Avoid Seasonal Decorating Hazards
As any parent knows, an accident can happen in seconds. During the holidays, festive decorations can become potential hazards. We asked local experts for tips on how to keep the holidays safe, happy and injury-free for your family.
Eliminate choking hazards
Plastic berries found on holiday wreaths and garlands double as a temptation and choking hazard for children, says Dr. Amy W. Griffin, medical director of the WakeMed Children's Emergency Department. "They're red and sparkly and perfect for the 8-month-old or 2-year-old who is teething and constantly putting something in her mouth," Griffin says.
If a child has a plastic berry in her mouth and she falls or coughs, the berry could enter her airway and she could aspirate, possibly leading to serious complications.
Some ornaments and music boxes also include small pieces that can break off and cause choking. Also look out for small electronic devices that have tiny disc batteries, which can cause choking and more extensive internal injuries if swallowed, Griffin says.
Even when a house has been childproofed, visitors and houseguests may unwittingly bring in choking and poisoning dangers. Children may rummage through a guest's handbag or suitcase and find medicines, coins or other hazardous items, Griffin cautions, so make sure guests' belongings are out of the reach of small children.
Prevent holiday fires
Colorful strings of Christmas lights or the soft glow from an ornate menorah often signal the start of the holidays. But without a watchful eye, these decorations can also start fires.
"People are not using appropriate lighting on their trees," says Lt. Adam Stanley, fire investigator for the Raleigh Fire Department. Too often, people use multiple extension cords and inexpensive lighting that cannot handle the electrical current, he says, which can result in overheating or, worse, fire. Look for lights and cords that have a "UL" label, indicating that they are certified as safe by the Underwriters Laboratories, Stanley suggests.
Candles are an integral part of many special occasions, including Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But if you have young children, rethink this decoration. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, candles cause 15,600 fires each year, with December the peak month for candle fires, and Christmas the peak day.
"I always recommend that, if you have young children, you either don't use candles, or you put them out of reach," says Lauren Bush, an interior decorator and mother of two in Cary. But even when candles are out of reach, keep a watchful eye on the children, she adds.
No one wants to spend the holidays in a hospital emergency room. But more than 9 million children visit an emergency department annually, with falls the leading cause of nonfatal injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When rooms are rearranged to accommodate decorations, additional hazards may contribute to injuries.
Extension cords, for example, are easy to trip over when they are stretched across the floor. Putting them under rugs or a door can allow heat to build up in and around the cord, which may cause a fire. Instead, secure extension cords along the walls, Stanley suggests.
Even if you must alter your usual holiday decorating scheme, put safety first — for the kids and pets. When putting up a Christmas tree, for example, make sure it isn't positioned next to a chair, Burns advises. This can prevent a child from climbing onto the chair and pulling on an ornament, perhaps breaking it and getting cut, or worse, pulling down the entire tree, which may cause a more serious injury.
Pets are often curious about the new decorations in the home and can be at risk. Hilary Lindstrom of Garner recalls waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of her 6-month-old kitten, caught in the Christmas tree, screaming. "She was tangled up in the Christmas lights," Lindstrom says. "Luckily, she was small enough that she didn't tip the tree over, but still, it wasn't easy to get her out."
When it comes to holiday baking, children are more likely to get burned in the kitchen, Griffin says, so make sure the oven door is closed and keep pots away from the edge of the stove.
As children grow, decorating dangers may change. Last year's infant who was content to sit in your lap and gaze at the colorful Christmas tree lights may be this year's active toddler who wants to taste them.
No matter how extensively you've childproofed your home, the holidays can present new hazards. Take a second look around to ensure that this year's holiday memories will be created at home — instead of in the emergency room.
Pamela DeLoatch is a freelance business writer and mom of four teenagers in Cary.Safe holiday decorating tips
Lauren Burns of Lauren Burns Interiors offers the following tips for safe holiday decorating:
- Use LED lights instead of traditional lights, because LEDs are cooler and less likely to burn the skin if touched.
- Add a fireplace screen as a design element that also protects children from getting too close to the fire, hearth or other dangerous areas.
- Cover the sharp edges of a raised hearth with foam cushions, available at local hardware stores or baby supply stores. These can be used year-round.
- Hang unbreakable ornaments on the lower branches of a holiday tree.
- Use decorative outlet covers to prevent little fingers from getting shocked.