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by Lydia Blankenship, R.N., Trauma program manager at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center (St. David’s Emergency Center in Bastrop is an extension of St. David’s South Austin Medical Center).

via flickr
via flickr

While holiday lights and decorations can brighten the season, they can also put a damper on festivities if you’re not careful. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the number of emergency room visits around the holidays continues to climb, averaging with about 250 injuries per day. Between November and December of 2012, there were 15,000 holiday decorating injuries reported in emergency rooms nationwide.

The CPSC reports the most frequent holiday decorating incidents seen in emergency rooms in 2012 were falls (34 percent), lacerations (11 percent) and back strains (10 percent). Between 2009 and 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires that started because of a Christmas tree. This resulted in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss. Additionally, candle-related fires resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss from 2009 through 2011.

The best way to avoid an ER visit—and damage to your property—is to remain vigilant. Keep these tips in mind as you work on your holiday decorations this year:

  1. If using a ladder, check for stability, safety and needed repairs. Additionally, be sure to have another person available to hold the ladder steady while climbing.
  2. Use a tool belt or apron with pockets for supplies. Reaching or leaning for tools can cause falls, resulting in multiple injuries.
  3. Check lights for any damage. Holiday lights can be used for multiple years, but they often become damaged over time. Broken glass, frayed wires or broken plugs are dangerous and should be discarded.
  4. Follow manufacturers’ guidelines for holiday lights and extension cords. Inspect cords and electrical equipment before using them, and only use products that are rated safe for outdoor use when hanging lights outside (this is usually noted with a tag somewhere near the plug). Make sure you select lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) or the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Take down all holiday lights after the holidays.
  5. Don’t overload extension cords or outlets. Do not use more than three standard size light sets per single extension cord. Additionally, extension cords should be placed against the wall to avoid tripping, but do not run cords under rugs.
  6. Install the hooks, holders or clips before hanging the lights. This helps to avoid juggling too many things at once.
  7. Only use hooks or holders designed for hanging lights. Use insulated holders instead of tacks, staples or nails, as they can cause electric shock or an electrical short.
  8. Always turn off holiday lights and candles before leaving the house or going to bed. Lights can short out, overheat and potentially cause a fire.
  9. Avoid using lit candles. Consider battery-operated flameless candles instead.
  10. If buying an artificial tree, look for one that is fire resistant. Also, make sure you place your tree 3 feet from fireplaces, radiators and space heaters.
  11. When purchasing a live tree, check for fresh, green needles. Cut an additional 2 inches off the trunk, and keep the tree stand filled with water at all times. Do not leave a real Christmas tree up longer than two weeks.

Whether you’re decorating an artificial or live tree, use only non-flammable decorations, and place the tree away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents and radiators.

Have a safe and festive holiday season!

– Lyndia

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