Health Break | Published December 4, 2006 | Written by Jan McKenna

Stay Healthy During The Holidays

It's the most wonderful time of the year! It's a time for bringing family and friends together in the joy of the season. However, the season also brings into our homes the potential for hazards if we're not careful.

Emergency room physicians report the holidays as one of the busiest times of the year. With all the rushing about to prepare for the season, we must remember to consider safety.

Fire safety

Each year fires occurring during the holiday season injure 2,600 individuals and cause over $930 million in damage, according to the United States Fire Administration. Follow these safety tips for safer use of decorations:

  • Keep candles at least a foot away from other materials.

  • Keep candles out of reach of children and pets and away from drafts.

  • Never leave a burning candle unattended, and don't fall asleep without extinguishing it.

  • Place candles only in receptacles that are nonflammable and heat resistant.

  • Beware of candles in the bedroom 40 percent of candle fires start in the bedroom by catching bedding on fire. Keep candles away from the sleeping area, and keep them out of children's, teenagers' and dormitory rooms too.

  • When decorating with electrical lights, look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety certification label. On holiday lights, it's silver with a holographic image.

  • Check last season's lights carefully and discard them if wires are frayed, cracked or otherwise damaged, or if they have loose connections or broken sockets.

  • Replace all broken or missing bulbs.

  • Don't plug more than three standard-sized sets of lights into one extension cord. It creates too much of an electrical load on the cord. And, according to Consumer Reports, discard light sets after three years of use.

  • Wash your hands after working with electric wiring. Lead is often added to the plastic, which coats electrical cords, wire and cable to make it more durable and heat resistant. Research has shown that some lead may come to the surface and stick to skin as the cord is handled. Handling holiday light cords occasionally is not likely to cause adults to become poisoned, but washing your hands is a good idea.

Crime prevention

  • Avoid using a purse. Use a fanny pack or deep pockets in clothing to carry what you need.

  • Carry your keys, cash and credit cards separate from each other and pay attention to what's going on around you.

  • Avoid shopping until you are exhausted. You are more alert when you are less tired.

  • Leave the mall well before closing time. This way, there is greater assurance that you will walk out with other people and there is safety in numbers.

  • Check underneath your car as you approach it. Criminals can hide under your car and take you by surprise.

  • When returning to your car, place packages out of sight in the trunk of your car.

Travel safely

  • Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car (bag of sand for traction, blankets, windshield scraper, booster cables, mobile phone, container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods, can opener, flashlight and extra batteries).

  • Don't drink and drive. Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 30 minutes and non-fatally injure someone every two minutes.

  • Wear seat belts.

  • Listen to the radio or television for reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service.

And, finally, to reduce holiday stress, find a fun way to exercise, like downhill or cross-country skiing or ice-skating.

Jan McKenna is an employee health nurse at Mount Nittany Medical Center.