Each year, the holiday season brings excitement about seeing family, eating delicious meals, and even opening a few presents. For some, the season marks a series of events complete with dinner parties and elaborate decorations. In addition to this seasonal mirth, families must consider safety issues related to driving long distances in rough conditions, the potential for shopping mall mishaps, and dangers associated with holiday decorations and lights. To help navigate those additional considerations, we’ve developed a list of some of the most common holiday-related injuries and some precautions families can take to avoid trips to the emergency room this winter.
Dangerous Driving Conditions
The year’s final three months mark something of a perfect storm for car accidents. Not only are roads subject to adverse conditions due to rain, snow, and ice, but highway visibility is typically worse due to shorter daylight hours, pedestrians hit the sidewalks in search of holiday food and gifts, and families are more likely to travel long distances for winter holidays. For these reasons, October, November, and December account for a disproportionate forty percent of the year’s pedestrian accidents, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Each year, Thanksgiving weekend accounts for 35 vehicle deaths and more than 2,300 vehicle injuries. Of those, 15 deaths and 425 injuries were alcohol related.
Pedestrians can easily boost their safety by crossing streets at marked cross walks accompanied by traffic lights. But safety is much more complicated for vehicle drivers, who are subject to road conditions as well as visibility and traffic. For drivers, safety generally depends on a mixture of having the right equipment and staying aware of the road and other drivers. First of all, drivers living near icy conditions should make sure their tires are sufficient to brave winter conditions. Even some “all season” tires don’t make the cut, but Edmunds.com suggests that any tire with 6/32 inch deep tread will work. Other suggestions include improving visibility by minimizing frost, avoiding roads known to be icy, and understanding that a little steering goes a long way when it comes to slips and slides.
Some of these suggestions are more difficult when traveling long distances to your destination, but a good rule of thumb is to stick to major roads to avoid the worst conditions. That, combined with a healthy skepticism of road conditions and an awareness of other drivers, should get families to their destinations safely.
Every year, primetime news programs are inundated with stories about tragic injuries resulting from crowds and even stampedes as consumers rush to the stores in search of deals on holiday items. Last year, one of the more publicized mishaps occurred when 78-year-old Terry Borowsky was shoved to the ground outside a Toys ‘R Us in Colorado. Reuters notes that Borowsky “wound up in a crowd chasing the Zhu Zhu, a toy hamster that your kids will forget about a few months after you give it to them.”
Each year, such incidents lead to more series injuries and even deaths. Two years ago, for example, a Wal-Mart employee was killed on Black Friday as consumers flooded the store. Two shoppers also injured by the mob later filed a $2 million lawsuit against New York’s Nassau County Police Department for its insufficient crowd control. Wal-Mart was also criticized for its lack of security monitoring the crowds.
Media frenzies aside, shoppers are subject to minor injuries due to slippery sidewalks or pedestrian accidents in or around mall parking lots. About 21,000 children under the age of 5, for example, are taken to emergency departments for injuries related to shopping carts each year according to National SAFE KIDS Campaign. Just like drivers, pedestrian consumers should always look out for dangerous conditions and be aware of other shoppers, crowds, and cars.
Injuries Caused by Holiday Decorations
Holiday decorations and lights are more dangerous than you may think. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that each year, these trinkets are responsible for more than 12,000 emergency room visits due to falls, cuts, and shocks.
Children are most susceptible to some of these injuries, since they are often curious about new items and don’t understand the consequences of mishandling holiday decorations. For houses with small children, therefore, the CPSC suggests that parents avoid purchasing any sharp or breakable decorations, and keeping anything small out of reach of children to avoid the risk of swallowing or choking on them.
Decorating a Christmas tree can be a cumbersome task when a bulky tree and wobbly ladder are involved. Decorators should always ensure that the ladder is on solid ground and have a friend or family member hold it still to avoid falls that could lead to serious injuries.
Fires & Burns
Juggling dozens of platters full of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and other delicious holiday foods, the danger of kitchen burns is apparent. To avoid such burn injuries, all chefs and sous-chefs should have plenty of oven mitts near by and avoid carrying heavy platters or trays without help.
What is less expected, though surprisingly common, are burns and fires related to holiday lights and Christmas trees. Each year, the US Fire Administration reports, holiday fires kill more than 400 Americans and injure more than 1,600, causing a total of $990 million in damages. The USFA suggests a number of simple precautions to help avoid the risk of holiday fires. If you are choosing a live Christmas tree, for example, ensure that the branches have not been dried out, and avoid placing it near a fireplace or furnace. If choosing a fake tree, make sure the label confirms that it is non flammable (the same goes for tree decorations).
The USFA also cautions against overloading electrical circuits, and using old or damaged wires electric decorations. Such actions increase the risk of sparks and resulting fires. Read the USFA guidelines for complete fireproofing instructions.
When it comes to driving conditions, overcrowded shopping malls, and dangerous or flammable holiday decorations, take extreme caution this holiday season in order to keep your family safe. But also remember to have a great time with family and friends, enjoy the delicious food, and usher in a fantastic 2011.