Yes, Christmas Injuries Do Exist
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.
Holiday Injury: 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.
Holiday Injury: Mishaps at the Mall
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.
Holiday Injury: Injuries Caused By Falling 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.
Holiday Injury: Fires and 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 nearby 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.
Holiday Injury: Shopping Injuries
Every year, the media becomes obsessed with stories about mall mishaps resulting from overcrowded stores, consumer stampedes, and disputes between customers. 2008 was the most dangerous consumer holiday in recent memory, as 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. The event inspired Wal-Mart to abandon the moniker “Black Friday” in favor the more innocuous “The Event,” though if you ask me, the new nickname sounds much more ominous.
A scuffle in a Palm Desert, California Toys “R” Us that same year proved that accidents aren’t the worst of our problems when it comes to holiday injuries. An argument spiraled way out of control when two men took out their guns and began >firing at each other. Both were killed. Toys “R” Us was careful separate the event from Black Friday itself. “We are outraged by the act of violence that occurred,” the company said in a statement. “Our understanding is that this act seems to have been the result of a personal dispute between the individuals involved. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday.”
Holiday Injury: Wrapping Rage
This is a real thing, and it affects everyone. We’ve all received gifts that are simply impossible to open without an axe, blow torch, or divine miracle. But what results in annoyance for most, leads to minor (and even serious) injuries for others. In 2008, a British study found that difficult packaging put 60,000 people in emergency rooms each year due to cuts, sprains, bruises, and muscle extensions. A 2004 report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission found that 6,500 Americans go to the hospital each year trying to open gifts.
Wrap rage has become something of a pop phenomenon. In 2006, Consumer Reports Magazine launched the “Oyster Awards,” attempting to pinpoint “America’s hardest-to-open packages.” The magazine tested 237 nominations to determine the country’s most frustrating product packaging. That same year, Stephen Colbert highlighted the emerging problem on his “Report.” Colbert pulled out a calculator to determine the number of Americans injured each year based on England’s data, but hit a wall when he could not release the calculator from walls of plastic.
Holiday Injury: Distracted Driving
Seinfeld immortalized a problem associated with distracted driving when Kramer crashed his car because he was staring at a shirtless Sue Ellen Mishke. Of course, there are many problems associated with distracted driving, but during the holiday season, elaborate (and some might say gaudy) Christmas light decorations are often cited as a cause. This issue became especially contentious in 2005, when Ohio’s Carson Williams coated his home with 25,000 lights, shining bright and set to music. (The songs were Frosty the Snowman, God Bless the USA, and Wizards of Winter.)
For a week, Williams’ display received national media attention, and attracted hoards of viewers, who lined the streets trying to sneak a peak. But the attention grew dangerous when this traffic led to a car accident outside Williams’ house. In response, the Dayton Sheriff’s office asked Williams to shut down the $10,000 Christmas display. Williams complied, but the incident didn’t stop him from creating new elaborate Christmas displays in 2006 and 2007.
Holiday Injury: Christmas Tree Attack
Over in Germany, one man sustained holiday injuries even after the holidays were all over. Hoping to get rid of his Christmas tree, the man threw it out the window. Unfortunately, he became tangled with the tree and flew out of the window with it, falling 22 feet from his third-story apartment. He was later rushed to the hospital in critical condition with a severe head injury after witnesses saw the fall.
Police spokesman Willy Thevessen summed the injury up perfectly when he said “There’s a TV advert showing people having fun throwing their old Christmas trees out the window…But you’re not supposed to jump out with them.”
Photo credit: juliejigsaw