet away from human food. Rich, sugary foods abound this time of year and many pets want to sample the holiday treats. This is a bad idea that can lead to your pet getting very sick. Restrict human food to humans.
- Unsurprisingly, beverages containing alcohol can make your pet ill. They can make people ill, too, as you know, but your pet should not have even a sip, no matter how much he begs. Adopt a zero tolerance policy for your pet and adult beverages.
- Some pets are plant eaters, and plants such as mistletoe and holly can make pets ill and should be avoided. I long ago stopped using real plants as holiday decor. My silk poinsettias and holly look just fine and are not a desirable pet snack.
- Keep breakable ornaments and wires away from your pet. Electrical wires can be a tempting plaything to cats and broken ornaments can cut paws.
- Give your pets a place to retreat from all the holiday celebrating. A house full of party guests may be fun for you, but your pets may just need some quiet time away from all the action.
Now that your house is pet-safe for the holidays, you can get out the pet costumes and have some fun. Feel free to send me your holiday pet pictures. I especially enjoy seeing pets with Santa. Now that’s celebrating.
Sharing good food with family and friends is one of the pleasures of the holiday season. However, pleasure can easily turn to pain if a bout of food poisoning spoils the celebration. That’s just what happened to someone I know, when food poisoning landed her in a hospital emergency room Thanksgiving weekend.
Food safety depends on safe food handling, storage and cooking practices, as well as a sanitary kitchen. Here’s a review of some basic food safety and kitchen sanitation practices that are easy to overlook in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Of course, these tips go beyond the holidays and should be routine procedure in everyone’s kitchen throughout the year.
- Keep your hands clean. Always wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, as well as after touching pets, changing diapers and using the bathroom. If you have a cut or infection, wear gloves.
- Keep your refrigerator temperature at 41 degrees F or less. Refrigerator temperature is important because a lower temperature slows the growth of most bacteria, although it won’t kill bacteria already present. Freezing food also won’t kill bacteria, although a freezer temperature of zero degrees F or less stops bacterial growth.
- The sink, drain and disposal connecting pipe are often overlooked when cleaning the kitchen, according to the FDA’s food safety initiative team. Sanitize these periodically by pouring 1 teaspoon of chlorine bleach in one quart of water down the sink or using a commercial kitchen cleaning product. Food particles trapped in the moist environment of the drain and disposal offer prime conditions for bacterial growth.
- Keep kitchen dishcloths, towels and sponges clean. When wet or damp, these items can harbor bacteria. Towels and dishcloths should be washed regularly and sponges should be regularly replaced.
- Wash dishes within two hours if washing by hand. According to the FDA, letting dishes soak in water with food particles can promote bacterial growth if left to soak for too long. Let dishes air dry after washing, so as not to touch the dishes when they’re wet.
- Cross-contamination of harmful bacteria occurs when raw meat, poultry, fish or their juices come into contact with other food, especially ready-to-eat food. Wash cutting boards, countertops and dishes with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
- The FDA advises that cutting boards be sanitized after use with a freshly made solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water. A separate cutting board should be used for fresh produce and meats, poultry and seafood. Once cutting boards have deep grooves in them from excessive wear, they should be replaced, as hard-to-clean grooves can harbor bacteria.
I confess that I have more than one cutting board that needs replacing. A few new cutting boards will be a gift to myself this holiday season. After all, everyone deserves a safe and sanitary kitchen.
A lot of attention has been given to shopping safely online this season, but it’s just as important to be aware of fraudsters and other criminals when you head off to the mall. Your personal and financial safety should be a top priority whether you’re shopping online or off. So a review of some basic shopping safety tips is in order.
Let’s begin with safety in the parking lot:
- If you’re arriving at night or will be leaving when it’s dark, try to park in a well lit area as close to stores as possible.
- Make sure any valuables are out of sight in your car.
- Stay alert to your surroundings in the parking lot and report any suspicious activity or unattended packages to mall or store personnel.
- Keep your keys in your hand when walking to your vehicle and check inside and around the vehicle before getting in.
While shopping in a store:
- Carry only the credit cards you plan to use for that particular shopping excursion, your driver’s license and a small amount of cash. Don’t bring along anything you don’t need.
- Never carry your social security card or give out your social security number to store clerks.
- Don’t take out your credit card until asked by the cashier. There are often “shoulder surfers” eager to steal credit card numbers hanging around the counters in crowded stores.
- Keep your credit card in sight at all times when making a transaction. Portable card swipers can be used by rogue store clerks to get valuable information from your credit card.
- Be sure to keep copies of all receipts, not just for store returns but to compare receipts with your credit card statements and catch discrepencies.
- Remember that you have protection with credit cards that you do not have with debit cards, so consider using only credit cards when making holiday purchases.
- If you’re making purchases with a store layaway plan, read the terms of the plan very carefully. You could lose the item and the money you’ve already paid if you fall behind in payments.
- Know the store’s return policy before you buy. Check warranty agreements for product purchases, especially for expensive items.
While shopping online:
- Be sure you have up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spyware, spam filters and a good firewall installed on your computer.
- Shop with companies you know. Don’t click on email links touting unbelievable bargains or respond to emails asking you to “verify” personal information. Legitimate businesses do not contact customers this way.
- Shop on secure websites with a locked padlock icon or “https” as part of the URL address.
- Don’t use a public WiFi connection to make online purchases.
- Beware of clicking on holiday deals that come up on your phone. They could contain malware.
Fianlly, its’ all too easy to become distracted this time of year. Keep a close eye on your purse and wallet at all times, both in and out of stores. Shop safely for an enjoyable holiday season.
An enormous cleanup and recovery operation is underway in the northeast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The recovery effort will take months, if not years. Along with the massive relief endeavors of FEMA and the American Red Cross come the decidedly less noble efforts of fraudulent contractors and fake charity scammers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice remind people to be on alert for suspected fraudulent activity related to relief efforts from this or any other natural disaster.
In the wake of a disaster, fraudsters claiming to be contractors descend on disaster-affected area hoping for a windfall from property owner’s insurance settlements and federal disaster relief funds. It is imperative that any home or business owners needing repairs thoroughly check the credentials of potential contractors before hiring them. Here’s what the FTC recommends:
- Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
- Check the contractor’s identification and references.
- Do not pay more than the minimum in advance.
- Deal with reputable people in your community.
- Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.
Many state government websites also have information on whether contractors’ licenses are current, as well as other relevant information. It’s advisable to check here, too. The Better Business Bureau website can be checked for complaints against businesses and contractors before you make a hiring decision.
There are many legitimate charitable organizations that are committed to helping those affected by disasters. Unfortunately, there are also many imposters purporting to be real charities that spring up after a disaster and are nothing more than scams. The Department of Justice recommends that consumers adhere to certain guidelines before making a charitable donation. These guidelines include the following advice:
- Do not respond to unsolicited emails and do not click on any links within these emails. They may contain viruses.
- Beware of individuals representing themselves as disaster victims and asking for donations.
- Look carefully at names of charities. Fraudulent charities often have names very similar to reputable charities.
- Give directly to charities you know and trust rather than relying on others to make donations on your behalf.
- Never give your personal or financial information to anyone soliciting donations. You could be made vulnerable to identity theft.
- Do not make cash donations. Pay by credit card or make a check payable directly to the charity. Do not make out checks to individuals claiming to represent a charity.
- Be aware that most legitimate charities maintain websites ending in .org rather than .com.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) is the intake center for all disaster relief fraud. To report disaster related fraud, contact NCDF at (866) 720-4707 or email them at email@example.com.
As I write this, several million people are still without power after Hurricane Sandy devasted the east coast. Any food remaining in refrigerators that have lacked power for several days in storm ravaged areas must be discarded. But what about the refrigerator? After days without power and with spoiled food inside, refrigerators will need a good deodorizing and sanitizing. Here’s what the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends:
- After disposing of spoiled food, remove and thoroughly wash shelves, crispers and ice trays with hot water and detergent. Rinse with a sanitizing solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water.
- The interior of the refrigerator and the door should be washed with hot water and baking soda. Use the same rinsing solution as above.
- Leave the refrigerator door open for about fifteen minutes to air out the interior and get rid of any lingering odors.
If there are still lingering odors in the refrigerator, it’s time for some bolder tactics. I had never heard of newspapers in the refrigerator, but it’s one of the USDA recommendations.
- Mix equal parts vinegar and water and wipe down the inside of the refrigerator. Vinegar destroys mildew, which can cause odors.
- Leave the refrigerator door open for several days to air it out. I think I’d be pondering a new refrigerator purchase at this point, but there are a few more possible solutions to try first.
- Roll up newspapers and stuff both the refrigerator and freezer with them. Leave the papers in the closed refrigerator for several days. I imagine the papers absorb odors. After several days, remove the newpapers and clean the fridge again with vinegar and water.
- Sprinkle coffee grounds or baking soda in a large shallow container in the bottom of the refrigerator and freezer. I always leave an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator, but you may need a few boxes worth for post-disaster odors.
- Put a cotton swab soaked in vanilla in the refrigerator and the freezer and leave it in the closed unit for 24 hours.
- Another option is to use a commercial cleaning product from the hardware store.
If odors remain in spite of all attempts to remove them, it may be time to replace the refrigerator. Be sure to safely dispose of the old refrigerator by removing the door so children cannot be trapped inside. Retailers will often take an old refrigerator when you buy a new one. Many municipalities and utility companies also have refrigerator recycling programs.
It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month and the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) has partnered with Microsoft to promote digital citizenship and standards of appropriate online behavior. This year’s theme is “Our Shared Responsibility”, which emphasizes the role individuals, organizations, businesses and governments all have to play in fostering a safe and secure digital world.
Today everyone’s life is touched in some way by digital media, but unfortunately, internet fraud has more than kept pace with the rapid growth of online communication. Everyone has a responsibilty to protect their part of cyberspace by securing the devices and networks they use. NSCA promotes the concept of stop, think, connect as a starting point for online safety. Here’s what that means in terms of steps to take to protect your online security:
- Do not put personal information in an email, instant message or text message. Be wary of links in messages, even from people you know. I encountered this situation recently and it turned out the email was not from the person indicated as the sender. Confirm the email is genuine before you click on any links.
- Check web pages for signs of encryption, such as an https web address and a closed padlock symbol.
- Use only your home computer for sensitive activities such as banking or online shopping.
- Make your passwords as strong as possible and do not use the same password for all your online accounts.
- Anti-virus and anti-spyware software should always be kept current. There are rogue security software programs available online that will not protect your computer and may, in fact, compromise its security. Know what you’re installing.
- All software on your computer, including your web browser and spam filters, should be kept up-to-date.
- Do not share your primary email address with people you do not know. Beware of what information you share on social media and don’t “friend” people you don’t know.
- Be very wary of emails offering deals that sound too good to be true. Set your spam email filter on Standard or High and use the delete button freely.
If a complete stranger appeared at your door asking for your personal information, your suspicions would certainly be aroused and you would be reluctant to reveal anything about yourself. Use the same caution online. National Cyber Security Awareness Month reminds us to work together to keep the digital world safe for everyone.