Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for many people, but the decorations, special activities and gatherings can cause safety issues. So many visits to the ED—during the holidays and otherwise--can be prevented by taking safety precautions. Also, injuries, fires and other disasters that happen around the holidays seem to be extra-challenging and sad for those involved.
Below are some of the most significant safety issues that are specific to the holidays.
Electrical / Fire Safety
According to the National Fire Protection Association, approximately 30% of all home fires occur during the months of December and January.
Every year, about 2,500 deaths are attributed to fires, burns and other fire-related injuries. That figure does not take into account the number of people who suffer burns, smoke inhalation, etc. and survive – often with lasting scars. In fact, roughly 1 out of every 310 households per year has a reported fire.
Here are some tips to help protect your household from becoming a statistic:
- Make sure your outdoor lights are meant for outdoor use. Follow labeling for the number of light sets that can be connected end-to-end. Discard any string of lights with frayed cords, cracked lamp holders or loose connections. Don’t overload electrical circuits or extension cords
- Turn off indoor and outdoor lights before you go to bed – or put them on a functioning timer
- If you have a fireplace, make sure the chimney and fireplace area are safe for burning.
- Keep a 3-foot “kid free zone” around open fires and space heaters.
- Place candles on flat, steady, non-flammable surfaces and away from curtains and other flammable items. Keep them out of the reach of children and pets. Blow candles out before you leave the room for any extended period of time.
- Make sure you have smoke alarms – and make sure they work. Always have a working fire extinguisher – and keep it easily accessible. And have a fire safety plan for your family. Hopefully you will never need it but be prepared in case.
- If you use a live Christmas tree, water it daily to prevent it from drying out. A general rule of thumb is 1 quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter. And keep all flammables far away from the tree.
For more fire or electrical safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association.
Some of the things that bring us comfort and joy can also be hazardous if we aren’t careful. For example:
- When spraying artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, be sure to follow directions as these sprays can irritate your lungs if inhaled.
- Plants can spruce up your holiday decorating, but keep those that might be poisonous (including some poinsettias) out of reach of children or pets. The national Poison Control Center can be reached at 800-222-1222. (Save this number to your phone!)
- Keep medications out of the reach of children.
- Make sure all fuel-burning equipment is vented to the outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause illness or death. Also, install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
- Remember that improperly handled food can also be dangerous. Remember to wash your hands often when preparing food – especially when handling meat and poultry.
For more information, visit the American Association of Poison Control Centers at www.aapcc.org.
Putting up decorations is one of the best ways to get in a holiday mood. However, an estimated 15,000 injuries involving falls and other injuries resulting from holiday decorating are seen in emergency departments each year.
Here are some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe from falls during the holiday season:
- If you have your decorations stored in an attic, be aware of your surroundings. Look for exposed nails, wires, low-hanging rafters or cross-beams and watch your step.
- Keep sidewalks and steps shoveled and de-iced to prevent slips and falls. Before it snows, apply salt to your sidewalks and driveways. When shoveling, lift with your legs and not your back. Don’t put too much weight on your shovel and one time. And for goodness sake, if you are not physically able to shovel, do not try! Hire the teenager next door.
- Use a proper step ladder; don’t stand on chairs or furniture
- Use safe ladder practices when hanging lights and other pretties: Only 1 person on the ladder at a time, and place the ladder feet on a substantial, level and non-skid base
- If you have guests staying with you, make sure you have night lights or easy-to-reach lamps in case they need to get up during the night.
- Keep pathways – indoors and outdoors – clear of rugs, clutter, decorations, toys, etc.
We’ve all heard it’s important when picking toys for infants or children to avoid small parts that might cause a choking hazard. Here are some additional gift-related safety tips to keep in mind when picking out toys for the youngsters – or the young at heart - in your life:
- Remember the safety equipment when buying toys with wheels. Whether it is roller skates, a scooter, a skateboard, or a bicycle – anything with wheels – a helmet should be worn. Even a fall from a standing position can be dangerous.
- “You’ll shoot your eye out!” isn’t just a line from A Christmas Story. It can really happen. So remember to include protective eyewear as part of any gift that involves flying projectiles.
- Pay attention to the recall lists.
- Lead in some toys, especially vintage and imported toys, can be of significant concern. Learn more form the CDC here: http://www.cdc.gov/features/leadintoys/
For more information on toy recalls, visit the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The period of time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is one of the deadliest times on the road, in part due to drinking and driving.
- Don’t drink and drive. Celebrate safely. Designate a driver, plan on spending the night, or call a cab.
- It’s a MYTH that coffee will “sober you up”. The only cure is time.
- There is no such thing as “buzzed driving”.
- There is NO EXCUSE for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Period.
- Make sure every person is properly buckled up – no matter how long or short the trip.
- Avoid distracted driving! Don’t text, don’t put on make-up, don’t shave, don’t read, etc. If you need to do something other than drive, pull over to a safe place.
- If you are in a crash, attempt to pull your car far off the roadway. And even then, be alert for oncoming traffic. Stay in your vehicle until help arrives unless it is unsafe to do so.
For additional information tips about holiday-related drunk driving, including what to do if someone is impaired and shouldn’t drive, visit Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
The holiday season should be one of joy and celebration, not of injury or death. By following a few simple reminders, you can protect yourself and your family from many of the dangers associated with the holidays. Although accidents happen, be especially careful and hopefully they won’t happen to you.
Season’s Greetings to you and yours from Deaconess Trauma Services.