Rickety rungs on ladders and tipsy tree trimmers are two of many factors that can lead from happily decking the halls and rooftops to not-so-festively donning stitches and casts.
Ho, ho, uh-oh. “Unfortunately, the holidays always seem to bring cuts, bruises and even broken bones,” says Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.
“From kids and adults being cut by broken ornaments to people falling off ladders as they hang their holiday lights, each year we see an increase in sprains, cuts, burns and broken bones,” says Ghurabi, who also is director of medical services for the Santa Monica Fire Department.
“One particularly memorable year, a patient came into the ER after falling from a ladder onto the concrete floor while hanging lights on his garage,” Ghurabi recalls. “He insisted that he’d only had two Scotches, but he ended up with multiple broken ribs, a broken ankle, a lacerated liver, and ultimately, surgery.”
In addition to doing any holiday decorating before having a drink, Ghurabi urges residents to use extra care when reaching to hang lights or ornaments. Don’t improvise with lawn furniture or trellises for climbing. Use a sturdy ladder, stay off the top steps or rungs and be sure the ladder’s feet are firmly positioned on a solid surface.
Although many people have humorous stories to tell after the fact, the reality is that holiday-related accidents can be serious or fatal.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates there are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season.
“In 2012, the most frequently reported holiday decorating incidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34 percent), lacerations (11 percent) and back strains (10 percent). When it comes to fires, from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the fire’s focal point. These incidents resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss. In addition, candle-related fires from 2009 through 2011 have resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss,” the CPSC reports.
Additional holiday pointers from Ghurabi and the CPSC include:
- If you use a live Christmas tree, check its water level every day and keep it away from heat sources to prevent fires.
- Trim any branches that a toddler might pull or trip over, causing the tree to tumble over onto them or someone else.
- Use shatter-proof bulbs and ornaments.
- If you choose an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled fire-resistant.
- Be sure your lights and electric decorations have the green UL label. Check plugs and extension cords for fray and wear. If you decorate outdoors, ensure the lights and cords are certified for exterior use, and plug them into a receptacle protected by a circuit interrupter (GFCI).
- When connecting multiple strings of lights, check the manufacturer’s recommendations and don’t connect more strings than suggested.
- Keep holiday plants, such as holly or poinsettias, out of reach of small children and pets. Some parts of these and other plants are poisonous, if ingested.
- Use real candles sparingly, if at all. Flickering battery-powered candles are a much safer option.
- Plan to climb ladders and hang decorations when you’re not having a drink. Alcohol and risky maneuvers don’t mix well.