Safety issues for those who live alone
By Kirsten Magnusson
The single lifestyle is one envied by many – especially your married friends with houses full of kids. But for those of you who do live alone, you know that there are as many pitfalls as there are pleasures. The loneliness of course is the big one, plus the fact it’s always your turn to do the dishes, take out the bins, clean the bathroom and so on. One of the biggest challenges, however, is managing your personal safety – not only regarding outside risks such as intruders and disasters, but also around incidental things that can happen to you in your home. If you’re a tenant renting in a body corporate managed building, there will be a set of safety measures in place to protect you and the other residents in the event of a disaster or accident of some kind. If you own your own home, the responsibility for personal safety is completely on you.
Fire, flood and locust plagues
So maybe preparation for a locust plague is a little over the top, but knowing what to do when there’s a fire or a flood certainly is not. Fire can happen in a number of places in the home – a burning log that rolled out of the fireplace, a stray piece of packaging landing on a gas burner, or worst of all – the unseen dodgy wiring that catches alight inside the walls and is out of control before you can do anything about it. If there’s only you there, you have to be on the ball to not only manage the fire but to save your own life as well. It goes without saying that you have working smoke detectors with functioning batteries in them, that are tested regularly. Having a small personal fire extinguisher or a fire blanket stored somewhere handy in your kitchen is not a terrible idea either, given the extreme levels of creative cooking that go on these days. It only takes a moment for something to catch alight and seconds for it to quickly burn out of control. If you live in an apartment building, there should be an evacuation plan in the mail room or the lobby somewhere. If you live alone, you should have keys at the ready to unlock doors and windows and know your best escape route if a fire does take hold.
Flooding may give you a little more time, to get to safety, but you do need to move fast to prevent catastrophic water damage. In the instance of flooding caused by a burst pipe, do you know where the mains water tap is? A leak or an overflowing washing machine may not only affect you, it can leak through to your downstairs neighbours, then you’re up for double the costs if it’s your fault.
If you rent your home, your landlord, agent, or body corporate member should tell you the essentials when you move in – if they don’t, then ask them. Find the water mains, gas mains, fuse boxes etc and know how to operate them, plus get copies of safety and evacuation plans and familiarise yourself. Calling 000 is one thing but once you hang up, you have to know how to secure your environment and get yourself to safety too.
Accidents and Injuries
The most important thing you can remember when living alone is that nobody is thinking about you and whether you are ok at every moment. Accidents and injuries can happen that immediately leave you helpless and at risk. A deep cut while preparing dinner for example, falling down and getting a concussion, or getting trapped under a heavy piece of furniture that toppled on you when you moved it across the room on your own. These are all things that can happen to even the smartest of independent singles. Having a first aid kit on hand is a good start, but so is activating your favourite virtual assistant. Siri, Alexa and Google – they can all dial specified contacts for you upon your voice command and get help on the way when you can’t get up, or move, or find your phone.
Being on a first name basis with your neighbours is also strategic. You don’t need to tell them you live alone, but at least if you know their names, you can scream them out if you are in trouble! If you have to knock on their door for help, they might be more responsive than they would to a complete stranger. Introduce yourself when you first move in, then say hi to them in the elevator or the street as you pass. Doing small things for each other builds a sense of community and hopefully a bit of credit so that if you do need their help, you have more than just their moral compass to rely on.
Being safe but not trapped
One of the most overlooked issues for singles living alone is how to stay safe in the home from external risks such as robberies or a home invasion, yet still be able to get out or be accessed in an emergency. Too many elderly people have lain helpless on the floor, having activated their medical alert device for an ambulance, but then remained out of reach because of the locked front gate, deadlocked security screen and front doors, and deadlocks on all the windows. Consider a small key storage safe attached to the outside of your property somewhere – these come in a variety of sizes, options and prices and can be picked up at a hardware store. They are basically a small but heavy-duty container that you can put spare keys in, that’s accessed only by pin code. It can be screwed to a wall or attached to a gate much like a padlock. As long as you remember where it is and what the code is, you can pass that information on to someone and they can come and rescue you!
A secure entry apartment building will certainly protect you from home invasions. Not being identified to others in the building is important too – remove your name from your mailbox if possible and keep it locked so others can’t see or tamper with your mail. If you live in a house, it doesn’t hurt to install some sensor lighting and a security screen – just manage what is locked when and make sure someone else has spare keys that can be easily accessed in an emergency. You can go all out if you like – security cameras, alarms the whole box and dice, just be aware of not creating a tiny prison for yourself.
Be a grown up
If you don’t have someone to rush you to the hospital when you need it, then you can’t afford NOT to pay the $150 or so for an annual ambulance membership. Just like if you can afford to travel, you can’t afford not to have insurance, or if you own a car, you can’t afford not to have roadside assistance cover. They are all small expenses that will make the world of difference in your time of need. House, property and contents insurance are a personal choice too, but should be seriously considered if you think an accident in your home might affect a third party such as your upstairs, downstairs or next-door neighbours.
If you are renting it’s worth finding out who will be responsible for repairs and damages if made by an intruder, or by emergency services because they had to break a door down to rescue you. Do you need to have insurance for this, or will your landlord or body corporate’s insurance cover it? If you own your property, does your insurance cover this or is it the responsibility of your local emergency services provider? Responsibilities and legislation vary from state to state and from council to council. Know what your options are and don’t expect that someone will take care of the aftermath if disaster strikes.
Finally, too few of us reach out to our village before we need them. It’s always a good idea to have a few emergency numbers in your phone, to talk to some friends or neighbours about being your emergency back up and have someone you check in with every few days who knows you live alone.