SAFETY PERSPECTIVES

It's the Most Dangerous Time of the Year

Posted by  David Juristy

Once again, the holiday season is upon us. Family and friends gather in our homes and children anxiously await Christmas morning to see what awaits them under the tree. Parents recite The Night Before Christmas and Christmas carols fill the air; “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” …or should I say, it’s the most dangerous time of the year?

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Each year in the United States more than 18,000 individuals die due to home-related accidents and over 30 million of us end up visiting the emergency room due to what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention classifies as “unintentional injuries” (or accidents). Of the top 10 causes of accidents, two are closely related to an activity many of us participate in during the holiday season: home decorating.

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury in the U.S. Over 10 million individuals pay a visit to the emergency room every year due to falls. Of these, more than 90,000 receive treatment from ladder-related injuries that are due to individuals carrying items as they climb.

While common, ladder accidents are extremely preventable – which is reassuring. But something else to consider is the heightened risk exposures that some individuals have compared to their safety-inclined neighbors. For instance, when working on a ladder, being aware of one’s surroundings is key to completing the task safely. This is simple for those of us who naturally pay close attention to our environment, but some don’t share this inclination.

So, as we put our Christmas lights up this holiday season, we should keep these ladder safety tips in mind as a quick checklist to improve our personal safety:

  1. Ladder Placement. Ensure the ladder is on firm and level ground. Never place a ladder in front of an unlocked door that is not being guarded by someone.

    Read more: 4 Safety Behaviors that put you at Risk on a Ladder
  2. Use the Right Ladder for the Job. Many ladder injuries occur due to ladders being too short for the job. Make sure your ladder is large enough for your task. If you must stand on one of the top two rungs to complete the task, it’s not the right ladder.

  3. Unserviceable Ladders. Ladders, like anything else, wear out over time. Many accidents occur due to broken or damaged ladders. Inspect your ladder prior to usage and ensure there is no damage before starting your work.

  4. Incorrect Use. Never use a ladder in any way other than its intended use. If you're using a step ladder or a dual-purpose ladder, that means that all four legs should be on the ground. Also: ladders are designed for one person, so if the job requires two people that means two ladders.

  5. Ladder Location. Always position the ladder as close to where you’ll be working as possible. Do not reach out or over-extend; if you can’t reach your work area, it’s time to reposition your ladder.

  6. Three Points of Contact. Avoid carrying tools and other items when climbing. Ask for help: have someone assist you with what you need to complete your task once you are in position.

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Now that we’ve safely put up the Christmas decorations using solid ladder safety practices, it’s time to take a look at another cause of holiday woes. Home fires. Cooking and using open flames both increase during the holiday season – add in Christmas trees and other home decorations and it’s easy to see why home fires increase by 30% between the months of December and February. If we look at the severity, fires caused by holiday decorations and Christmas trees cause twice as many injuries and five times as many fatalities as an average holiday home fire. This time, caution comes into play: it’s the key internal trait that can make a difference between a laid back holiday gathering and a burned Christmas tree. While these fires are not common, their severe consequences should cause us to take additional preventive measures to ensure they don’t occur.

Here are a few tips to keep your caution level in check as you play with fire this holiday season:

  1. Fresh is Best. Pick a fresh tree with green needles; when touched, the needles shouldn’t fall off.

  2. Setting up Your Tree. Before placing your tree in its stand, cut 2’ off the base of the trunk.

  3. Tree Placement. Ensure your tree does not block any exit and is a minimum of 3’ from any heat source. Add water to the tree stand and check and water daily.

  4. Tree and Holiday Lighting. Use lights that are independently tested and/or carry the endorsement of the Underwriters Laboratory. Always replace lights that are out and make sure to turn off all lights before going to bed.

  5. Take it Down. Dried out trees are a fire hazard. After Christmas is over, take them down and dispose of them properly. Never store your tree in a garage or against your house. Similarly, take down all exterior lighting at the end of the holiday season: it will prolong the life of your lights and prevent hazards.

The holidays should be festive for everyone. Yes, danger exists and is even heightened during this time of year; however, taking a few extra steps of precaution can help keep you and your family safe over this joyous holiday season.

And you’ll hear me exclaim as I type out of sight…a safe holiday season to all and to all a good night.

making safety personal

David Juristy

David P. Juristy is Vice President of Sales, and the executive leader of Select International’s safety practice. He has used his background in Industrial Operations and military training in Quality & Safety compliance to work with many of today’s top companies to implement safety solutions.

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