There’s no place like home for the holidays. Yet hazards come in many forms this time of year. Keep your kiddos jolly and bright—and out of the emergency room—using our room-by-room guide to holiday safety.
Real trees need to be watered every day and placed far away from heat sources such as candles, furnace vents, and space heaters. Artificial more your style? Ensure “fire resistant” appears on the label.
“Move breakable ornaments or those with metal hooks toward the top of the tree as children are naturally curious and will try to play with them,” says Dr. Genie Roosevelt, director of the pediatric emergency department at Denver Health Medical Center.
With wood-burning fireplaces, keep the flue open when you’re burning wood to keep the room from filling with smoke, and be sure to have a professional inspect your chimney annually. Never leave a fire unattended, and always use a screen—sparks can fly from a fireplace just like they can from a campfire. The glass on the front of gas/electric fireplaces can get very hot and cause burns. Consider installing safety screens. Be aware that carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas, can be released, with deadly consequences.
“Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home,” says Ben Morgan, insurance agent from Fort Collins. “Also, change the batteries in your smoke alarms for added peace of mind.”
Shiny glass and baubles make the season bright, but keep all breakable decorations out of reach of children.
“Watch out for holiday ‘bubble lights’ that contain methylene chloride, which can be toxic if swallowed or absorbed through the skin,” says Dr. Roosevelt.
Family Room or Play Room
Toys and Gifts
The key to keeping kids safe is making sure Santa’s list includes only age-appropriate toys. Batteries—in particular, button batteries—can be fatal if swallowed. And any toy that fits in a child’s mouth is a choking hazard. Also, if a new bike or scooter is part of your celebration, include a new helmet.
“The current in button batteries is more powerful than regular batteries and can erode the lining of the nose or esophagus. If your child swallows a button battery, quickly go to the emergency department,” says Dr. Roosevelt.
Although more nuisance than hazard, water pipes can easily burst in north- and east-facing bathrooms that aren’t well-insulated.
“Consider getting an energy efficiency audit, which can show where you might be at risk for a burst pipe,” says Morgan.
Never leave a candle unattended, and store matches out of reach of little hands. Keep candles 12 inches from anything that could potentially burn.
If your holiday de-stress routine includes birch, camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, menthol, tea tree, or wintergreen oils, store them on a shelf out of kids’ reach.
“These can cause seizures, hallucinations, and agitation when ingested,” says Dr. Roosevelt.
Use the back burner on the stove and turn handles away from the stove’s edge.
There’s a significant risk of alcohol ingestion, and even a small amount can be harmful to children. Dr. Roosevelt suggests staying vigilant about picking up cups and glasses during holiday parties.
“Remember, vanilla and lemon extract contain significant amounts of alcohol,” says Dr. Roosevelt. “These should be stored safely and put away immediately after baking.”
Practice safe food prep and handling by cooking meats to the right temperature and refrigerating perishable foods from holiday buffets within two hours.
Clark Griswold-types, take note: All lights need to be certified for outdoor use. When decorating, use proper stools and ladders (don’t stand on chairs or furniture). The National Safety Council recommends keeping three points of contact on the ladder at all times (two feet, one hand) and only using ladders with slip-resistant feet while wearing clean, dry shoes. If the wind kicks up or snow starts to fall, get off the ladder immediately to avoid getting blown over or slipping on the rungs.
When the weather outside turns frightful, keep your walks and driveway free from snow and ice.
“Don’t be a negligent neighbor,” says Morgan. “Keep up with shoveling and use ice melt. It’s not only appreciated, but you’re also less likely to be liable should someone fall.”
Keep Furry Family Members Safe, Too
“A child-proofed house is not a pet-proofed house, especially when it comes to holiday hazards,” says Dr. Katrina Morgan, associate veterinarian at Countryside Animal Hospital. “We see an increase in emergency visits, ranging from chocolate toxicity and pancreatitis in dogs to electrocution and burns from chewing through lights. Ingesting ribbons, tinsel, even holiday plants like poinsettias can be extremely dangerous for cats.”
Traveling for the Holidays?
Before you go:
- Turn down the heat, but make sure it’s up high enough that your pipes don’t freeze.
- Turn off the main water supply, and drain water from the faucets. “If a pipe does burst, it won’t flood your house,” says Morgan.
- Make sure Santa’s sleigh is up for the task. Keep your vehicle’s tires properly inflated and consider snow tires. Have an emergency kit at the ready and ensure all car seats are installed—and used—correctly.
- Ask a neighbor to pick up your mail and packages. And don’t post your whereabouts on social media, as thieves have been known to target empty holiday homes.