Holiday Season Safety

With the constant emphasis on workplace safety from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, it’s easy to forget the hazards that exist in our everyday lives. In fact, people are six times more likely to suffer an injury away from work. During the holiday season, some unique off-the-job hazards present themselves and result in many avoidable injuries and fatal accidents. Greater awareness of these hazards, along with some basic safety mitigation tactics, can drastically reduce the risk of accidents occurring.


Decorating the home for the holidays can be fun and festive. However, it can also be dangerous. Roughly 15,000 people are treated each year at hospital emergency departments as a result of a decorating mishap. 


For instance, if used improperly, artificial snow can irritate lungs and cause respiratory problems. Angel hair, often used as a holiday decoration, can irritate eyes and skin because it is made from spun glass. When handling it, always wear gloves and safety glasses, or use nonflammable cotton instead.


Glass Christmas ornaments can break and cause cuts and abrasions. They also have sharp hooks and metal components. If small children are going to be near ornaments, consider using plastic alternatives with string or twine hangers rather than metal hooks. 


Be aware that plants, such as poinsettias, can be poisonous and should be kept away from children and pets. 


When hanging lights, use a ladder or stepladder as it was intended. Never stand on chairs, furniture or other household objects. In addition, ensure there are no exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or broken sockets.


Unfortunately, more than 10 percent of all candle fires occur during the month of December. According to the National Safety Council’s Holiday Safety Guide, “Increased use of candles and fireplaces, combined with an increase in the amount of combustible, seasonal decorations present in many homes means more risk for fire.”


Here are some tips to avoid household fires: never leave burning candles unattended or sleep in a room with a lit candle, keep candles out of reach of children, ensure candles are on stable surfaces, and don’t burn candles near trees, curtains or any other flammable items. Don’t burn trees, wreaths or wrapping paper in the fireplace. Check and clean fireplaces at least once a year.


In addition, live Christmas trees can dry out and be extremely flammable. Ensure a live tree always has enough water in the base or stand.


The use of turkey fryers results in hundreds of fires each year. According to the Holiday Safety Guide: “NSC discourages the use of turkey fryers at home and urges those who prefer fried turkey to seek out professional establishments or consider a new oil-less turkey fryer. But for those who don’t heed that advice, please follow these precautions: Set up the fryer more than 10 feet from the house and keep children away; find flat ground; the oil must be even and steady to ensure safety; use a thawed and dry turkey; any water will cause the oil to bubble furiously and spill over; fryer lid and handle can become very hot and cause burns; and have a fire extinguisher ready at all times.”


Some hazards are obvious, and others are only apparent when something bad happens. For instance, vehicle accidents send millions of people to the emergency room and result in billions of dollars in expenses each year. During the holiday season, drivers often have to contend with winter weather, and there are more people on the road. As a result, hundreds are injured or killed annually around the winter holidays. Educating employees about traffic and motor vehicle safety can drastically reduce the likelihood of being involved in an accident.


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more people are likely to drink beyond their limits during this season than at other times of the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says nearly one-third of all accidents that occur over the course of the holiday season are alcohol-related. Anyone who drinks or plans on doing so should always have a designated sober driver. 


Finally, when opening gifts, it is important to keep paths clear so nobody slips, trips or falls on wrapping paper, decorations or toys.


Holiday season hazard awareness and avoidance is imperative to everyone’s well-being.


We hope you have a safe and happy holiday season! If you would like more information, visit the National Safety Council website at www.nsc.org.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist
Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. He has significant experience workin...

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