The holidays are a time for celebrating, but they can also be a source of stress. While there is joy that comes from decorating homes and yards, enjoying good food, and visiting family and friends, the festivities can also create more opportunities for accidents and injuries.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 14,800 people were treated in emergency rooms due to holiday decorating-related injuries in 2019. Additionally, 4,000 people are treated in ERs each year for injuries associated with holiday extension cords. House fires involving cooking also peak during major U.S. holidays.
To help you make the most of the season, we asked Dr. Roberto Mario Vera, assistant professor of surgery in the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, for tips on avoiding holiday injuries and trips to the emergency room this year.
- Don’t drink and drive. If you plan to drink alcohol, identify a designated driver in your group who you can trust to stay sober. If you are on your own, plan for a taxi ride home, use a rideshare service or arrange to stay the night. Don’t use illicit drugs as they impair awareness and reaction time, and can have long-term, negative side effects on the body.
- Avoid celebratory gunfire. This is an extremely dangerous act and what goes up, must come down. While a falling bullet is moving slower than when it was fired, it is still fast enough to cause serious injury or even death.
- Use fireworks responsibly. Read the instructions carefully. Fireworks should only be used outdoors and away from children, pets, buildings and vehicles. Children should not be permitted to light fireworks. Never light fireworks inside a container, and if a firework doesn’t go off after it is lit, soak it in water and throw it away.
- When decorating or taking down decorations, use your ladder wisely. Make sure it’s the right height for the job; it should be placed on a level surface and securely locked before climbing it. Be sure to wear non-slip shoes with tied shoelaces, and don’t overreach. Don’t climb a ladder if you have consumed alcohol or medications that might make you drowsy.
- Use space heaters only as directed. Keep them on the floor and away from water and flammable objects. Don’t pinch the cord or hide it under a rug as this could cause a fire hazard. Some space heaters need kerosene or natural gas for fuel; one that is not working properly can release carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes into a room.
- Be careful when deep frying a turkey. Always set up your fryer in an open, outdoor area. Garages don’t count! Make sure your turkey is completely thawed as excess moisture will cause hot oil to bubble uncontrollably. Wear oven mitts and an apron to protect your skin from oil spatter and burns, and never leave the fryer unattended.
- Be proactive about food poisoning. Use care when preparing food. Keep raw meats separated to avoid bacterial cross-contamination and use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. Wash your hands before, during and after preparing food and always refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.
For more tips, check out the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Holiday Decoration Safety guide. The very best holidays are ones where you and your loved ones stay safe!
Learn more about the Division of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery
-By Bertie Taylor, senior writer in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.