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Mon, 6 April 2020

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As deaths and serious injuries escalate, it is imperative we build safer homes

As deaths and serious injuries escalate, it is imperative we build safer homes
4 min read

Slips, trips and falls are among the biggest cause of accidents in the home. Home safety improvements to stairs, lighting and flooring are some of the simple and cost-effective ways we can tackle this issue, writes Lord Jordan.  

More than 6,000 people are killed as a result of a home accident in the UK every year- making the home arguably one of the most dangerous places to be.

My question to the government is what are they doing to help prevent these needless fatalities?

Slips, trips and falls are by far the biggest cause of accidents, and account for more than 60% of hospital admissions due to unintended injury.

Falls and other common life-ending and life-changing accidental injuries don’t attract much media attention because they affect individuals, and happen in our own homes away from the public eye. However, these singular instances are part of a wider trend which, once observed, reveals the larger issue.

In addition to my other duties as a peer, I am Vice President of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents, known as RoSPA. Their response to this unacceptable level of accidents in the home has been compiled in a forthcoming report: “Safer by design: A framework to reduce serious accidental injury in new-build homes”.

We have seen that the most vulnerable to serious accidental injury in the home are very young children and older people, with poverty being a significant influencing factor that increases risk. And yet we know that home accidents can be prevented, thanks to a combination of tried and tested interventions focusing on education, environment and enforcement (which are often known as the “three Es of prevention”). Of these the importance of safer environments cannot be overstated, which is why the provision of homes that are “safer by design” was among 25 recommendations in England’s national accident prevention strategy (Safe and active at all ages: A national strategy to prevent serious accidental injuries in England. RoSPA, 2018)

We took a long time to get to understand the causes of accidental harm in the home, and our analysis of those causes showed that not only can we create physically-safer homes but that it has now become imperative with the escalating number of deaths and serious injuries.

These safer homes will meet the present and future needs of those who live in them, providing environments that support young children in having the best start in life while also promoting independence in later life.

RoSPA’s “Safer by design” framework targets the causes of the most common and most serious domestic accidental injuries.

It takes into account the fact, for example, that for every fire-related hospital admission, there are 234 due to falls. Quite deliberately, the framework concentrates on the mitigation of hazards that typically do not attract the same level of public scrutiny, and for which the regulatory landscape is less developed compared to other hazards such as fire.

It covers various hazards associated with the greatest likelihood of occurrence in new homes; the types of accident covered here – falls, burns, carbon monoxide poisoning, entrapment and poisoning from household chemicals – often go unnoticed publicly because they happen behind closed doors, affecting individuals, one at a time. And yet the total number of all of these individual accidents adds up to many thousands of people being killed and seriously injured every year.

The framework provides a set of simple home safety improvements, developed in consultation with industry experts, and because they can be put in at the design stage the cost will be minimal. Prioritised according to a statistical evidence base, and going beyond current building regulatory requirements, these recommendations are, crucially, commercially and technically viable within both the public- and private-build sectors.

We have chosen to go for proven safer design features such as stairs with appropriate dimensions, handrails and lighting, slip resistant flooring for steps, kitchens, and bathrooms and locks for cupboards containing medicines and cleaning products.

The Government has a goal of ensuring that 300,000 houses are built every year. Now is the time for them to play their part in helping to eliminate a major safety vacuum in our society.

Yes, we have made great strides to improving safety on the road and in the workplace. It is now time to seriously address the next frontier for safety: accidents in the home.


Lord Jordan is a Labour Member of the House of Lords


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