Health Break | Published December 15, 2009 | Written by Lauren M. Smith

Avoid Holiday Mishaps: Check Tree, Candles and Seatbelt Use

For most Americans, the winter holiday season is a magical time, conjuring feelings of joy, excitement and much anticipation. Regardless of religious affiliation, lots of us take pride in decorating inside and outside our homes in preparation for the holidays. However you choose to celebrate this year, it's important to follow safety precautions in order to avoid holiday mishaps.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, holiday fires claim the lives of 400 people each year and cause injuries to an additional 1,650. The U.S Fire Administration offers many tips on preventing Christmas tree fires:
• When selecting your holiday tree, you can tell how dry it is by pouncing the trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree is not fresh, and could be a fire hazard.
• Do not place your tree near a heat source, such as a fireplace or heating vent. This will cause the tree to become extremely dry and easily ignitable. A burning tree can rapidly fill a room with fire and deadly gases.
• To dispose of your tree, take it to a recycling center, or have it hauled away by a community pick-up service. You should never burn tree branches in your fireplace.

In addition to tree safety, holiday lights can also pose a threat to your home:
• You should inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive wear before putting them up.
• Do not link more than three strands of lights unless the directions indicate that it is safe.
• Connect strings of lights to an extension cord and plug the extension cord into the wall. Be sure to periodically check the wires; they should never be warm to the touch.

Many of us employ the use of candles during the holidays; lit or electric, they provide an ambient glow for any room. If you insist on using lit candles, be sure to put them in a place where they cannot easily be knocked over, and out of reach of children and pets. Never put lit candles near or on your Christmas tree.

Don't forget that the winter holiday season is also flu season. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and often to decrease your risk of infection. Use good hygiene when coughing and sneezing. This means using a tissue for coughing or sneezing and washing frequently after handling soiled tissues. The best way to prevent the flu is by vaccination.

Use common sense this holiday season. If you plan to travel, make sure that all passengers buckle their seatbelts. If you will be attending holiday parties and celebrations, do not drink and drive. Bring a designated driver with you if you plan on consuming alcohol.

Following these simple tips will help ensure that you and your family will enjoy the holidays safely this year.

Lauren Smith, freelance writer, Employee Health Department, Mount NIttany Medical Center