The Top 5 Holiday Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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There’s nothing like a trip to the emergency room to put a damper on your holiday festivities. Think it won’t happen to you?

So did I until recently when I watched my husband balance on the top step of a ladder as he maneuvered our heavy Christmas tree out of the attic. We were lucky, though. He escaped with a sore back that healed after a day’s rest.

Some 15,000 people end up in the ER annually because of injuries sustained while decorating for the holidays, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

And that doesn’t include cooking mishaps, car crashes and other seasonal injuries.

The good news is that there are fairly straightforward ways to avoid the most common holiday decorating hazards that could put you in the hospital. Take note:

1. Climb with care

About 33 percent of holiday decorating injuries are caused by falls from ladders, according to the CPSC. “It’s predominantly males between the ages of 60 to 85 and they get on a ladder and they’ve been working their whole lives so they can do it themselves,” said physician assistant Tammi Groom in an interview with KFSN-TV, in Fresno, California. “They fall off a ladder putting up Christmas tree lights.” About 6,000 people are treated in emergency departments every year for holiday decorating related falls — usually when stringing up lights or taking them down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Be safe: Check the ladder’s label to make sure you don’t exceed the weight limit (don’t cheat!); inspect the rungs before you climb to be sure they are solid and dry; and make sure the ladder is on even, solid footing before you climb. Also, have someone hold the ladder steady. Make sure kids don’t climb on ladders. And be especially mindful of older relatives who might need help hanging lights and decorations.

2. Guard open flames

Menorah and other holiday candles are among the top causes of fire-related injuries and 2,200 deaths a year, according to the National Safety Council. Half (51 percent) of the December home decoration fires were started by candles, compared to one-third (35 percent) in January to November. The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Be safe: Use sturdy, uncluttered candle holders; keep your hair and loose clothing — and curtains, stockings and kids! — away from flames. If a candle must burn continuously, be sure it is enclosed in a glass container and placed in a sink, on a metal tray, or in a deep basin filled with water.

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Provided by the National Safety Council

3. Keep trees safely lighted

Sure, everyone loves beautifully lighted trees, but trees glowing in flames are terrifying — and deadly. Christmas trees were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 210 home fires, according to the NFPA. Between 2009 and 2013, there were seven civilian fire deaths, 19 civilian fire injuries and $17.5 million in direct property damage caused by tree fires. Although these incidents were less common, they were more frequently fatal than typical home fires. On average, one of every 31 reported Christmas tree fires at home resulted in death compared to an average of one death per 144 total reported home fires.

Of course you want to keep trees away from open flames. But don’t take decorations for granted. Check each set of lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Don’t use more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Turn off all lights when you leave the house or go to bed. And dispose of fresh trees that are past their prime.

Think those precautions are excessive? Consider the tragedy that ensued in an Annapolis, Maryland, home last January when an electrical outlet powering tree lights overheated and ignited a tree skirt. The resulting blaze killed the Maryland couple who owned the home and their four grandchildren, reported The Washington Post.

4. Beware other decorations

We can’t tell you all of the decorating hazards that can send you to the ER, but here are some the NSC warns against, and which you might overlook:

  • “Angel hair” is made from spun glass, and it can irritate your eyes and skin. Tip: Always wear gloves when handling it or substitute non-flammable cotton.
  • Artificial snow on windows or other surfaces can irritate your lungs. Tip: Follow the instructions and ventilate the area.
  • Tree decorations need to be kid-friendly. Tip: Move ornaments that are breakable or have metal hooks toward the top.
  • Plants — think poinsettias — can poison kids and pets. Tip: Keep them out of reach and immediately dispose of fallen leaves.

5. Don’t drink and decorate

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying adult beverages, but overindulging while decorating sends plenty of celebrants to the emergency room each year. Carlos Roldan, an ER doctor at Memorial Hermann-Hospital in Pearland, Texas, told NBC that patients arrive as early as September with injuries sustained during holiday decorating mishaps. And that number includes plenty who were decorating while knocking back a few. “They try to decorate when they’re drunk,” Roldan, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians, said. “And the next thing you know, we see them.”

Do you have a tale of holiday injuries or tips for avoiding them to share? Post in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

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