HON. NANCY HARVEY STEORTS: Former Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
First Consumer Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture 
International Safety Consultant 
Author of 3 Highly Acclaimed Books on Safety
Television Commentator and Speaker
Tel: 703-790-5116
The Nation’s Foremost Authority on SAFETY

Preparing for a
Safe Winter Season

This is a wonderful time of year. We have just started a brand new Year which is full of new opportunities, new challenges, and new expectations of positive things that lie ahead. As we prepare for this time of year, we are in a season of unexpected weather and unexpected potential accidents that can occur so quickly. In this new year, we anticipate a wonderful time with our families: inviting families members for a Sunday Brunch in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace, getting ready for some fun winter activities, or preparing for the birth of a new grandson.... LET'S THINK SAFETY as our new Resolution!

Let's also think about what we need to do, to be sure everything is in order for a safe, incident free time, where everyone is SAFE and free from any potential injury, because we have taken every step necessary to assure that a visit to our home is going to be a wonderful positive experience.

In this article, I would like to share with you my recommendations of what it takes on your part to have a Safe Winter Season. Some, you may all ready know, but some may be suggestions that you may not have considered.

Interior of Your Home

Let us look first at the interior of our Homes. As we get ready to start using our fireplace more regularly, be sure that you have a certified Chimney Sweep check your fireplace and chimney to be sure that the cresote has been removed, that no little animals have moved in, or that there are no cracks that could be a potential problem. A smoke back-up in a chimney can be very hazardous to your home, and can be the source of a fire or a potential carbon monoxide problem. I remember a condo that I lived in, a few years ago, which had a wonderful fire place. One of my friends, who was visiting, decided to light the fire in the fireplace, only to find out in minutes, that the flu of the fireplace was partially blocked, and as a result caused a major back-up of smoke into the living room. This resulted in smoke damage to my entire home, and needless to say caused a very unnecessary problem.

Safety Devices

Be sure to have a fire-extinguisher, smoke detector and a carbon-monoxide detector placed near each of your fireplaces, in case there should be any incidents that occur. The smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector will give you an early signal that something is amiss, and you need to get out of the home immediately AND CALL 911. Keep the batteries in each of these devices changed at least once every 6 months. If you have detectors that are built into your alarm systems, have battery operated detectors available in case the electricity goes out. Also, check the screen on your fireplace to be sure it fits properly, in order to keep any embers from popping into your room.

Senior-Proof Your Home

If you are having guests of different generations visit your home, do keep in mind that if they are older, you should Senior Proof your Home; if they are little ones, then Baby-Proofing or Child-Proofing is a MUST. For Senior Proofing, keep in mind that steps can be a major problem. Install RAILINGS on all stairs and steps. One missed step, without a railing can be a broken bone for an elderly person. Put Grab Bars on the BathTub or shower, so they will not slip in the tub or in the bathroom. Be sure to secure all loose rugs or mats with double-edged tape.

Child-Proof Your Home

For the younger set, carefully attach covers on all of your electrical outlets, so the child can not get their little fingers in them, or poke a part of the toy they are playing with into an outlet. Secure all medicines in a locked cabinet, as well as all the household cleaners that you keep usually under the sink. Nothing interests a child more than those colored household cleaners, or those brightly colored pills, that they find on top of the sink in Grandmother's sink. You would be amazed at what young children will be attracted to, which is unsafe. I was visiting one of my client's home recently, and I found their little 3 year old grandson with his little Mouth full of something, that I was concerned about. As I carefully approached him to see what it was, I gently opened his little mouth, to find about 5 marbles, that he had gotten our of the plant, that had just arrived from the Florist. Needless to say, we got them all out, but Grand Dad was shocked, that he could have gotten into them so quickly.

Entertain Safely

Now, that you are entertaining, carefully evaluate all of the foods that you are going to be serving your guests. Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables, and be careful that you use different cutting boards from what you had used on any meats, poultry or fish that you may be serving. Cross contamination can be a problem, because the juices from the meat, poultry and fish often contain potential juices that can be very injurious to your health. Cook everything to the prescribed temperature, so that it is safe. Keep in mind, that in today's marketplace, many foods are coming from the international market, where standards are different, and NOT EVERYTHING has been inspected. Also, as a courtesy to your guests, do let your guests know what the dish contains, as many guests have serious food allergies, that need to be avoided. Sometimes, if you are serving buffet-style, you can just put a small card near the dish, that lets the guest know what the dish is. For example: Seafood Casserole with garlic sauce. Many people have a seafood allergy, so they would need to help themselves to something else. I personally have a garlic allergy, so I need to avoid all foods with garlic, which sometimes is very difficult. As long as one knows, there is always plenty of other food on the menu, that they will find totally successful.

Check the Exterior of Your Home!

Before, WE have the next major snow storm, tornado or even a major Rain Storm, carefully check your Exterior. Have a certified Tree Expert, check your trees, to be sure that you do not have diseased trees on your property, or on that of your neighbors. Take those trees, down. Also, have the low hanging limbs trimmed, so they will not damage your cars, or parts of your home or your neighbors. In the last storms in this area, major damage was done to property, because diseased trees had not been removed, before the major storm, came and had totally demolished properties unnecessarily.

Have a landscape expert check the exterior of your home and property, to be sure that the foundation is not going to be destroyed by unnecessary drainage, or that the water from the gutters is not running right into your beautiful lower level of your home. Check your rental properties as well. When I lived in Texas, I had a rental home, that I had specifically told my renters to open all of the cabinet doors, where there was plumbing, if they were leaving on a vacation. One holiday, they forgot to do this, and as a result, when the Dallas freeze occurred, the pipes froze, and the entire side yard of this home had to be dug up, because all of the pipes underground had frozen. This cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Outdoor Lighting

Next, check your outdoor lighting. How many times have you left a home you were visiting, and you could barely see your way safely to your car? Put exterior lights from the front door to the driveways, where the cars are parked. Put spot lights on your home, so that your yard is lit, when guests are coming and leaving your home. This should be done on both the front and back of your home. If it is raining or snowing, be sure that the area is prepared for a safe walk. Black ice can occur so quickly. We want to be sure your guests can get safely to their automobiles. It is also important if possible, that the host helps the guests to their car, to be sure that everyone is safe.

Outdoor Steps

Last. check your steps. Many times the exterior steps are different heights. This can be very unsafe, and can cause a fall so easily. Railings should be put on all steps, so the guest is secure when they enter or exit your home. A colleague of mine, just fell, and had a terrible break, when she was going to a recent function. She was carrying a cake for the party, and slipped on the last step, and the result was a disaster. If that home had a railing on the steps, her accident most likely would not have occurred. Remember, that your guests do not know your terrain like you do.

Winter Sports Activities

If this Winter, you plan to take in some skiing or winter sports, be sure every person is well equipped with safety equipment. Have the best safety equipment, warm clothing, Helmets for your heads, and a good emergency supply kit in your car in case you should get stranded. This emergency supply kit should contain proper winter clothing , food, water, blankets, medicines, and back-up batteries for your flashlights, and cell phones. Carry three days of supplies of everything you might need if you got stranded and could not get help. A young college student was stranded recently in an area, that she was not accustomed to being in. When the winter storm unexpectedly hit, she did not have a jacket, emergency supplies or any supplies that would enable her to call for help. She barely was alive, when the rescue team finally found her. Know the weather conditions that might occur in the area you are visiting or travelling to... you do Not want to be a VICTIM..... Safety knowledge is so very important. It just MIGHT SAVE YOUR LIFE!

The above are a few tips to help keep you safe..... Let's Make this a SAFETY-PROOF New Year!

Article written by Nancy Harvey Steorts, former Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission., author, of Your Home Safe Home, Safe Living in a Dangerous World, Safety and You, founder and President of Nancy Harvey Steorts International, an international product safety expert, and Associate Broker at Long and Foster, McLean. For more information contact Nancy Steorts at nancysteorts@cox.net.