February 16, 2010

Is Your Home Office Safe for Kids and Pets?


Hostway Team

By Patricia Schaefer

The U.S. Census Bureau shows the number of people working from home from 1980 to 2000 (the year of the last Census) approximately doubling in number. The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported in 2005 that about 20.7 million people did some work at home at least once per week in 2004. More recent surveys find this number to be even higher.

If you're one of the growing numbers of individuals who work part-time or full-time from home, have you given any thought as to whether or not your home work space is safe for your kids or pets?

Something as common as dropped rubber bands, paper clips or staples could lead to physical harm in a home office -- in the hands of a crawling tot who puts everything she finds in her mouth, or in the paws and mouth of a curious kitten.

Help keep your home office space secure for kids and pets by following these safety guidelines. Keep in mind that the leading cause of death in children and adolescents is injuries, the majority of which happen in the home. By taking simple measures to reduce the presence of certain risk factors, the number of childhood injuries and deaths can be significantly reduced.

Supervision Is Key

One of the best ways to keep children and pets safe in a home office is proper supervision. Do keep your children away from your work space unless an adult is present.

  • If possible, use a safe containment solution such as a playpen or play yard, being sure to check height and weight limits (Containment equipment can also be used for a puppy or kitten). If containment is not possible or appropriate, be sure that the children's play area is in your direct line of vision as you work, and away from anything that could harm them; i.e., wires or heavy equipment.
  • If your home office space is an entire room, be sure to have a door lock and keep it locked when not in use.

Start at Ground Level

There's nothing like getting on your hands and knees and crawling around your work space to get a kid's eye view of potential dangers. Some things to look out for:
Small objects that could cause physical damage or be a choking hazard.

Keep a constant watchful eye out for fallen objects such as thumb tacks, paper clips, rubber bands and the oft-errant staple. Store these supplies away from the reach of little hands or paws.

Electrical dangers

Install outlet covers and plates to help prevent electrical shock or electrocution. Check electrical cords. If any are worn, cracked or feel warm to the touch, replace with new ones. Be sure to have a surge protector with an on-off switch, so you can quickly turn off the source of power.

Stop your kitten or puppy from chewing on electrical cords by keeping electrical wires out of reach, or putting the cords into a cardboard tube or cord containment system; an extra advantage being they'll be in one organized bundle away from children as well.

Secure heavy objects or movable parts

Large heavy office equipment should be secured and out of reach of children to avoid potential dangerous tip-overs. Attach and anchor any shelving units to their adjacent walls. Put child safety latches on drawers to keep curious children away from their contents.

Be sure to keep file cabinet drawers closed when not in use. A left-open drawer or drawers in the hands of a child can lead to an entire file cabinet being tipped or pulled down. Do not put all files in the top drawer of a file cabinet, as top- heavy drawers increase the risk of a falling cabinet when that drawer is opened. Try to evenly disperse contents into all drawers. If you need to file a heavy item, lower drawers are safer and help to stabilize the file cabinet.

Keep cleaning supplies and chemicals locked away

Common office supplies often include substances that are potentially dangerous or toxic. Store any containers of toxic substances in a cabinet that can be locked or latched. Keep the phone number of your local Poison Control Center readily available. Always have an unexpired bottle of Syrup of Ipecac on hand in case you are instructed to use this vomiting-inducing liquid by a health professional.

Consider purchasing office products with safety features

Certain office supplies and equipment present a great safety risk to children and pets. Here are some of these products, now available and designed for safety:

Shredders: The damage that a shredder can do to a small child or pet is heartbreaking. Too many dogs have had their tongues literally ground up by the blades of a shredder; a number of these dogs euthanized. Too many children have had fingers caught in the blades as well, some with permanent loss of one or more digits.

Do not ever allow a child to operate a shredder, even with adult supervision (serious injury has occurred under adult supervision). Never leave a shredder on automatic, and unplug when not in use.

Store shredders out of reach of children and pets. Never put food wrappers through your shredder as this will attract pets to the machine.

Fellowes company has designed and introduced a line of shredders with SafeSense technology that ensures the safety of the user, including children and larger pets. It automatically disables the shredder when sensing hands or pets are too close to the "throat" or paper entry. An electronic sensor surrounds each shredder's paper entry and shuts down the machine immediately when it comes in contact with the energy field created by humans and larger pets. The shredders also feature confetti-cut capabilities, ensuring that private information is destroyed into small, unidentifiable pieces.

Scissors: Scissor blades are often very sharp and can cut little fingers.

For adult use, Martor USA sells Safe-T-Guard No. 222 Safety Cutters: Their design uses a pair of specially formulated plastic guards that allow materials to be cut as easily as with conventional scissors while protecting wayward fingers from injury. For children, Acme sells 5 ½" Plastic Safety Scissors. Designed for small children, the plastic covered blades and guarded tips prevent cutting injuries.

Letter Openers: Too often letter openers look like and can act as daggers. These should be avoided in the home office when you have children afoot.

Martor USA has a number of safety letter openers. For just a few dollars, you can purchase one of these letter openers that more resemble a business card than a knife. Safety material surrounds the letter-opening device, thus dramatically reducing the chance of injury.

Overall, try to reduce or eliminate sharp objects or small heavy objects in your home office. If you do have any sharp objects, keep these stored in a drawer with a safety latch or out of reach. Small heavy objects like paperweights need to be kept away from the edge of desks or other places where children could reach and cause injury to themselves .

Give your Kids their own "Office Supplies"

Encourage your children to feel like they can "work" right alongside you. Get a box and fill it with kid-friendly office supplies like paper, non-toxic and washable crayons and markers, a toy telephone, or toy cash register.

Alex Toys has some great products that can keep kids occupied for hours. One is "My Drawing Station" which is a self-contained tabletop drawing area. A 100-ft. roll of drawing paper stores underneath a chalkboard top surface, and three colorful cups hold all sorts of art supplies (Suitable for Ages 3+).

With their own fun office supplies, hopefully your children will have little or no interest in yours.

About the Author

Patricia Schaefer writes for www.BusinessKnowHow.com, a popular small business Web site that provides ideas and strategies for growing a business and making it profitable. The site attracts 3 million visitors a year, contains thousands of free articles about sales, marketing, Internet marketing, business finance, ecommerce and all phases of starting and growing small and home businesses. Visit Business Know-How and sign up for their free newsletter at www.BusinessKnowHow.com.

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