Holiday safety tips to avoid common injuries and illness

To avoid injuries around the holidays, be sure to exercise caution while you’re cooking, decorating and driving.

Most of us look forward to the holidays and savor the memories they bring. However, not all holiday memories are happy ones, as emergency rooms see a rise in certain types of injuries during the holidays. Fortunately, the following holiday safety tips can help keep your holiday memories merry and bright!

Think twice before drinking

If your holiday celebration includes alcohol, be aware that adding any amount of alcohol increases the risk of accident or injury, no matter what activity you’re engaged in. Alcohol plays a role in more than 7% of all accidents. Even small amounts can have effects on your ability to think through your actions [1] and take proper precautions. This is especially true when it comes to climbing ladders, cooking or driving motor vehicles.

Don’t decorate alone

You may be eager to hang your lights and decorate your tree, but it pays to take your time and be safe during the process. About 160 decorating-related injuries occur each day during the holiday season, resulting in nearly 15,000 trips to the emergency room [2]. About half of these injuries involve falls. Cuts and burns are also common.

Decorating should involve at least two people, especially if you need a ladder to reach high places. One person can climb the ladder while the other person holds it to make sure it doesn’t wobble or fall over.
If you’re decorating outdoors, choose lights that are designed to withstand bad weather. Indoors and out, check the wires to make sure they’re not frayed, and do not put more than three strings together. Always turn off the lights before going to sleep.

Decorative trees can easily become fire hazards, especially if they’re combined with lights or candles. Keep live trees watered, and dispose of them before they dry out. If you have an artificial tree, make sure it’s fire-resistant, and never set up a tree near a fireplace or heater. Do not leave candles unattended, or better yet, choose flameless candles. Be careful with fragile or breakable ornaments as well, and keep them out of reach of curious children or pets.

Be careful in the kitchen

Elaborate meals and favorite foods can be the highlights of the season, but be sure to put safety first. Accidents often take place in the kitchen, including cuts from knives during food preparation and burns from hot stoves.

Most residential fires start during cooking, with three times more fires occurring on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, deep-frying a turkey is particularly dangerous and can result in fires, burns and other injuries. Deep-frying a frozen turkey could even cause a dangerous explosion.

Turkey may not be difficult to prepare, but it’s important to follow safety guidelines to prevent salmonella and other bacteria [3] from making it to your holiday table. A fresh, raw turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for one to two days. If you buy a frozen turkey, do not thaw it on the counter. It’s safer to thaw it in the refrigerator in a container to prevent the juices from leaking onto other foods.

Whether you prepare the food yourself or buy it ready-made, make sure you follow good food hygiene habits [4] to prevent food poisoning. People who are pregnant or have weak immune systems can get particularly ill from bacteria that grow in foods which are not stored or prepared properly. Follow all directions carefully to make sure that ready-to-cook foods are fully cooked before you serve them. Put leftovers away within two hours of serving.

Make it a healthy holiday

Being with family and friends is an important part of any holiday celebration, but you don’t want to bring your loved ones the flu or COVID-19. Prevent the spread of illness during holiday gatherings by making sure everyone is up-to-date on vaccinations [5], including flu shots, COVID-19 vaccinations and any boosters recommended by your doctor. Consider staying at home if you’re not feeling well.

Gift age-appropriately

Who doesn’t love giving gifts? Make sure you take age and environment into account when you’re choosing gifts, especially for kids. More than 150,000 toy-related accidents occurred in 2020 [6], including nine deaths. Avoid toys with small parts for children younger than 3, and be mindful of giving gifts like scooters, which look like great fun but accounted for more than 21% of toy-related injuries treated in emergency rooms in 2021 — a 17% increase from the year before. If you decide to give a scooter, include a helmet and other safety equipment with it.

Get there and back safely

Before a long car ride, make sure your car is up-to-date on routine maintenance, including brakes, oil changes, wipers and lights. Start with a full tank of gas, and be sure to fill up again before the indicator nears empty. Check the weather forecast and pack blankets to stay warm in the event of an emergency if you’re traveling in cold weather.

Don’t get behind the wheel if you’ve had a drink, or even if you’re feeling tired. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association estimates that 91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers [7] in 2017, but this is likely an underestimation of the problem. Accidents due to drowsy driving are most likely to occur between midnight and 6 a.m. or in the late afternoon when the body’s internal clock slows down.

By following these holiday safety tips, you can help ensure the memories you make this holiday season are happy ones!