Taking care in wet areas

Many slips and falls happen in bathrooms and areas where there is water or a slippery surface. There are 17,000 bathroom accidents each year, most commonly from slips, trips and falls. Water and electricity are also a dangerous combination. This page provides some tips about keeping safe in wet areas.

Electrical appliances and switches

Water conducts electricity. To avoid an electric shock, keep electrical cords and appliances dry and away from water or damp areas.

You should never touch electrical switches or wires when you are wet. Keep a small towel handy to dry your hands before touching electrical switches. Make sure that these are switched off if not in use.

In bathrooms, use an alternative appliance, such as a battery-operated razor, instead of an electric one.

Install a wall-mounted bathroom heater and have it hardwired into your wall by a registered electrician.

Residual current devices

Residual current devices (RCDs) should be installed in damp or wet areas of your home where there are electrical fittings, such as bathrooms, laundries, kitchens, garages and pools. An RCD is an electrical safety device that provides protection by rapidly disconnecting the electricity supply in situations in which you could otherwise receive a fatal electric shock.

For more information about safe living with electricity, see the Energy Safety Service website (external link).

Non-slip mats

If you don’t already have one, stick a rubber mat on the bottom of the bath or shower to prevent slips. A non-slip bath mat is textured to help prevent slips. It should stick securely to the bath, shower or floor. You can buy these from your local hardware or home store.

Also, use a bathmat to step on when you get out of the bath or shower – that means you won’t leave slippery puddles. And don’t forget to pick it up! You don’t want the next person to slip on it or any other towels you might have left lying around. When you’ve finished drying yourself, always hang your towels up on a towel rail, which ideally is right next to the bath, shower or basin.

Keep spills to a minimum by using a good shower curtain or having a firmly sealing shower door that will keep the water in the shower, right where you want it. If there are any spills, clean them up immediately. Water on bathroom floors is not easy to spot but can be lethal if you slip, especially if you hit something, such as the bath or basin, on the way down.

Even without spills, moisture can accumulate in the bathroom so remember to open the window if you can do so safely or, even better, remember to switch on the extractor fan if you have one

Rails

To prevent falls, fit a safety handrail next to the toilet, in the shower box, or over the bath. Grab rails are a great way to help people, especially older people, use the bath, shower or toilet without slipping. Grab rails must be within easy reach, have a non-slip grip and be secure enough to take a person’s full weight.

Rails help people to:

  • steady themselves
  • support themselves when transferring from one position to another
  • balance when standing, stepping or dressing.

Rails need to:

  • be within easy reach
  • be fixed firmly to the wall and take the full weight of the person
  • provide a secure grip
  • be durable and free from corrosion
  • have a non-slip grip if used in wet areas
  • be visible against their background.

Always install handrails with a clear space of 50mm between the rail and the wall.

The position of the rail will depend on what type of handrail you are installing and where you are installing it.

Soap dishes

Use a soap dish to keep soap and other items off the bath or shower floor.

Install a shower caddy (hanging or suction pad) in your bath or shower. These are available from home stores or hardware stores.

How hot is too hot?

In many New Zealand homes, the most dangerous liquid is in the bathroom and kitchen taps. Luckily, as far as home hazards go, it’s also one of the easiest to fix.

Around 40% of our homes have dangerously hot water, which means there are more than 560,000 accidents waiting to happen from hot water burns. The ideal temperature for water is 55 degrees Celsius when it comes out of the tap, and 60 degrees in your cylinder. It needs to be at least 60 degrees in the cylinder to keep bacteria from growing, which could make you sick.

A tempering valve on your hot water system adjusts the temperature so that while the water in your tank is hot enough to stop harmful bacteria, it’s cool enough not to scald you or your children when it comes out the tap.

If you think your water is too hot, you probably need to turn down your hot water cylinder’s thermostat. The safest way to do that is to get in a registered plumber. They can tell you about other hot water safety measures too, such as temperature shut-off devices, programmable temperature controls, and adding a tempering valve if your system doesn’t have one.

It’s an easy step to take and sure beats the alternative of being injured!

Children are particularly susceptible to scalds because their skin burns faster than adults’ skin. Each year the equivalent of two classrooms of children are hospitalised from hot water burns – burns that could’ve been easily avoided.

It can also be a good idea to install child-resistant tap attachments. These can be fitted easily to most standard taps and will stop toddlers turning them on. You can pick these up from hardware stores or plumbing shops.

And remember, when you’re running a bath for your child, always put the cold in first then add the hot water until it feels about the same heat as your body temperature.

Tips for designing a new bathroom:

  • Opt for an extractor fan to clear away the steam; if you’re just going to use a window, make sure it’s easy to reach – leaning over a bath to open the window is a common cause of injuries.
  • European ‘wet area’ showers are safer than a box shower; avoid a shower over the bath – many people are injured stepping in and out of them.
  • Use slip-resistant flooring and don’t choose a colour that could hide mould or moisture, such as green or beige.
  • Choose fittings and appliances with smooth, rounded edges.
  • Child-proof your bathroom by positioning fixtures and fittings so that children can’t climb up them and get to dangerous areas such as windows or cupboards.
  • Keeping your bathroom safe is as easy as cleaning up after yourself and taking a few seconds when you go into the bathroom to think about what could become a hazard. If you spot something, pick it up or put it away. Those few seconds could save a lifetime of injury.

Last updated: 30 May 2011

Last reviewed: 23 January 2014