A simple fact: the best way to prevent injury and death from house fires is to have smoke alarms installed and working properly. It is often children who are the tragic victims of house fires. Fire can engulf a house in flames very quickly, so it's important you have smoke alarms for early warning and a fire escape plan so everyone can get out of the house quickly.
Children should never have unsupervised access to matches, lighters, candles or other naked flames. They don't realise the danger of fire or how quickly a fire can spread. The small cost of smoke alarms is nothing compared with the knowledge that you will be alerted early to a fire that could kill you and your children. Smoke alarms can give you vital time to escape safely.
Two alarms per house is recommended, and one on each level of multi-storey homes. Make sure one is in the hallway near sleeping areas. A publicity campaign - by the Fire Service - provides some simple advice for people caught in a fire: Get out and stay out. The campaign gives a strong message that you should stay out of a burning building - don’t be tempted to go back for valuables or even to try saving the life of another person.
The Fire Service will respond quickly to an emergency and its firefighters are equipped to deal with all kinds of fires. A private individual cannot know the dangers fire can present and how quickly it can spread, nor do they have the proper equipment.
There’s no dispute that working smoke alarms save lives, and most houses in New Zealand now have them installed. If you don’t have them in your home, you’re putting your family at grave risk. Likewise, if you have smoke alarms but they’re not installed properly or they’re not working, you’re also putting your family at risk. House fires often happen when people are asleep and unable to detect smoke, so working smoke alarms are a vital part of your home safety plan. The New Zealand Fire Service offers the following useful advice on where to install (and not to install) smoke alarms.
Smoke rises and moves along the ceiling. It will move up stairwells and vertical openings, gradually building up until the mass of smoke moves down again. This is why you should place smoke alarms on the ceiling – to get the earliest warning. If you must put it on the wall, keep it 10cm away from the ceiling to avoid dead air pockets.
The best alarms are long-life photoelectric ones, which should be installed ideally in every bedroom, living area and hallway in the house – on every level. At an absolute minimum, a long-life photoelectric smoke alarm should be installed in the hallway closest to the bedrooms. This should be supplemented with other alarms throughout the house as soon as circumstances permit.
The Fire Service recommends both interconnected and hard-wired alarms. Interconnected means that when one smoke alarm detects a fire, all alarms throughout the house will sound. Hard-wired means the alarms are connected to mains power, making them more reliable.
Don’t install smoke alarms in the kitchen, garage or bathroom unless the alarms are specially designed for those areas. Also not above a fire box, in a basement storeroom or near an extraction fan.
Too many homes are fitted with smoke alarms but are unsafe because the alarm batteries are flat or missing. To maximise your family’s fire safety:
- Check the battery once a month by pressing the test button. If you can’t reach the button easily, use a broom handle.
- Avoid the disturbance of a “cheeping” alarm that indicates the batteries need replacing. Replace batteries at least once a year and make it a habit by picking a regular date such as a birthday or the beginning or end of daylight saving time.
- Buy long-life photoelectric smoke alarms. This will give you about 10 years of smoke detection before it needs replacing.
- Install smoke alarms that feature a “hush” button to stop nuisance alarms.
- Keep smoke alarms clean.
- Vacuum over and around smoke alarms regularly to stop dust and debris interfering with the alarms operation.
An ideal layout for smoke alarms – one for each bedroom, living area and hallway. Diagram: NZ Fire Service
Your escape plan
You’ll probably have one or two minutes from the time a fire alarm sounds to when your life is seriously threatened by fire or smoke. Having – and practising – an escape plan so everyone in the household knows what to do could save lives.
- Work out the best way out of every room, then pick a secondary route in case the first is blocked by fire.
- Keep all doorways clear of obstructions.
- Choose a meeting place outside, for example, the letterbox.
- Role-play with your family an escape plan should there be a fire. ‘Once out stay out’.
- Keep your cellphone handy so you can grab it as you leave the house (don’t go looking for it). Call 111 and ask for the Fire Service. If you don’t have your phone, call from a neighbour's home or someone else’s mobile phone.
Burns and scalds
- Never leave a child alone around naked flames.
- Turn your water temperature down to 55 degrees celsius.
- As most child scalds are caused by hot drinks, use tablemats not tablecloths while small children are present so they cannot yank on the cloth.
- For all burns, don’t forget the rule 20 minutes under cold running water.
- Never carry a child and hot liquids at the same time.
- More than 7 children each year are burned to death in New Zealand. 50% are under 4 years of age.
- More than 80 children suffer painful burns each year, many of which will require years of skin graft operations as they grow.
In the kitchen
The Fire Service says more house fires start in the kitchen than anywhere else in the home. Cooking that’s left unattended accounts for more deaths than any other cause of fire, and frying is the leading cause of cooking fires.
To keep the family safe:
- Turn off the stove if you must leave the room, and take pots and pans off the heat.
- Kitchens are not safe play areas.
- Put a timer on for any baking to remind you the oven needs to be turned off.
- Clean your stove grill after each use to prevent the build-up of fats and burnt foods.
- Clean the range-hood filters regularly.
- Keep curtains, tea towels, oven mitts, electrical cords and other items well away from the cooking area.
- Have a fire extinguisher and/or fire blanket handy and know how to use them.
- Never throw water on to a burning fry-pan. If it’s on fire, wet a tea-towel and place it over the pan, use a proper fitting lid or a large flat object (such as a chopping board) to starve the fire of oxygen.
- Never try to carry a burning fry-pan outside.
- Don’t throw flour on a burning fry-pan (an urban myth) to extinguish the fire. Flour can burn too.
- If you do have a fire on your stove, try (if you can) to turn the power or gas off either at the stove or at the mains.
- Don’t drink and fry food. Alcohol is a factor in 50% of all fatal fires.
- Always watch the pan or pot when cooking with oil or fat.
- If oil or fat is smoking, turn off the heat.
- If you can smell gas, keep flames and cigarettes out of the room.
- Regularly check the hose and connection on your mobile gas heater.
- Have your LPG Cabinet heater serviced annually.
- With gas heating make sure it’s installed safely, maintained regularly and well ventilated. If you can smell gas around your gas appliance, turn it off and call a registered Gasfitter to source the problem.
- Do not switch on lights or electrical appliances if you have a gas leak as it may cause an explosion.
Half of all people who die in fires are careless with their cigarettes, matches or lighters.
- Put out all smoking materials before you leave a room. Never leave lit cigarettes unattended.
- Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach.
- Screen open fires and fireboxes with a proper fireguard and never leave open fires unattended.
- Check the chimney regularly and have it swept every year.
- Dispose of ashes safely in a metal bucket. Ashes can take up to five days to cool so dampen them with water or store the bucket well away from buildings or anything flammable.
- Don’t throw hot ashes into rubbish bins.
- Don’t use flammable liquids to start an open fire.
- Don’t overload power-points or multi-boards with high wattage appliances such as heaters.
- Keep heaters out of traffic areas and never dry clothing on heaters.
Candles can look and smell attractive, but can also be a serious fire hazard.
- Never leave candles unattended.
- Ensure the candle is placed on a fireproof surface, such as a ceramic plate or in a secure candle-holder with a wide, flat base.
- Use candles with care.
- Keep candles away from paper, curtains, bedclothes and anything that will burn easily.
- Put out candles before you go to sleep or leave a room.
- Don’t let children use candles, especially in the bedroom.
- Don't allow children to play with candles or be unsupervised in a room with a lit candle.
- Keep candles out of traffic areas.
- Check that lamps have the correct bulb size and rating (in watts), according to manufacturer specifications.
- Keep a torch near the bed.
- Worn and old electric blankets can cause electric shock, fire and even death. Have your electric blanket tested annually by a qualified electrician.
- Always turn off your electric blanket at the wall before getting into bed.
- Don’t put heavy objects on the bed while the electric blanket is turned on.
- Ensure blanket controls are not twisted or caught between the mattress and base.
- Ensure the blanket is tightly secured and laid flat on the bed.
- When not in use, store your electric blanket rolled up, not folded.
Electric blankets are not recommended for babies or young children as bed-wetting can occur.
Barbecues are dangerous if you use them carelessly or if you’ve been drinking alcohol.
- Check and maintain barbecue fittings connection.
- Keep the area around the BBQ clear.
- Supervise children at all times around the barbecue.
- Remove all excess fat after each use.
- Store flammable liquids and other products in appropriate containers in the shed.
- Keep the shed locked. Ensure your shed has good ventilation.
- Know where gas isolation valves are in your home.
- Have all gas appliances serviced according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Overloading electrical circuits (including multi-board power boxes), misusing electrical equipment, and having faulty equipment are common causes of fire.
- If you’re worried about how well appliances are working, such as electric blankets, heaters, air conditioners or fans, have them checked by a qualified electrician.
- Don’t overload your multi-board with double adaptors – one appliance per multi-board or wall socket.
- Always use socket safety guards.
- Ensure extension cords are not in traffic areas.
- Power tools are not toys.
- Ensure that leads on appliances are in good condition and not frayed. Regularly check for frayed ends and broken wires.
- Don’t use extension cords as permanent replacements for your home’s internal wiring.
- Never put them under carpets or mats or use them while they’re tightly coiled.
- Turn off and, where practical, unplug appliances when they’re not being used.
- Keep electrical appliances clear of water.
- Get a licensed electrician or gas fitter to test newly bought second-hand appliances.
- Don’t put fans, heaters, and electrical equipment where airflow is restricted – they can get overheated.
If you have an older home, you might have outdated electrical wiring that can cause fires. Get it checked by a registered electrician and if necessary, have your home rewired.
Static electricity and the build-up of heat can make dust, lint and chemical residue on clothing catch fire.
- Remove lint from the clothes dryer filter after each use.
- Ensure the dryer goes through the full cycle, including cool down.
- Turn off and unplug the dryer and washing machine before leaving the house.
- Regularly dust the grill at the back of the clothes dryer to prevent dust build-up and overheating.
- Ensure there is proper ventilation and air space around the clothes dryer.
A word about sprinklers
Sprinklers might be an expensive option, but very effective at putting out fires. If you’re building a new house, consider installing sprinklers. US statistics indicate they reduce the likelihood of death by 83% and reduce property loss by 71% - www.firesprinklerinitiative.org
Matches and lighters are tools, not toys
- Keep all matches and lighters up high, out of children’s sight and reach.
- Teach children to take matches or lighters to an adult straight away.
- Use only child-resistant lighters and safety matchbox holders.
- Refrain from buying lighters that resemble toys.
- Child-resistant lighters are not child-proof.
Smoking in bed is dangerous.
- Use a solid ashtray to stub out butts – soak butts with water before throwing them out
- Check behind cushions for butts and ashes before you go to bed
- Remember the heater-metre rule – keep furniture, clothes and curtains at least one metre away from heaters and fire-places.
- Ensure you have fireguards around all heaters and fireplaces. Secure to the wall if possible. Spark guards will not stop a child falling into a fire.
- Acrylic clothing melts when too close to heat. Beware of children hugging heaters.
- Check nightwear for labels regarding fire danger.
Nightly fire check
Do a fire check every night before you turn out the lights.
Check to see that:
- Kitchen appliances are turned off and safe.
- Heaters are turned off, and furniture and clothes are at least a metre away from the fireplace.
- The ashtray has been emptied into a metal bin outside.
- The TV has been switched off using the power switch on the set and not the remote control standby.
- Any candles are out.
- Kitchen and living room doors are closed to slow a fire spreading to the bedrooms.
- The house is secure and keys are in the deadlocks.
- Passageways are clear.
Your home can have many hidden dangers – check this list to make your home safe for your family and friends.
Falls are the most common cause of injury to children. You can take action now to help prevent falls.
- Check your decks, porches and steps.
- Use barriers to keep children safe.
- Keep small children on the floor but use a barrier (for example a playpen or door barrier).
- Don’t use baby walkers. They are dangerous because they provide infants under 12 months with speed, height and mobility which they are unable to deal with.
- Check your handrails on your deck or porch - do they prevent children falling through or climbing over?
- Clear spills and keep floor and play areas clear.
- Take special care when carrying a baby.
Make sure you have the right car seat for the weight and size of your child, that the seat is fitted correctly and that you secure the harness using a locking clip. Always use the safety harnesses in highchairs, prams, shopping trolleys and baby bouncers. Check when buying used child products that the webbing on the safety harnesses is in good order.
On your home safety checklist make sure you:
- Change nappies on the floor rather than on a high surface and have everything you need at hand. If using a changing table, always keep one hand on the child at all times.
- Make sure babies in car seats and bouncinettes are not placed on furniture where they could topple off.
- Regular checks of nursery furniture and play furniture to tighten any screws or bolts.
- When a cot is in use make sure the side is up and secure and check that toys left in the cot won't enable the child to climb over the side.
- Top bunks are not suitable for children under 6 years of age.
- Avoid placing children under 3 in an adult-height bed. Use a mattress on the floor or use a bed guard or rail.
- Pad the sharp corners of tables to protect little ones from running into them.
- Make sure furniture is not arranged in such a way to form a natural stair for your child to climb.
- Keep all furniture away from fencing around decks and pools.
- Fit safety catches on lower windows.
- When buying child products look for markings or labels, which indicate they meet safety standards.
It is important to make regular checks of all your children's toys and play equipment. This will minimize the risk of injury. Make sure you:
- Supervise your children on play equipment.
- Have rules for the use of trampolines - one child at a time. Consider minimizing risk by sinking trampoline legs into the ground.
- Create safe play areas away from vehicle access.
- Make sure older children’s toys are secured away from toddlers.
- Having separate play areas for older children and young children.
- Instil waiting for your turn when slides and swings are in use - children are compulsive.
- Maintenance of soft fall materials e.g. bark chips are essential.
- Make regular maintenance checks on all outdoor play equipment.
Remember, play is their work, they are totally focused on what they are doing.
Stairs figure in a large percentage of home falls. 66% of falls result in a fracture. Almost half of all falls occur at home. How you can help:
- Use stair guards or barriers, and impact-absorbing mats at the bottom of stairs.
- Non-slip surfacing, good lighting and regular maintenance are also important.
- Keep stairs clear of clutter.
- Teach children to walk, not run when using stairs.
- It is wise to have a handrail for support when staircases are used by very young children and older people.
- Outdoor steps need to be kept clean and free of moss.
- Take extra care when carrying a child up and down staircases.
- Always ensure you can see where you place your feet when using stairs.
- Carry parcels under your arm, not in front of you.
- When building steps and stairs DIY, make sure the treads are wide enough to take an adult size shoe.
- Use safety gates on stairs if there are infants and toddlers in your home. These need to be attached to the wall at both the top and bottom of a staircase.
- Teach children to wait their turn when using climbing stairs on play equipment.
- Have all stairs and steps brightly lit at night.
When using a ladder around the home make sure it meets a relevant safety standard.
- Check you have assembled your ladder correctly.
- Make sure all locking clips are in place and secure.
- Check the stay bars are locked properly.
- Always stand your ladder on firm, level ground.
- Keep metal ladders away from electrical outlets.
- Arrange to shut off the power if you need to work close to electric lines.
- When climbing or descending a ladder, face the ladder squarely, keep your body centred between the rails at all times.
- Never overreach - move the ladder.
- If possible have someone help by steadying the bottom part of the ladder.
- Remember the safety rule ‘one in four’. The ladder should be one measure out from the wall for every four measures in height.
- Wear shoes, not sandals or thongs/jandals when using ladders.
- Secure any doors or windows that could be opened under the ladder.
- It is not wise to stand on the top step of ladders.
- Keep your home safe by locking your ladder away after use.
- Regular maintenance of your ladder will minimise preventable injuries.
- Have electric blankets serviced.
- Have chimneys swept.
- Check connections of gas heaters for leaks and have safety guards fitted.
- Maintenance check of any fireguards - do they secure to the wall?
- Renew batteries in smoke alarms and test.
- Safety catches on windows.
- Electric outlet safety plugs.
- Check all electrical cords for wear.
Contact CSFNZ for more home safety information and safety products.
One of the main reasons little children are admitted to the hospital is poisoning. Many children are poisoned at home by substances that parents thought were safely stored. The New Zealand National Poisons Centre provides a 24-hour, 7 days a week telephone service about poisons - 0800 POISON (0800 764 766). The centre also provides written information if non-urgent advice is needed. Staff maintain a computer database on the health effects of various poisons, chemicals, medicines, plants and animals.
Medicines are the greatest hazard. All homes contain medicines and poisonous household products. These include: aspirin, paracetamol tablets, the ‘pill’, dishwater detergents, iron tablets, heart tablets, blood pressure tablets, anti-convulsants, anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, antihistamines, diuretics, asthma drugs, alcohol, antifreeze, disinfectants, eucalyptus oil camphor, caustics, corrosives, insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, rat killers, petroleum products, solvents, thinners, adhesives, brake fluid, ammonia, batteries, cigarettes. There are lots of things you can do to keep your child safe:
- When you pick up your medicines from a pharmacist you can ask for child-resistant packaging.
- Always keep medicines in their original bottle or packet and never put different tablets or capsules in the same container.
- Never refer to tablets as lollies. Children should be encouraged to take their medicines without referring to them as lollies, sweets or soft drinks. Be positive without associating them with food, drinks or treats.
- Check the label on the bottle or packet before taking your drugs or if required to give them to someone else, e.g. your children or someone you care for.
- If you are not sure about instructions - check with your doctor.
- Always take medicines according to instructions.
- Take your medication out of view of children. This way children won't try and copy you.
- Medicine left in bags is easily accessible, so try to keep bags out of reach.
- Return all unused and out-of-date drugs to your local pharmacist.
- This is better than simply throwing them away down the toilet, kitchen sink or in household rubbish.
- Use childproof locks.
- Refrain from keeping medication on bedside tables.
- Ensure when you have finished with medication it is immediately secured and kept in a high cupboard.
- It is wise to have a daily tablet counter for people on multi medications. So often, people forget and overdose.
- Always dispose of empty medicine and poison containers safely.
Children act fast and so do poisons. It is wise to always keep poisons out of reach and out of danger - especially with household and garden sprays.
- Keep laundry and bathroom doors closed.
- Store cleaning products out of reach of small children.
- Always keep your cleaners in original containers.
- Never leave a child unattended around cleaning products.
- Use powdered products rather than liquids.
- Purchase products with child resistant caps.
- Keep rodent bait in locked cupboards.
- Refrain from storing shampoo within reach of children.
- Store all household cleaning products (furniture polish, bleach, dishwashing liquid, dishwashing machine powder, all-purpose cleaners, washing machine powder or liquid) out of reach of children.
- Chemicals and cleaning products should always be kept in their original container, with a child proof or tightly fitting lid.
- Drinking glasses, beverage bottles or food containers should never be used for storage of chemicals. This is very dangerous and illegal.
- Manufacturers of chemicals and household cleaning products print ‘instructions for use’ on the container. These instructions are for your safety and should always be read before use, even if you have used the product before.
If you have any chemicals that are no longer needed it may not be safe, or legal, to simply pour them down the drain or to put them into household rubbish. Contact your local regional council for information on safe disposal.
Garden sprays, paints and other poisons
- Ensure your garden shed is kept locked.
- Make sure any paint or spray paint, whether it is open or not is out of reach and teach children that even though they may be colourful they are not lollies.
- Get some non-toxic paints for arts and crafts, do not use any unsafe paints.
- Keep all household and garden chemicals (weed or plant sprays, ant, rat or mouse bait, insect repellents, petrol, turpentine etc.) in a locked cupboard or in a cupboard with child-resistant locks.
- Insist children ask before eating anything out of the garden.
- Always wash fruit and veggies thoroughly before eating.
- Do not burn treated timbers.
- Always wear protective mask and gloves when working with CCA Treated Timbers.
- Keep young children and pets away from areas inside and out when using sprays.
- Only use garden or agricultural sprays when there is no wind.
- Protective clothing is for your personal safety and should be used correctly.
- Faulty or broken equipment should be replaced.
- It is vital that children wash their hands before eating after outside play.
- Berries, flowers, leaves and other plant material that fall onto lawns or garden paths should be cleared away so children are not tempted to put them in their mouth.
- It may be a good idea to know the names of your plants so that you can give correct information to your doctor or the Poisons Centre if it is needed.
- If you suspect poisoning check what has been taken then phone 0800 764 766 (the Poisons Centre) for advice.
- If you have to burn rubbish do it in an open area, and be careful not to allow the smoke to blow towards your family or neighbours as smoke can cause irritation to the throat and lungs.
- Some plant material can produce poisonous fumes if burned, for example, oleander.
- Treated wood and plastics are not safe to burn.
- Old chemical or medicine packets, especially inhalers, should not be burned.
Carbon monoxide, ‘the silent killer’
Carbon Monoxide is produced by burning any fuel, always have ventilation. Symptoms include dizziness, nausea, fatigue, headaches. If you suffer from these symptoms indoors, feel better when outside, yet symptoms reappear when back indoors, you may have CO poisoning. Get into fresh air and seek emergency medical care. Never operate unvented gas-burning appliances in a closed room. Only use mobile gas heaters in a well-ventilated room.
Poison first aid
- If you suspect your child has swallowed something poisonous:
- Stay calm - this will help the child to stay calm.
- Protect yourself from poisons, especially if there is smoke, fumes or a lot of spilled chemicals.
- Check to see if the person is conscious by talking to them. If you don't get a reply, check that they are breathing and have a pulse, place them on their side (recovery position). If there is no pulse and they are not breathing immediately start resuscitation. The mouth-to-nose technique must be used if there is any chance the rescuer may be contaminated by the poison by using mouth-to-mouth technique. Call an ambulance. Try to identify the chemical or drug involved so that correct information can be given to the doctor. If a poison has been swallowed contact the Poison Centre on 0800 POISON (0800 764 766) or your doctor.
- Making someone vomit is not always best. If the poison is corrosive then drinking may be helpful. Water is the best thing to drink.
- Some household products can cause vomiting. If vomiting does occur, try not to let children inhale the vomit as they may damage their lungs.
- Children should not be put to bed after swallowing any poison without first contacting the Poison Centre or a doctor.
- Sometimes poisons can splash into the eyes which are very sensitive and can be quickly damaged by liquids or powders. If this happens, wash the eye with water. Cleanse the eye for at least 20 minutes. Rinse the eye from the nose to the ear so as not to flush the poison into the other eye. Lift both lids so water can flush away the chemical from under both eyelids. After cleaning the eye, go to the nearest hospital or medical centre so a doctor can assess the eye. If corrosive products are splashed in the eye call an ambulance immediately. Ambulance officers can help cleanse the eyes while travelling to the hospital.
- If chemicals splash onto the skin, remove the person away from the chemical and immediately clean the affected skin with lots of water. Remove any contaminated clothing unless there is burnt skin or clothing. If a large area of skin has been exposed, call an ambulance while still cleaning the area. If a small area is involved, clean the area with water for 20 minutes, if pain, swelling or irritation persists seek medical attention.
- The fire service may be needed to assist with chemical spills. Do not hesitate to call if you are unsure.
Keep the burglars out
Discovering a burglary in your home can be one of the most upsetting things to happen to you. Knowing a burglar has been in your home and rummaging through your things while you’ve been out feels like they’ve invaded your private space. Long gone are the days of trusting that you can leave the doors unlocked. Securing your home now has to be part of an evening routine, whenever you leave the house, or when you’re home alone.
If you want to keep your home secure, think like a burglar. Have you lost your keys or left them at work and broken into your own home? How easy was it? Imagine how easy it would be for an experienced burglar. Have a look around your home and see what burglary risks you have. Do you leave windows open when you’re out?
Statistically, it's unlikely you will ever encounter an intruder in your home. However, you can lessen the chances of such an event by installing proper security devices and observing sensible security practices. The Police have lots of tips you can use to keep you and your home safe. Here are some of them:
- Telephone the Police immediately if you see a prowler. Provide a description of the person, clothing, and direction of travel if the person has run away.
- After telephoning the Police, remain quiet and do not alert the prowler, provided your safety is not being threatened. This will allow the Police a better chance of catching the prowler. If you think the prowler is about to break in, switch on the lights if it's at night, and make as much noise as possible.
- It's best not to go outside even if you think the prowler has run away. Going outside could expose you to danger if the person is still nearby or returns, and your presence could hamper the Police and their dogs.
- Install sensor lights on access paths or around your main external doors (they go on automatically when somebody moves nearby). Consider fitting exterior sensor lights to deter prowlers. If you're returning home at night, a sensor light installed near the front door will light up the surrounding area.
- Install external lighting under the eaves of your house. Don't forget the dark areas at the side or rear of the house. Items left lying around such as ladders, tools, gardening implements, lawnmowers and bicycles can attract a criminal on to the property. Keep these things inside, or secured in a locked shed or garage. Burglars travel light, so they’ll look for useful tools on the property. Hammers, screwdrivers, crowbars etc. are exactly the kind of thing a burglar needs for an easy break-in, so keep your tools secure. Don’t leave a ladder leaning up against the house or readily available outside.
- Balance your privacy with security. Prowlers can hide behind large shrubs, plants, or high fencing. Prowlers are less likely to target a property that makes it hard for them to get into and out of. Keep bushes and hedges trimmed back so there’s nowhere for a burglar to hide, especially close to windows and doors near the house. Thorny plants along fence lines can discourage prowlers from climbing over, and having fully enclosed fencing with a gate creates a barrier.
- Display warning signs indicating you have tight security, and indicating that you are a member of a Neighbourhood Watch or other community support group (contact your local community constable for details). Displaying Neighbourhood Watch, Beware of Dog and burglar alarm signs, can discourage criminal activity. Set up or join a Neighbourhood Support Group in your area and display Neighbourhood Support signs and stickers. It’s a great way to get to know your neighbours and develop plans to deal with problems or suspicious activity. Exchanging phone numbers or emergency contact details is a good start.
- Permanent reflective attachments on footpaths are ideal.
People at the door
DOORSTOP – an easy acronym to remember:
Don't open your door without using a doorstop code.
Observe first. Always check by looking through a window or door-viewer.
Only open your door partly with security chain connected.
Refuse entry if in doubt and telephone the Police or a neighbour.
Switch on outside lights when dark to see who is there.
Think suspiciously. Strangers might be thieves trying to get in.
Only open the door after examining identification and satisfying yourself it is genuine.
Protect your family, as well. Make sure children know the code.
- Install a “peep-hole” in a front door so you know who’s visiting.
- Ask any unannounced visitors who they are and what they want. Ask them to go somewhere (outside a closed window) where you can see them and their ID. If you’re not happy with their answers or their ID, don’t open the door.
- If you have advertised an item for sale and have arranged for a stranger to view it, a good idea could be to have a friend or relative present in your home.
Ways people might try to get into your house:
- Asking to use the telephone.
- Asking for a glass of water.
- Asking for donations.
- Conducting a survey.
- Impersonating sales representatives, officials, tradespeople etc.
Ways to respond can include:
- Saying no.
- Leaving the person outside and offering to make a telephone call for them.
- Denying entry until telephoning their office to verify that they are legitimate.
- Keep valuables out of sight, especially away from windows.
- Keep a record of the serial numbers of valuable property and take photos of it. You can engrave property with an identifying number such as your driver licence number if it doesn’t already have a serial number.
- If you’ve recently bought a valuable item, destroy the packaging or hide it in the rubbish/recycling. Burglars will notice these things.
- Photograph valuable items, particularly antiques or paintings, so they can be identified if found.
If you arrive home and you think there has been a burglary, don't go in. An intruder might still be inside. Go to a neighbour's and telephone the Police.
A safety plan will enable you to make the best decision for dealing with an emergency. When making a safety plan consider these points:
- Whether you are alone or if there are children or other adults present in the home.
- The internal layout of your home for access to any children and escape routes.
- Proximity to neighbours and boundary features of your property.
- An agreement with your neighbours on how they will respond.
- Using an existing room as a safe area, which must have a telephone installed, window security, and a door able to be securely locked from the inside.
- Choosing to use a safe room or to escape from the home. This will depend on the particular situation and personal circumstances.
Factors to consider might include:
- The risks of encountering an intruder inside or outside the property during an escape.
- Whether ground-floor windows are accessible if an exit door is blocked by an intruder, and physical agility to climb out and run to safety.
- Try to avoid contact with the intruder
- Telephone the Police on 111 as soon as you safely can
- You must decide quickly either to secure yourself (and any children) in a safe room, or to escape from the home
- If you decide on the safe room, phone your neighbours, as well as the Police
- If you do encounter the intruder, try to get out of the way
- Call out to somebody else in the house to phone the Police, even if you are alone
- Make a noise – loudly. You can attract attention by breaking windows and shouting loudly things such as "Go away!", "Get out of my home", "Somebody call the Police"
If you cannot avoid the intruder, and shouting and making noise has no effect, an alternative is to calm yourself, then firmly tell the intruder to leave.
Being assertive is an important self-defence technique.
- Show confidence – bravado even. Hold your head up. Pull your shoulders back. Stand tall. Even just that can force an intruder to have second thoughts – often the last thing they want is a battle with someone
- Be prepared to physically defend yourself. The most vulnerable parts of an attacker's body are the eyes, nose and genital area. You are allowed to use force against your attacker when defending yourself.
- Be aware that if you use something as a weapon in self-defence, it could be turned against you. Find out about self-defence classes in your area.
During an emergency, activate any available, fitted, remote or personal alarm system when it is practicable and safe to do so.
- Be wary of leaving keys with tradespeople – keys can be copied.
- Separate your house keys from your vehicle keys – you don’t want the burglar using your vehicle to load up with your possessions and have the double-whammy of car theft as well.
- Don’t leave your keys under the front door mat or obvious hiding place. Again, think like a burglar – where would you look for keys?
- You can also leave your spare keys with a neighbour instead of hiding them.
- Don't leave house keys with your car keys when your car is being serviced.
If you live alone
- Don’t leave a message on your answer phone that suggests you’re out or alone.
- Don't advertise it if you live alone (especially women).
- Many people display their names on letterboxes or doorplates. Consider using your last name or having an anonymous letterbox.
- Use only initials and a surname in telephone listings.
- Fool strangers into believing you are not alone by leaving items such as large gumboots near the front door.
- If you come home alone, it's a good idea to carry a personal or remote alarm for your car or house. If your safety is threatened you can easily sound your alarm.
- Have your house keys ready in your hand for quick entry if needed.
- If you are alone you can create the impression that someone else is present by shouting out that you will answer the door.
- Lock all your doors and windows at night (including garages or sheds), if you’re going out, if you’re in the garden or if you’re home alone.
- Make sure all your locks and handles are strong. Upgrade them if they’re loose or need repair and install deadlocks if possible.
- Police are always interested in suspicious activity. Don’t hesitate to call the police to report something out of the ordinary and, if you see a crime being committed, call 111 immediately.
- If you’ve been burgled recently, double your security efforts. Burglars know you’ll replace stolen items with new, and might try again.
- If you’re going away for a while, tell a trusted neighbour so they can keep an eye on the place. Tell them to call 111 if they see anything suspicious and give them a contact number for you.
- Get them to clear your mailbox daily or get the post office and newspaper office to hold your deliveries until you get back.
- Take a note of the serial numbers on all your appliances and electronic equipment.
- Ensure your house number can be clearly seen from the road at all times. Visibility of a street number at night is important, make sure your house number is clearly visible so Police and other emergency services can find you quickly.
- Strengthen windows with safety glass or shatter-resistant film.
- Change locks if you lose your key.
- Have locks of hardened-steel (not aluminium) and deadlocks (not simple mortise locks).
- Lock the front door if you're in the back garden.
- If you are at home and leave any exterior doors open or unlocked, consider that a prowler could take the opportunity to get in easily.
- Lock your house if you are having a nap or doing something that needs a lot of concentration, such as studying.
- Don't have personal details on your keys (such as your name, phone number or address).
- Have a panic button for the burglar alarm in your bedroom.
- Have a light switch and phone within reach of your bed.
- Keep a dog for protection, or acquire an electronic barking device as a deterrent.
- Replace any hollow external doors with solidcore ones fitted into sturdy framing, or install security screen doors on the outside.
- Fit deadlocks to outer doors and internal access garage doors.
- Fit lockable bolts to ranch-sliders and french doors.
- Secure louver windows by gluing them into fittings or replacing with an alternative.
It's good to:
- Have a loud whistle or personal alarm.
- Have an alarm system.
- Remember that burglars hate barking dogs.
- Have a wide-angle door viewer in front and back doors.
- Plant prickly bushes or shrubs under windows.
Before you go away:
- Never leave notes on the door saying that you are out.
- Tell your neighbour when and where.
- Cancel groceries and other deliveries.
- Get an app to control your lights.
- Curtains open, blinds up.
- Turn telephone sound down.
When you go away, make sure your home looks "lived in". Ask your neighbour to:
- Clear your letterbox.
- Close your curtains at night.
- Use your clothesline occasionally.
- Watch your home.
- Use your drive occasionally.
Why your place?
Information from the police and Neighbourhood Support suggests burglars like properties:
- Where it looks like no-one’s home – lights aren’t on at night, curtains are drawn during the day, and mail and newspapers are building up in the letterbox.
- Where a window or door is left open or unsecured.
- Where people can’t see what they’re doing from the street – trees and shrubs might block the view.
- That have alleyways running beside them or back onto parks, reserves or green belts.
- Where valuable items are left outside overnight, such as a bike.
- Where the garage door is open, they can see your car isn’t there and there’s something valuable inside, such as a lawnmower or chainsaw.
- They’ve been to before, knowing the layout, what’s in them and how to get out.
- They’ve burgled before, so they’ll try again when valuables have been replaced with new items.
Burglars don’t like:
- Houses with alarms
- Neighbours who support each other, talk to each other and take an interest in what’s going on around them, particularly people they don’t know or haven’t seen before.
- Neighbours who report suspicious activity to police and are able to give good descriptions of who and what they’ve seen.
- A vehicle in the driveway.
- Lights, TV or radio on.
- People who mark valuable property with serial numbers and keep a record of those numbers.
- Remember if you see anything suspicious, call the police on 111. Burglars like to work in silence and usually enter through unlocked doors and windows, or they take advantage of weak locks.
Coming home and finding that your home has been burgled can be one of the most upsetting things to happen to someone. Knowing a burglar has been in your home and rummaging through your things while you’ve been out feels like they’ve invaded your private space. Long gone are the days of trusting that you can leave the doors unlocked. Securing your home now has to be part of an evening routine, whenever you leave the house, or when you’re home alone. Check each part of your home for security risks.
- Front door - make sure your front door has a double deadlock so it allows locking from both inside and outside. This prevents burglars breaking door glass and reaching inside to unlock, or opening the door from inside to take out large items that would not fit through windows. A five-lever mortice lock (that is a lock set into a hole cut in the door) is recommended. Also, fit bolts to the top and bottom of the door, add a security chain and insert a door viewer for extra safety.
- Other doors - if necessary, replace two-lever mortice locks on back and side doors with five-lever locks or a double cylinder deadbolt, and add bolts to the top and bottom of the door. Fit hinge bolts to outward-opening doors such as in conservatories to prevent doors from being forced open. Fit patio bolts to the top and bottom of the doors. Sliding doors can be protected with anti-lift deadlocks.
- Windows - most burglars gain access through windows, and most of those entries are through windows at the back of the house. Locked windows are a serious deterrent for burglars. Consult a master locksmith to find out what kind of locks and window openers are available for your particular home (it will depend on whether you have wooden or metal windows, how they open and where they are located). Give priority to windows at ground level. If you have upstairs windows, put locks on all those that can be accessed up a drainpipe or from a flat roof. Glue the glass slats of louvre windows in place or install security bars.
- Skylights - if a burglar can reach it, fit an appropriate lock.
- Garage - fit a deadlock or padlock and locking bar to the door and fit a lock to any door that provides direct access to the house.
- Shed - don't provide burglars with the use of your tools. Make sure your shed has a padlock and strong hasp on the door and locks on all windows.
- Get alarmed - an installed alarm system is often enough on its own to deter intruders. Alarms are more expensive than locks, but when added to locks, they are very effective deterrents.
- General safety - work out a home security routine for when you leave the house, go on holiday and go to bed at night.
- Don't give personal information to strangers or callers representing themselves as market research or telemarketing companies – they might not be genuine. It might be better to use "Hello" rather than reveal your name or telephone number.
- Do not let strangers know that you are at home alone.
- When it appears a caller has dialled your number by mistake, do not supply your name, address or telephone number. Ask the caller the number wanted, then tell them they have a wrong number.
- When recording an answer-phone or voice-mail message, do not indicate what times you will be in or out.
- Keep personal information to a minimum. A woman living alone could consider using the term "we" on the message, or have a male friend record the message.
- Mobile conversations can be scanned. People should be careful not to disclose any information that would help a criminal and threaten their safety.
Firearms safely stored and in the hands of fit and proper people with the right knowledge and skills hurt no one. The risk of injury or death is remote. Injury from violence is more likely the result of a knife or fist attack.
Guns in the house
Injury from firearms is certainly less likely than that resulting from a motor accident. Even so, everyone needs to be aware of common-sense firearms storage and what to do if they are concerned about someone in their household or neighbourhood who should not have access to firearms.
A licence is a must
You must be 16 and over and have a Police-issued firearms licence to own or possess a firearm in New Zealand. You cannot walk into a gun shop and buy a pistol, for instance, over the counter without a licence or permit. And only fit and proper people who hold a firearms licence should have access to firearms. You have a responsibility to report to the Police any concern about that. Consider these:
- Do you have a firearm in the house?
- Does the owner have a firearms licence?
- Is anyone in the house prone to violence or unstable mentally?
- Does anyone outside the family know a gun is in the house?
- Do you know anyone who has had their firearms licence revoked and still has possession or easy access to firearms?
- Is the firearm stored under lock and key, with the firearm disabled or the ammunition stored separately?
Safe firearms storage
The Arms Regulations require these minimum standards:
- A firearm must not be put in any place where a young child has ready access to it.
- Ammunition must be stored separately or the firearm made incapable of firing (the bolt should be removed or the firearm fitted with a trigger-locking device). It is sound practice to do both.
- Licence-holders must take "reasonable steps" to secure firearms against theft. Some of those "reasonable steps" are spelled out. You must have somewhere to lock away firearms. It could be: a stout, lockable cabinet, container or receptacle ("stout" means strong enough to stop a child or casual opportunist thief getting access), a display cabinet or rack that locks in and immobilises firearms so they can't be fired, or even a steel-and-concrete strongroom.
At home, unless your firearms are under the immediate supervision of a licence-holder, you must keep them unloaded and locked away.
For owners of pistols, restricted weapons, and prohibited firearms (semi-automatic firearms - excluding low calibre rimfire rifles - and pump-action firearms above a specified magazine capacity) including collectors, there are additional security requirements, which they are advised of when they apply for their special endorsements.
The Arms Act puts duties on firearms owners and users, and can lead to prosecution if contravened. Most of these provisions are common-sense, but if you are in any doubt, or require more information, you should contact a solicitor, the Police, or obtain a copy of the Arms Act and Regulations.
Water and water sports form an integral part of many New Zealanders’ lives. We enjoy swimming, fishing, boating, kayaking, windsurfing; and we enjoy the summer days with the family on the beach or at the river. Water safety is important. Along with the fun goes a responsibility for parents and caregivers to constantly watch their children around water.
Tragedy can happen very quickly. It’s important that children learn to swim. It’s like riding a bike - a skill that’s never forgotten. Swimming gets children fit, gives them confidence, a sense of achievement and a skill that could save their life. A skilled swimmer might even be able to save someone else’s life. Schools run swimming programmes as part of their physical education curriculum, but local authorities also have some excellent programmes at swimming pools with trained instructors.
If you are at the beach a lot, ask the local surf lifesaving club for advice and consider joining the club along with your children. The key to safe and worry-free days is to follow some simple guidelines. Don’t forget about water safety at home though as pre-schooler drowning accidents are most likely to occur at home.
The frightening fact is that children can drown in less than two minutes - and they can drown quietly without you ever hearing it happen. The Water Safety Council suggests you take some simple precautions around your home and that you always watch your children carefully around water. To judge whether your home is safe, try the following Water Safety checklist. How do you score?
- I always stay with my child at bathtimes.
- I have a non-slip mat in the bath or shower to stop slipping.
- I always keep the toilet lid shut.
- I keep the plug for the bath out of reach of children.
- I make sure large water containers, such as nappy buckets, are out of reach of children.
- I have my home pool fenced.
- I check for water hazards around my home and I am aware of water hazards in my neighbourhood.
- I have a safe fenced play area for my child.
Supervision around water is essential, whether it is at bathtime, in a paddling pool, at the river or at the beach. Never leave children unsupervised near water.
Water areas around home such as buckets, water containers, water troughs, dog bowls and toilet bowls can all be dangerous to young children. Children love to play, especially in water. However, as they reach into or over buckets or containers they can lose their balance and fall in. Place buckets and other water containers out of your child's reach and get into the habit of emptying water containers and paddling pools immediately after use. It is also a good idea to keep the toilet lid closed or the bathroom door shut - especially with toddlers who like to climb and explore.
Water safety for pools and spas
Of all water hazards, pools present the greatest risk for children. Half of all drownings of children under 6 occur in home swimming pools. Have rules for pool use and enforce them. Adult supervision in all pools is essential. A small child can easily be lost underwater in a crowded pool.
- Leave books and magazines at home or inside when taking children to be in, or near, water.
- Home swimming and spa pools are required by law to be enclosed by a fence and fitted with a self-closing and self-latching gate. Make sure your pool meets these legal requirements.
Regularly check home pools:
- Placement of outdoor furniture.
- Pool fencing and locks on gates.
- Put all pool toys away after use.
- Keep ranch sliders and other doors that access a pool area locked as well.
- Always use a spa pool cover and make sure it is locked when the spa is not in use.
- Keep young children away from spa pools unless there is constant adult supervision.
- Check your spa pool has the dual drains and drain covers required by current safety standards.
- Insist adults supervise their own children.
- Alcohol and water play can be a fatal cocktail.
- Don’t expect the pool lifeguards to be babysitters. Your child could be disappointed if a lifeguard finds they are unsupervised and asks them to stay out of the pool.
Water Safety New Zealand recommends you do not take babies into public swimming pools until they are at least 6 months old. By that time:
- Their immune systems have developed enough to protect them from catching diseases from the many other children who will also be in a public pool.
- They will have sufficient head control to enable them to keep their head out of the water.
- Their body temperature control system will be developed enough to cope with the changes in temperature that come with undressing and getting wet.
- Their ears will be better able to deal with immersion in water.
All children, even small babies, should wear some form of swimming clothing. Nappies are no good for swimming as they hold water in and can become heavy. Dress children in specific swimming clothes, especially if children are not potty-trained as faeces can be contained in clothing and pollute the swimming pool. There should be a shallow pool for babies and toddlers and the temperature in this pool should be safe for young children. Dunking a baby under water too often can cause them to swallow more water than their kidneys can handle. This can lead to a condition known as water intoxication.