Deeper Look: Practice Safety this Holiday Season
December 25, 2017
Going to see the family for the holidays can be stressful enough, so I hate to add more fuel to the fire. But you should be aware of this: ER and Urgent Care visit rates rise 5-12% in the winter. Oh, and those visits are significantly more likely to be fatal. The bottom line is this: the holiday season is full of hazards that you need to be considering. The consequences of not doing so could be fatal.
Luckily, a lot of the risks of the holiday season can be prevented. Simply by being aware of the hazards you may be in for, and knowing the whys and how-tos, you can stay safe through the holiday season.
Travel safely this holiday season
Each year, more than 116,000 Americans are injured and over 1,300 are killed on the roads during the winter and holiday season. Snow and ice on the roads create an extremely hazardous situation, and will cause accidents. They aren’t the only hazard though: drunk driving spikes quite high during the holidays. The day before Thanksgiving is commonly known as the day when the most drunk drivers are on the road, and in 2015 it was reported that between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve 728 people will be injured or killed in drunk driving-related accidents every day.
AAA offers a great guide on driving safely through the snow this holiday season. Their highest recommendation is that you should never drive in the winter while sick, tired, or in any way fatigued. When you get behind a steering wheel exhausted, it can be just as bad on your decision making skills as drunk driving. They also recommend that you prepare yourself by looking at weather reports regularly before a trip. This can help you avoid leaving in bad weather conditions, and prepare your route and car for the ride.
If you’re forced to drive in the snow, the first thing you should consider is your mental state. Namely, ask if you’re the type of person who “knows how to drive in the snow.” Whether you are a safe driver or not, confidence in your ability can actually cause a decline. To become a person who knows how to drive in the snow, be alert while you’re driving. Accelerating and decelerating slowly will help immensely, as it can prevent slipping and hydroplaning. Follow cars from farther away than normal, stop only when necessary, and avoid accelerating down hill or accelerating up hill. Basically, if you wouldn’t do it on your feet, don’t do it in your car.
If you suspect that you’re driving alongside a drunk driver, the first thing you should do is note the car’s make, model, and license plate number, pull to the side of the road, and call the police. If getting off of the road isn’t an option, keep as much distance between you and the drunk driver as possible. Unfortunately, all you can do beyond that is to prepare yourself to make decisions quickly, and be aware of your surroundings in case you do find yourself in a bad situation.
Decorating your house (and burning it down)
The National Fire Protection Agency reports that,
“U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 200 home structure fires per year that began with Christmas trees in 2011-2015. These fires caused an annual average of 6 civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $14.8 million in direct property damage. On average, one of every 32 reported home Christmas tree fires resulted in a death, compared to an average of one death per 143 total reported home fires. Although Christmas tree fires are not common, when they do occur, they are much more likely to be deadly than most other fires.”
These numbers may not seem that high, and truthfully they aren’t. But it’s still something you should be aware of, especially because of how preventable Christmas tree fires are. Purchasing a freshly cut tree will greatly help, though obviously an artificial tree is much less likely to cause a fire. If branches are falling off of your Christmas tree, don’t burn them in your fireplace—it’s simply unsafe. You should also be watering your tree regularly, as a dry tree is at a much higher risk for burning. Never light your tree with sources of real flame such as candle, and keep it at least three feet away from any source of heat or flame.
Of course, lighting can cause fires as well. Numbers on this are unclear, but anyone who’s seen National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation knows that holiday lights can cause problems. You should turn them off before you go to bed, and anytime you leave the house. It is unfortunate that people won’t see them, but it would be much more unfortunate if you came home to ash. If your lights are old, check them for any frays, cracks in the casing, or loose connections, as these can all invite electrical fires. When plugging your lights in outside, keep plugs away from metal gutters and make sure they are off the ground. And when plugging them in anywhere, use the shortest possible extension cord and avoid tangling cords.
It’s also fairly common to get injured while decorating, with about 240 decorating-related injuries occuring every day in November and December of 2016. There are a few simple ways to prevent this. The first is to ask for help, particularly when carrying large, heavy, awkward objects (like Christmas trees). Weight and shape are important to consider when carrying something, as an awkward, heavy frame will lead to dropping, and getting stuck. You should also check your shoes at the door, as wetness that you carry in can lead to slipping when you get indoors. Preparing a plan and your tools is also a huge help. Ask questions like if you have a ladder large enough for what you want to do before breaking one out, as avoidable stress is a major cause of injury in decorating.
Holly, mistletoe, and dogs
Another consideration to make when decorating, and particularly when getting rid of decorations, is the potential health risk to animals and to people, as well. Holly, commonly found on wreaths, is incredibly poisonous when consumed. Ingesting holly can cause vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and drowsiness. Of course, you know not to eat holly, but there are people around who may not. Holly has been shown to have serious side effects in children after consuming only two holly berries. You can avoid this by removing the berries before decorating with holly, but when you throw them out they still pose a risk. Holly is a serious health risk for many animals, including cats, dogs, and horses.
Mistletoe isn’t exactly an apple, either. There are several different types of mistletoe which vary in toxicity, but mistletoe has been shown to be poisonous. Fortunately, the worst you’re in for when ingesting mistletoe is simple gastrointestinal problems, but they can cause death in pets and small animals.
You should also be considering potential poisons in your gift giving, especially for small children. The most common causes of poisonings during the holiday season occur when children are given gifts that include tiny magnets, button batteries, remote controls, and flameless candles. Luckily, toy makers are becoming more aware of these things as time goes on, and if you know to look out for them you can easily prevent these occurrences.
Food poisoning also becomes more likely when families travel, and particularly when they travel with food. When food is left out for too long, even if it’s in a car, it is exposed to more bacteria and more opportunity for contamination. If you are hoping to avoid this but still want to bring food to someone’s house, there are a few ways to reduce the risk. For meat products, consider cooking them at the relative’s house. It may mean showing up early, but that’s a small price to pay for preventing food poisoning. Keep meat far away from non-meat products, and wait until the last moment for bringing anything that is served cold. For dishes that are served warm, warming them up again or keeping them warm can help tremendously. Proper storage will go a long way, too.
The most important thing you can do to prevent food poisoning is to throw away any perishable food that’s sat out for more than 2 hours. Sure it feels bad to throw out that appetizer that you just know someone will eat, but if it wasn’t refrigerated in a timely manner it is a serious health risk.
In many cases, the best step you can take to stay safe this holiday season is simply to deep breathe. By letting the stress out, taking care and caution, and being mindful of what you’re doing, you’ll be okay through the holidays. It seems that nowadays, the stress of holidays can overtake the fun of them, and offsetting that can be the difference between a home cooked dinner and a hospital breakfast.