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How to prevent accidents around the holidays

November 17, 2016 | Steve Tischler
Falling off a ladder is second only to car accidents as a holiday-related cause of injury.

Harried kitchen cooks. Crazy shopping center traffic. People leaning from ladders trying to hang one last string of Christmas lights. The holiday season offers plenty of opportunities for mishaps. And have we mentioned that your frail great-grandma is coming over?

“It’s probably no surprise that the holidays are our busiest time of the year,” says Christy Carroll, RN, trauma injury prevention coordinator at UC Irvine Medical Center. “There’s more driving, more family gatherings and more alcohol.”

As the only Level I trauma center in Orange County, UC Irvine Medical Center treats nearly 5,000 trauma victims annually.

To keep holiday joy levels high — and your odds of a hospital visit low — Carroll offers a variety of trauma-free safety tips.

Prevent car accidents

Car accidents are easily the leading reason for trauma center visits year-round, and this number rises even higher during the holidays.

The usual tips for drivers are amplified:

  • Pay attention to the road.
  • Minimize distractions.
  • Avoid having even one alcoholic drink, since we invariably overestimate our sobriety level and ability to drive, Carroll notes.
  • Slow down, too. Remember the old saying, “It’s better to get there late than not get there at all.”

Avoid burns and cuts in the kitchen

Burns and accidental cuts are a common result of preparing big meals in a cramped, chaotic space.

Stove burners left on, carving knives sitting on the counter, flimsy foil turkey pans with hot drippings — sometimes with toddlers running underfoot — all can be a recipe for disaster.

Jennifer Cash, RN, burn program manager, UCI Health Regional Burn Center, says, “The best advice here is to make sure the kitchen is off-limits for toddlers and young children.”

Christmas tree fire and fall prevention

If a Christmas tree is part of your holiday décor:

  • Use only light strands that are in good condition. No candles.
  • If toddlers or pets are in the house, fence off the tree from sitting and walking areas. Also, place only soft, non-chewable ornaments low on the tree to avoid choking hazards.
  • Artificial trees should be fire-rated. Natural trees should be kept well-watered.
  • Anchor your tree to the ceiling or walls to ensure it stays upright.
  • Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in your home.

Lastly, holly and mistletoe are toxic if accidentally ingested. Place them well out of reach of children and pets.

Holiday tripping hazards

Make sure walkways are kept clear, especially if you have elderly visitors.

This includes removing all throw rugs beforehand — they are surprisingly common tripping hazards — as well as toys and wrapping paper.

Keep in mind that grandfathers and grandmothers don’t always fully recover from a fall, so make preventing one everyone’s responsibility.

Read more fall prevention tips ›

Ladder safety tips

Ladders rate a special mention all their own, as falls are second only to car accidents as a holiday-related cause of injury. The general rule: The higher the fall, the worse an injury is likely to be.

Think of your ladder as a tool much like you would a circular saw — both can be very dangerous if you’re not careful.

Key ladder safety tips:

  • Place only on stable, flat surfaces away from power lines and doors.
  • Have a spotter to help hold the ladder or to call for help if there is a fall.
  • Wear shoes with slip-resistant soles.
  • Use only ladders in good condition that are the right size and weight rating for the job.
  • Never stand on the top rung.
  • Use with only one person at a time on the rungs.

OSHA offers a comprehensive list of ladder-safety recommendations.

General holiday safety tips

  • Whenever possible, keep electrical cords hidden and out of reach.
  • Those cans of fake snow spray? They can be toxic. Avoid accidentally spraying in your eyes.
  • If toddlers are present, have guests keep their purses with medicines well out of reach.
  • Keep hot dishes and liquids off of low tables; push them to the back of kitchen counters.
  • Grease fire? Turn off heat source and cover the pan with a metal lid.

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