7 Holiday Safety Mistakes You Dont Want to Make | Reader's Digest

7 Holiday Safety Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Not to get all Grinch, but holiday decorating can be a disaster if you’re not careful. Learn how to outsmart these common holiday safety slip-ups.

By Lauren Gelman
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    It’s all fun and games until …

    Someone falls off a ladder. Or slices a finger while opening a gift. Or sets the Christmas tree on fire. According to the latest data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) via NBC news, in 2012 more than 15,000 people were treated for holiday-related injuries in the ER, up from about 12,000 in 2009. These holiday safety reminders and some common sense can help you avoid most pitfalls.

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    Careless candles

    According to the National Safety Council, the incidence of candle fires is highest in December; Christmas Day is the worst, followed by Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. More than half of the fires occur when something flammable—decorations, a mattress, a table cloth—is too close to the candle. Consider battery-operated or electric flameless candles, especially in homes with young children, frisky pets, or too many party guests. If you do light candles, however, make sure all are blown out before you go to bed. The U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, states that half of candle-fire deaths occur between midnight and 6 a.m.

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    A dry tree

    Between 2007 and 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to about 230 annual calls, on average, about fires that began with Christmas trees. They may not be common, but they are serious, says the National Fire Protection Association; fires started by Christmas trees are more deadly than those that arise from other sources. If you have a fresh tree, keep it away from vents, radiators, fire places, and other heat sources. Monitor water levels daily, especially because air from home heating systems can dry them out, and keep the tree stand filled with water, advises the CPSC. Make sure any artificial tree you buy is labeled “fire resistant.”

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    Ladder accidents

    More than one-third of holiday injuries seen in the ER were caused by falls, and ladder slip-ups likely play a big role. The four biggest problems, according to CultureofSafety.com: using the wrong ladder size (check the weight capacity and make sure it’s tall enough—if you have to stand on the top rung, it’s too short); using a worn or damaged ladder; leaning to reach something or not standing on the ladder properly (always maintain three points of contact—two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot); and improperly placing the ladder, namely too far away from a wall or in front of a door that could be swung open while the ladder is being used.

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    Distracted cooking

    Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the two largest days for reported kitchen fires, according to a recent survey from Liberty Mutual Insurance. 83 percent of those surveyed admitted to engaging in not-so-safe behaviors like disabling the smoke detector (a huge no-no) and leaving the stove unattended to do other things. To avoid a kitchen calamity, use a timer (and perhaps, a second backup timer) so you don’t accidentally leave a pot on or in the stove for too long.

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    Contaminated food

    Festive buffets and catered dinners—where a few people might be handling food served to many—offer more opportunities for contamination or spoiled food than most other meals, according to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch. But even at home, don’t eat buffet foods that have been sitting out more than two hours. If a houseguest brings a food dish to your home, make sure it was kept cold while in transit if it was out for more than two hours. If not, don’t serve it (and toss it discreetly).

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    Frustrating packaging

    One of the biggest sources of minor accidents is what ConsumerAffairs.com calls “wrap rage”—when people cut themselves trying to open those hard plastic shells around toys and electronics. Take your time opening these gifts and don’t let eager, whining children make you rush or be careless. Toss all unwrapped plastic packaging as soon as it’s open so people don’t hurt themselves on a shell that's lying around.

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    Seasonal scented air

    Research from a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology found that about 20 percent of people and more than one-third of those with asthma report health problems from air fresheners, like the kind you might use to make your home smell like gingerbread. These products often contain chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) that irritate the respiratory tract, eyes, and can even cause headaches and dizziness, Time reported. Try baking cookies with cinnamon, peppermint, or other seasonal flavors instead, or open your windows to let fresh air waft through.

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