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‘Tis the Season to Think Safety 

It’s the season to be merry. The most wonderful time of the year. However, if we’re not careful some of this festive fun can land us in a hospital emergency room.

In fact, the CDC estimates each year emergency rooms across the U.S. treat 36,000 people for holiday injuries – everything from falls, cuts, and shocks related to decking the hall and trimming the tree.

“Almost half of the holiday-related injuries seen across the country are due to falls and falls alone,” says Dr. Kyle Martin, an emergency physician with St. Mary’s Hospital. “Most of the time you’re thinking of how you want to hang your lights, or you’re leaning just a little bit farther so you don’t have to go down and move the ladder. But people can and do lose their balance and they end up visiting us here.”

That doesn’t mean you have to give up your goal of being the Clark Griswold of your neighborhood.   Instead, Dr. Martin says keep the following tips in mind:

·As you’re pulling out the lights for the first time, make sure you look them over. Strings of lights with broken or cracked sockets, bare wires and shorts are not worth the risk or hassle. And if you’re hanging them outside, make sure to check the label and only use lights that are approved for outdoor use.

·Use plastic clips to attach your light strings to siding, walls and gutters. Staples and nails, while effective at holding them in place, can damage the wire’s insulation and create an electrical hazard.

·If it’s raining or snowing out, wait for another day to hang your lights. The moisture can make it easier for you to get shocked or slip and fall.

·If you’re climbing a ladder to hang decorations, make sure you have someone there to hold the ladder for you, especially as you’re climbing up and down. Also, to minimize your risk of falling, keep your weight centered to the middle of the ladder. Leaning to one side or standing on the top two rungs can throw off the center of gravity and land you straight in the ER.

Fires also are a common danger around the holidays. In fact, national statistics show a quarter of all residential house fires happen in the month of December alone! If you have a live tree in your house this year, make sure you keep the tree watered at all times. Trees that dry out are a big fire hazard.  That’s why you should keep it away from fireplaces and radiators – basically anything that will dry it out faster. Also, make sure the light strings are in good shape. Keep lighted candles away from the tree and garland in your house. And when you go to bed, be sure you turn off the lights.

But trees aren’t the only fire hazard this time of year.

“Fireplaces are a cozy way to enjoy a cold December night, just remember to play it safe,” says Dr. Martin. “The general rule of thumb is to have your chimney’s flue cleaned at least once a year to get rid of creosote. And if you’re done unwrapping gifts, make sure not to throw the wrapping paper in the fireplace. Wrapping paper can ignite suddenly and intensely due to the coating and cause a flash fire.”

If you have children or there are children visiting this holiday season, here’s another reason to play it safe. As you’re decorating the tree, make sure to use shatterproof ornaments. Glass ones can break and easily cut a child’s hand. Along those same lines, make sure any decorations used do not look like candy or food. Small children may pick them up and try to eat them.

Holiday plants may be festive but they’re also poisonous for kids and pets. Mistletoe, holly berries, poinsettias and Christmas cactus can cause serious side effects if swallowed.

“There also are hazards while shopping,” adds Dr. Martin. “If you put your child in a shopping cart, always use the safety belt. If you’re in a store with an escalator, make sure everyone has their shoelaces tied and watch out for drawstrings, scarves or mittens that could get trapped.”

The holiday dangers aren’t all visible, physical risks. Hidden dangers lurk where you least expect them – even at the dinner table.

“Foodborne illness is no laughing matter,” says Ellen Smith, a nurse epidemiologist with St. Mary’s Hospital. “It causes really bad gastrointestinal problems, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that can last from a day or two to several days depending on the organism and how long the food was on the counter.”

To keep you and your guests safe, Smith recommends cleaning your entire kitchen before you even start preparing the food. Keep utensils and cutting boards used for raw meats separate from those used for other foods. And make sure you thaw foods properly.

“You want to be thawing your meat in the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter,” says Smith. “The danger zone where bacteria grow the best is between 40 and 140 degrees and so you want to keep foods either above or below these temperatures.”

Food left on a counter to thaw will thaw unevenly.  That means while the inside of the meat is still frozen, the outside could be thawed, allowing harmful bacteria to grow.

“And keep in mind even the best prepared food has a short shelf-life when out on the dinner table,” adds Smith. “Anything that has mayonnaise in it needs to be watched closely. And most meats have the right environment for organisms to multiply especially when people reach in with their fingers.  As a general rule, you should refrigerate all meats and any refrigerated foods within one to two hours. And after three or four days of leftovers they need to be tossed.”

Finally, if you’re serving dinner buffet style, keep sickness at bay by making sure there’s hand sanitizer available at the start of the line.  That way everyone going through touching handles and food will be doing so with clean hands. And for chips and other loose items, make sure tongs are available so people aren’t reaching in with their hands.

“We certainly don’t want to spoil the holiday season,” says Dr. Martin. “Just remember to be mindful. It’s when you rush or you’re tired, or you try to do several things at once that you really place yourself or your family at risk. Slow down, think it through and you’ll enjoy the holidays.”

Holiday Injuries by the Numbers

·         12,500 – ER visits due to holiday decorating

·         6,000 – Holiday injuries due to falls alone

·         25,000-36,000 – CDC’s estimate of the real number of holiday injuries

·         21,000 – Number of kids injured in shopping cart accidents each year


Staying Safe This Season

·         Make sure holiday decorating is not done in snow or rain

·         Always have a helper when climbing a ladder

·         If you bring a real tree inside, keep it watered at all times

·         Check the condition of holiday lights before hanging them

·         Don’t burn wrapping paper in a fireplace

·         Use shatterproof ornaments, especially if kids will be around

·         Keep holiday plants away from kids and pets

·         Clean and sanitize your kitchen before and after prepping the meal

·         Make sure everyone washes their hands or uses hand sanitizer before eating


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