Ask the Library-Safety at Home

Ask the Library Archive: Safety at Home

​Do you have a question for the NSC Library? Contact us at (630) 775-2199 or [email protected]

  • Back to school means a lot of preparation and awareness. Do lunch boxes carry germs that can lead to foodborne illnesses?

    Germs that grow on food can multiply in as little as two hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC offers tips to help protect your child from bacteria, as well as other “rules” for packing healthy lunches. Other guidelines come from the National Library of Medicine.

    Is there any such thing as a "healthy" suntan?

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "a tan is a response to injury," since skin cells that have been damaged by UV rays produce more pigment. While some people are at greater risk of developing sun-related skin cancer than others, there are steps you can take to protect your skin while still enjoying outdoor activities.

    My kids want scooters to ride around outside, but I'm concerned about their safety. Are there hazards associated with these riding toys?

    According to a recent study from Nationwide Children's Hospital, injuries with ride-on-toys were three times more likely to involve a broken bone or a dislocation from falls or collisions compared to other toys. For helpful hints on injury prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission offers guidelines. More information can be found in this NSC fact sheet.

    At what age is a child old enough to use a lawn mower?

    According to the current edition of Injury Facts, produced by NSC, there were 86,620 lawn mower-related injuries treated in emergency departments in 2013. Before letting a child mow the lawn, parents must be aware of the hazards that are involved and be certain the child understands safe operating procedures. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children aren't ready to operate walk-behind mowers until age 12 and rider mowers until age 16.

    How do I dispose of expired or leftover drugs?

    According to the Food & Drug Administration, drugs should not be flushed down the toilet or drain unless the label indicates it is safe to do so. The National Safety Council has information on medications with further links on drugs and disposal. Under the section, How Can I Get Rid of Painkillers Safely, there is a link to Take-Back Programs and Safe Disposal Sites. The Safe Disposal Sites link has a state-by-state list of county or other locations that accept expired or leftover medications.

    During the winter season, what should we do to stay safe and warm in our homes?

    Heating equipment, (especially portable and space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves) requires careful use and proper maintenance. Be sure to have your furnace inspected and serviced regularly. If you are considering adding a portable heater, the Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association offer a review of the various types of supplemental heaters as well as safety tips.

    Should I be concerned about the noise level of some of the toys my kids play with?

    Some toys can be even louder than industry noise level guidelines for workers. Advantage Audiology and Hearing Healthcare offers a list of the noisiest toys tested in 2013. And the Speech-Language-Hearing Association offers suggestions on testing the noise level of toys.

    Over 4 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year. What can I do to prevent an incident?

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines on dog bites: who is at risk, prevention, bringing a dog into your home, teaching children safety tips around dogs, etc. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers tips on interpreting dog body language.

    What should we do to avoid insect bites and stings?

    The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has safety tips on preventing and treating insect bites and stings. Geared towards workers, but suitable for off-the-job, is the information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NIOSH

    Do you have any tips on how to prepare for a tornado? What's the difference between a watch and a warning?

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) if conditions are right, tornadoes can occur in every state in the union. The National Library of Medicine recently released a bulletin with safety guidelines. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Warning and provides other materials. NSC also produced this fact sheet on tornado preparedness.

    We've converted to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs, but what do we do if one breaks?

    CFL bulbs contain mercury, so there are some special clean-up instructions. The Environmental Protection Agency has information on the proper clean-up and disposal of these special bulbs.

    What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? Is it more than just the winter blahs?

    Many of us experience some type of winter blues or "cabin fever," but for some of us it can be more than that. The Cleveland Clinic outlines the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Typically experienced in the winter months, there also is the rarer summer SAD, which can lead to loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. 

    How can I avoid frostbite this season? How do I recognize the symptoms?

    The National Safety Council has lots of information on preventing frostbite and hypothermia, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has general guidelines for recognizing the signs of frostbite, as well as work-related cold stress prevention guidelines.

    Do you have any tips on safely using a snow blower?

    Snow blowers/throwers can make the burden of snow cleanup easier to bear, however, using this equipment improperly can result in injury. Consumer Reports provides injury statistics and other tips (especially for when children are around) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a Safety Alert.

    My neighbor had a fire in their home because of lint in their clothes dryer. How do we prevent this from happening to us?

    According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2010 an estimated 16,800 reported fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines resulted in 51 deaths, 380 civilian injuries and $236 million in property damage. For general guidelines, please see NFPA's clothes dryer safety tips. The Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a safety alert that includes a diagram.

    I know I can't just throw my old phone, TV, PC, or laptop into the trash, but how can I donate or get rid of them?

    The Environmental Protection Agency has a number of suggestions and links to resources.

    When temperatures rise, what should we be aware of when kids or pets are left in the car?

    Heat and children left in cars, even for a short time, are not a good mix. National Safety Council reminds parents and caregivers to "tune in" to the back seat to avoid severe injury and death. Consumer Reports provides simple rules to help avert a catastrophe.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has guidelines on avoiding hypothermia in kids left in cars on hot summer days and a study published in Pediatrics shows how quickly the temperature can rise inside a vehicle. 

    We are thinking of renting a "bounce house" for a summer party. Is there anything in particular that we should be aware of?

    While popular and fun for kids, there are some issues to be aware of. The Child Injury Prevention Alliance offers proper set up and usage tips. Injuries have rapidly increased in recent years too according to a recently released study in Pediatrics.

    Ever wonder what is actually in those energy drinks? And what is the difference between a sports drink and an energy drink?

    How much caffeine is too much? Many universities, such as Brown have tip sheets on specific types of energy drinks and their effects on the body. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the effects on children may be severe. The USADA has a fact sheet that discusses the differences between a sports drink (containing electrolytes) and an energy drink (stimulant) and how to read a label.

    Spring weather, while welcome after the winter season, can create flooding situations. Do you have any guidelines on preparedness or clean-up?

    National Safety Council offers guidance how to stay safe during a flood, as well as what to do after the flood. The EPA's bookletFlood Cleanup and the Air in Your Home also contains useful information. FEMA gives tips on what to do before a flood arrives, lists causes, and offers flood facts related to driving. OSHA covers flood cleanup for the workplace.

    What safety precautions should I take when using an elevator or escalator?  What should I do if I ever get stuck in an elevator?

    While we often take them for granted, elevators and escalators deserve our attention. The National Elevator Industry has some general tips about riding in an elevator and some tips should you ever get stuck in one.

    Is a cruise a safe vacation? What steps can we take to have a safer trip?

    While most cruises go off without a hitch, injuries, illnesses and crime can occur. AARP offers safe traveling tips, and the American Society of Travel Agents provides guidance with booking, excursions, documentation, travel insurance and other savvy tips.

    What can I do to help prevent back injuries and maintain a healthy back?

    National Safety Council has put together this list of pre-lifting warm-ups and other tips for lifting and carrying. The University of Virginia provides a good overview and guidelines on back injury prevention including risk factors, materials handling and proper lifting techniques.  For on-the-job, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety focuses on proper materials handling in the workplace to help prevent back injuries, and the National Library of Medicine offers an interactive tutorial that provides useful tips.

    What can I do to stay healthy and safe this holiday season?

    The holidays can be a happy but hazardous time. Please see these links for tips on how to protect your health, your children and your pets. National Safety Council also provides tips on preventing injury and death during the holidays.

    We have a mold problem in our home. What is the difference between mold and mildew? What can we do clean it up and prevent future problems?

    The CDC provides basic facts and the EPA has guidelines on getting rid of mold, offers an interactive tour of an indoor air quality house room-by-room, plus provides additional resources for commercial buildings and schools.

    At what age is it safe for a child to be home alone?

    While the answer depends on the maturity and comfort level of the child, various safety sources suggest 10-12 as the minimum age parents should consider. The Child Welfare Information Gateway says most states do not have laws regarding a legal minimum age and offers suggestions on how parents can determine if their children are ready. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a fact sheet with safety and security skills children should have before being left alone.

    Our grandchildren will be staying at our house for a visit. What should we do to make sure our home is safe for them?

    National Safety Council offers tips for child-proofing your home and preventing childhood poisonings. More information is available from the American Academy of Pediatrics at

    With so many helmets to choose from, how do we pick the right one for the right activity?

    A Consumer Product Safety Commission brochure provides the type of activity, type of corresponding helmet, and any standards that may apply.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 48 million people (one in six Americans) get sick from food related illnesses each year. About 128,000 are hospitalized and about 3,000 die of foodborne disease. What can I do to protect myself?

    University of Chicago Hospitals provides information on what food poisoning is, what causes it, symptoms, treatment and prevention. The Mayo Clinic also offers guidance for symptoms and prevention, and the CDC offers lots of data and analysis on food-borne illnesses.

    The cold and flu season is upon us. What can I do to avoid or lessen the symptoms?

    Wash your hands frequently, get enough rest, practice "respiratory etiquette" and stay home when ill to protect others, according to the National Safety Council. The CDC offers information on preventing the transmission of colds and flu, as well as treatment.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 37,000 people in the United States go to the emergency room every year with injuries from nail guns. How can we prevent injuries when using these tools?

    Whether you are a do-it-yourselfer or using a nail gun at work, there are precautions to keep in mind. Consumer Reports has general tips on the safe use of nail guns. For workers, OSHA offers pneumatic nail gun safety tips.

    I'm thinking of putting up a swing set in my backyard. What are some things I should consider?

    The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers comprehensive guidelines and a safety checklist in its Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook. It includes everything from anchoring to protection against falls. The National Program for Playground Safety has information to help choose safer playground equipment.

    I'm concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning risks in my home. What should I know about this colorless, odorless, silent killer?

    Every year, thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms for carbon monoxide poisoning. The Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fire Protection Association offer tips to protect your family.

    Where can I find information to help prevent boating accidents?

    Every year about 5,000 fatalities result from recreational boating accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Safe Boating Council have tips and other information on safe boating. offers coastal navigation courses and tips for kids.

    I'm ready to tackle spring cleaning. How do I choose more environmentally friendly products?

    The Environmental Protection Agency offers some great tips on "green" cleaning. Green Seal also has a list of certified products and services.

    What should I know about July 4 fireworks?

    Fireworks displays are best left to professionals, according to the National Safety Council. The National Fire Protection Association has data on injuries and damages associated with consumer fireworks, such as sparklers. Many states ban certain types of fireworks. The American Pyrotechnics Association offers regulations for each state.

    How can I decorate for the holidays safely?

    Holiday decorations such as live trees and candles can be beautiful, but dangerous. The NSC website has facts on staying safe during the holidays. Also, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has a downloadable brochure on the topic. The Library is frequently asked about adding things such as aspirin or bleach to Christmas tree water to extend the life of the tree. The National Christmas Tree Association offers tips on the care of fresh-cut trees and recommends using only water to keep them fresh.

    What steps can parents take to make sure their children get to and from school safely?

    NSC offers several back-to-school safety tips related to  walkingbicycle riding and school buses. In addition, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a back-to-school advisory for parents, drivers, and students.

    What can I do to keep myself and my family safe from recreational water illnesses?

    According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recreational water illnesses can be spread by contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans. Recreational water illnesses can cause a wide variety of symptoms and health problems. The CDC offers safe swimming information for the general public and aquatic facility staff.

    Regulations for paints and gasoline have reduced the amount of lead we're exposed to. Should we still be concerned about lead? What are some other ways we might be exposed?

    Lead is still around. Lead paint, the leading cause of lead poisoning among children, is still found in older homes. Certain types of other household products, such as ceramic dishes and glassware, may leach lead. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has additional information on how to minimize your exposure to lead.

    How many smoke alarms should I have in my home? Where should I put them?

    Smoke alarms dramatically reduce fire-related fatalities, according to NSC. The National Fire Protection Association also offers recommendations regarding installation and maintenance, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers a brochure on the topic.

Contact Information

For additional information, supporting articles and/or documents related to any topic here, or if you have a question on another topic, please contact the library.

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