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Monday 8th November 2010

The recent heavy rains of over 15 inches in one month have Antigua looking green and beautiful which is accentuated by the blue hues of our crystal clear Caribbean waters. The consequence of heavy rains and fallen foliage is safety challenges. To this end I am writing about safety in the home and am motivated to do so after having a bad fall that could have been much more serious and even fatal.

Safety in the home applies to all ages from toddlers to retired and older folk. Safety considerations should be incorporated into home design, floor material selection, landscaping and elevations including stairway access.  Most important is constant diligence and maintenance.

Let us start with stairs since my fall happened on a small stairway with only three wide and fairly shallow steps.  Having cautioned my wife about these slippery wooden steps I was extra cautious myself while making my way from our verandah to the pool. The greenheart wood was slippery from rain due to accumulated mold and dirt.  I had no hand rail to provide stability so went “ass over tea kettle” and landed heavily with all of my 190 pounds. Fortunately I only sustained a small injury - nothing broken, just bruised. Had I hit my head or fallen off the stairs altogether it could have been much worse.

My suggestion for all new home designs is to keep stairs to a minimum and indeed to think of wheel chair access for at least the living areas, the master bedroom and the bath and shower. Whenever possible, stairs should have non-slip materials and a 1:12 gradient. They should have hand rails on a minimum of one side and on both sides if possible.

When my wife and I were considering some changes and expansions 10 years ago, we debated the master bedroom location. She wanted to have it added above the existing master bedroom which would have become an office. This would have maximized the view over the top of the tall bamboo cluster that obstructs the view from our verandah, master bedroom and living areas. I insisted that we should “think wheel chairs”. I won and the bamboo is now larger than ever, blocking the view of Falmouth Harbour, filling the pool with leaves and contributing to the accumulation of moisture on the steps and paths leading to the pool. This is a compromise we have made in life and as a result accidents will happen if appropriate precautions are not taken.

Wheel chair access to the master bedroom, minimum 36-inch doorways and a shower with only a small lip have proven useful over the past 10 years. A close friend suffered a severe stroke nine years ago so when he visits we are able to turn the master bedroom over to him. Living on one level has seen me through four knee replacements and my wife through one hip replacement. While our house is on the side of a hill, access from the road is also fairly easy with only a few low steps making it reasonably wheel chair friendly.

The following is a checklist to assist in making a home safer:

Stairs:  Should be brightly illuminated with no obstacles such as power cords or rugs to trip on. Hand rails should be on both sides if possible. Ideal size is 12” wide and 6” to 8” deep. Non-skid materials should be used, especially if exposed to water.

Landscaping:  Trees and shrubs are what we love most and yet their foliage demands constant maintenance and sweeping to keep pathways clear of debris and moisture. We have created a major risk issue here because we have decided to live with the risks they pose.  Potted plants, tree roots and garden decorations all provide obstacles that need to be managed to keep the property safe. Pathways need sweeping and the occasional power wash.

Light Switches:  These should be located away from sinks and the risk of water on hands or floors. This is especially so in bathrooms and kitchens.

Verandahs:  In the Caribbean we live outdoors and under covered verandahs. The verandah rails should be substantial and constantly maintained. If youngsters are to visit or live in the house these must be made secure and such that toddlers won’t crawl through.  Kiddy gates must be properly installed.

Kitchen:  Keep the stove and oven areas clear, have a portable telephone at the ready and have a plan that includes fire protection with proper fire blankets and fire extinguishers handy.

General:  Scatter rugs and electric cords are always a potential danger. For older folk furniture selection becomes important with higher chairs and arm rests needed to ease getting in and out of them.

Pets:  We love our dogs. Lucy blends in with the brown tiles so we are constantly aware of her movements. At night Selkie blends into the darkness and the two Jack Russells blend with the throw rugs in the bathroom so we have learned to shuffle around in the darkness.

Life has its risks but they can be minimized by being constantly aware of all dangers in the home and putting Safety First.

Prepared by: Geoffrey D. Pidduck, Stanley’s Estate Agents Limited.

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