Jerry L. Zingg | Marine Corps Base Quantico

Many of us are caught up in holiday routines this time of year and tend to take seasonal hazards for granted. Doing so, however, can mean the difference between a happy holiday and tragedy.

Statistics show that mishaps occur more frequently during the holiday period. A little
common sense, combined with some advanced planning, can help accident-proof your holidays, making them safer for you, your family members and visitors.

If the national statistics hold true this year, there will be at least 400 fires involving Christmas trees. As a result, 10 people will die, 80 will be hurt and more than $15 million in property will be lost. So, before you pick out a Christmas tree this year, it’s important to know a few tips to ensure you make a safe selection.

If you want a natural tree, pick a fresh one. Make sure it is deep green, has a strong pine
scent and its needles don’t fall off when you touch it. When you get it home, cut about two inches off the bottom at an angle. Fill the tree stand with water and keep it full every day. Never place a tree near a fireplace, radiators or heaters, and keep it away from doorways and the room’s main traffic areas. Be aware that some artificial trees can also burn, so check them for flammability and follow all included safety precautions.

When it comes to decorating with electric lights, take special precautions such as never
hanging them on metal trees. Avoid overloading outlets with electric decorations, and replace cords that show signs of wear. Just because the lights worked fine last year doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re good now. This is especially true for outdoor lights and cords that are subjected to rain, ice and strong winds.

Never run cords under the carpet, and turn off all decorative lights before leaving the house or going to bed.

A Christmas Eve fire in Dallas a few years ago took the lives of a 31-year-old mother and her four young daughters. The cause of the fire was traced to an overloaded extension cord, which ignited their decorated tree.

If decorating with candles, ensure you keep them at least a foot away from anything that can burn such as drapes, towels or clothing. Candles should always be in a sturdy holder and placed where they cannot be knocked down. Never leave a lit candle unattended and always supervise children near any flame. Battery-operated flameless candles, which can look, smell and feel like the real thing, are an alternative for some decorators.

It’s also a good idea to consider the age of your decorations. If you’ve had them for many years, it might be time to invest in a newer, safer set. Before regulations in the late 1970s, items such as tinsel, artificial icicles, glitter and painted figures often contained dangerous levels of lead, chromium, antimony, cobalt and even arsenic. Angel hair (artificial snow) contained glass filings, and some brands were even com-
prised of asbestos fibers.

Fireplaces and space heaters are also popular during the holidays. Keep these tips in mind if you plan to use yours:

• Before starting a fire, remove all combusti-
ble decorations from the area and be sure the
flue is open.
• Keep a screen in front of the fire to ensure
sparks are contained.
• Have your fireplace and chimney inspected
and cleaned on a regular basis.
• Never allow a fire to smolder overnight.
• Use space heaters with great caution, placing
them at least three feet from combustible mate-
rials such as blankets.
• Ventilate fuel heaters as recommended by
the manufacturer. Install a carbon monoxide
detector near the fuel heater.
• Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

If you allow smoking in your home, provide ashtrays for the smokers and ensure cigarette and cigar butts are fully extinguished before emptying into the trash. Many house fires occur after holiday parties, when a lit cigarette falls into a sofa or bed and smolders undetected while everyone is asleep. A multi-purpose fire extinguisher is
a good investment and should be kept handy in case of fire. Make sure you and your family members learn how to use extinguishers properly.

A smoke detector is another potentially life-saving device every home should have.
The National Fire Protection Administration recommends installing smoke alarms on every level of your home, including the basement.

Make sure that there is an alarm outside every separate sleeping area. Test alarms at least monthly by pushing the test button. Also remember to have an escape route in the event of a fire. It’s important everyone in the house knows the route and practices it.

Slips, trips and falls
Between icy sidewalks and the increased use of ladders to hang decorations, slip, trip and
fall injuries are another concern during the holidays. According to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries in the home, claiming
6,600 lives each year.

Placing nightlights throughout your home will help guide the way in the middle of the
night. Toys and other items that could be a trip hazard should also be put away so they don’t obstruct the walking path. If using extension cords, never place them in walkways.

Outdoors, when there’s ice or snow, shovel paths, put down sand or salt and make sure the area is lit. In addition, be sure to use extra care when hanging outdoor lights and decorations from the top of a ladder.

Toy safety
Even the smallest revelers aren’t immune to holiday hazards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports there were an estimated 240,000 toy-related injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2016.

Parents should always supervise their child’s play and expect the unexpected. Inspect toys regularly to ensure all safety devices remain in place. If Santa brings a bicycle, skateboard, roller blades or scooter this Christmas, make sure he also provides properly fitted safety helmets.

Despite widespread publicity about the dangers of drinking and driving, traffic accidents
and deaths increase dramatically during the holidays.

If you are hosting a holiday party that will be serving alcohol, try to discourage guests from drinking too much. Discuss a sober designated driver plan ahead of time and be ready to call a cab or arrange a ride for those too drunk to drive. Also provide a variety of non-alcoholic drinks such as juices, tea, sodas and bottled water. Never force alcoholic drinks on anyone.

Starchy foods such as cheeses and crackers which will help absorb the alcohol, so be sure to include them in your holiday spread. Close the bar an hour before the party ends and provide a place to sleep for guests who may have had too much to drink. Remember, time is the only true sobering method.


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