Many people are going all out decking the halls, to brighten spirits and create a bit of normalcy in a year when the pandemic has affected cherished traditions. The holidays are traditionally one of the most joyful times of the year, but they are also among the most dangerous. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, emergency departments typically see a spike in holiday-related accidents among adults and children. Here are some of the biggest holiday hazards and some tips to keep yourself and your family safe from accidents.
Lights strung on your house and around the yard look festive, but if you are climbing a ladder there is a lot of risk involved. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, about 5,800 people are treated each year in emergency rooms for injuries from falls involving holiday decorations.
To avoid falls while hanging lights and decorations, make sure you are using the right ladder for the job. Check the rungs to make sure they are not broken and do not climb the ladder if it is wet. Also make sure you do not exceed the weight limit. Place the ladder on a flat surface and have someone hold it steady. Never decorate alone. It is good to have someone close by in case you have an accident. The same rules apply whether you are using a ladder to hang lights outdoors or decorate indoors.
According to the American Red Cross, nearly 47,000 fires occur during the winter holidays resulting in about 500 deaths and causing more than 2,200 injuries. Many of these fires can be traced to Christmas trees, holiday decorations, and candles. Here are a few steps you should take to try to prevent a fire in your home over the holidays:
- Place trees, decorations and candles at least three feet away from heat sources and open flames.
- Artificial trees should be flame retardant.
- Live trees should be fresh. This video from the U.S. CPSC shows just how quickly a dry tree can burn. When shopping for a tree, check to make sure it is not dry by running your fingers over the needles. If a lot of needles come off in your hand, choose a different tree. Cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk before placing it in water. Keep it fresh by watering it at least once daily. Check lights and other decorations for damage. Throw out any electrical cords that are frayed or have broken sockets.
- Do not string more than three strands of lights together.
- Do not overload electrical outlets because they could overheat and spark a fire.
- Always blow out candles before you leave the room. Flameless candles are a safe alternative, especially in a home with children or pets.
- Unplug holiday lights before you leave the house or go to bed for the night.
- Make sure you have working smoke detectors in your home.
Unwrapping presents with scissors and knives is one of the common causes of Christmas-related injuries, particularly on Christmas Day, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Broken ornaments are another culprit. To prevent unwanted trips to urgent care or the ER for stitches during the holiday season:
- Use appropriate tools when opening gifts and packages
- Decorate your Christmas tree with shatterproof ornaments
- Hang breakable ornaments high on the tree, out of reach of children
- Clean up broken glass quickly and use a wet paper towel to pick up tiny, hard to see shards
- Do not use a knife to cut branches off the Christmas tree
If you suffer a cut, clean and bandage the wound as soon as possible to prevent infection. If the cut is gaping, deep, or over half an inch long, or if you can’t stop the bleeding, seek medical attention because the wound may require stitches.
Holiday plants can give your home a festive touch, but beware if you have a curious child or mischievous pet at home because some popular plants are poisonous. Holly and Mistletoe are toxic to children and pets. Poinsettias have a reputation for being dangerous, but the National Institutes of Health says there is little data to support that. Eating a few leaves could cause stomach upset or, in rare cases, an itchy rash, but is unlikely to cause serious harm to humans or pets. The Christmas cactus is non-toxic, making it a good choice for homes with small children and dogs.
If you are concerned about something your child has eaten, you can call the Poison Control hotline at 1-800-222-1222, or contact your veterinarian for help if your pet has ingested something they shouldn’t have eaten.
Every year, 300 children die from choking on food or other small objects, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s the most common cause of accidental death in children under one, and all children under the age of four are at high risk for choking injuries. These accidents are preventable. As a general rule, if an item can fit inside a toilet paper tube it is a choking hazard and should be kept away from small children.
- Nuts, hard candy, and naturally round food like grapes and hot dogs pose a choking hazard. Food should be cut into small, bite-size pieces or avoided all-together.
- Small, everyday household objects like pen caps, buttons, coins and screws also pose a choking threat. If an item is smaller than a table tennis ball, it can fit in a child’s mouth. Button batteries and magnets are particularly dangerous and may require surgery if swallowed.
- Give age-appropriate toys. If a toy is labeled “not for children under three,” it means it contains small parts that could potentially be swallowed. It does not refer to skills or intelligence.
A little extra caution can prevent accidents. At the end of this challenging year, that caution can help deliver a safe and enjoyable holiday season.