Holiday Safety Tips December 9, 2009

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The holidays are supposed to be times of celebration, much of it centered around your home. Yet every year, the holiday season is marred by fires, injuries and accidents that generally are preventable with a little thought and pre-planning. Make your Central Texas holidays happy and bright ones by taking a few precautions.

"During the holidays, people tend to gather more often, sometimes in their own homes but also in other, less familiar locations where certain hazards may exist. A little pre-planning goes a long way, especially if you are taking your children somewhere that is not as child friendly as your own home. Direct adult supervision of young children is the best prevention strategy in unfamiliar settings," says Injury Prevention Coordinator Juliette Brown, MHS, CHES at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas. "There may be hazards you arenot aware of such as accessible guns, open candle flames or holiday decorations with small or sharp pieces. Also, during and after holiday parties, watch out for alcohol and tobacco products that could be ingested by children."

Before others come to your home or you visit friends or family, Juliette suggests thinking about the following safety issues recommended by Safe Kids USA.

Christmas Trees

  • If you have a natural tree, select a fresh one that has not dried out. Dry trees are a fire hazard.
  • Choose a tree location away from a heat source such as a fireplace or heat prevent.
  • Make sure tree stand is filled with water at all times.
  • Use a large, sturdy base to make it difficult for children to pull the tree over.
  • Trim branches at the bottom so they don't poke small ones in the eyes.
  • If you use an artificial tree, pick one that is flame retardant.

Lights

  • Check electric lights for frayed wires, cracked or broken sockets and excessive wear before use.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets.
  • Do not leave lighted trees unattended.
  • Use only laboratory-tested approved lights

Gift and Home Decorations

  • Choose only nonflammable or flame-retardant decorations.
  • Keep away from heating vents and fireplaces.
  • Do not throw wrapping paper in the fireplace (chemicals can build up and cause an explosion).
  • Broken ornaments can be hazards for children, discard them immediately.
  • Keep ribbon away from small children to prevent strangling.

Candles

  • Do not leave candles unattended.
  • Use stable candle holders that are out of reach of children.
  • Do not put lit candles on a tree.

Wise Supervision

  • If you are visiting a home that has not been child-proofed, be sure an adult is supervising younger children the entire time.
  • Don't leave food or beverages within the reach of young children who are likely to put anything they find in their mouths.

Shopping With Safety in Mind

"Most toys sold in the United States are safe, but it's also important to select toys to match the interest and capability of the child," says Juliette. "The Child Safety Protection Act requires manufacturers to place warning labels on toys that pose a choking hazard to young children. In gatherings with children of differing ages, young children can come in contact with small toy parts or game pieces. Make sure that small parts are kept out of the reach of young children. Small game pieces should be stored after play time in a secure location to reduce the risk of choking."

Safe Kids USA offers advice to make your gift-giving of toys less hazardous.

Select the Right Toy

  • Choose toys suitable to a childs age, abilities and skill level.

  • Avoid toys with small removable parts, which could pose a choking hazard to children under age 3. Use a small parts tester (available at toy stores and baby specialty stores) or the tube from a roll of toilet paper. Anything that fits completely inside the tube is a choking hazard to children ages 3 and under.

  • Look for high-quality design and construction. Make sure stuffed animals eyes, noses and other small parts are tightly secured.

  • Avoid sharp points or edges on toys for kids under 8.

  • Avoid electrical toys with heating elements (batteries or electrical plugs) for children under 8. These toys are a potential burn hazard.

  • Avoid toys that produce loud noises. Toy guns and loud electronic games can permanently impair a childs hearing.

  • Avoid toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches. A child can be strangled in loose straps. Be sure to read the labels on all toys. Be aware of age and safety recommendations, and take them seriously.

Give Complete Gifts

"Some of the most common injuries we see at Dell Children's during the holiday season are due to gifts with wheels," adds Juliette. "Bicycles, in-line skates, scooters and skateboards can put children at risk if they don't have proper protective gear or the skills they need to use the item safely. If you plan to give a gift with wheels, make sure to provide the appropriate protective gear, including a helmet, at the same time. More than 280,000 children ages 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries each year."

  • Include a helmet as part of a gift. A helmet is a necessity. Bicycle helmets reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury as much as 88 percent. Be sure to pick the right helmet for the activity. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides a terrific guide for selecting helmets.

  • Buy reflective clothing, stickers or bike reflectors. Use a light and reflectors on the front, sides and back of the bike to increase the childs visibility to drivers.

  • Buy a bike horn or a bell as a stocking stuffer. This tool is essential for warning motorists and pedestrians of a bicyclists approach.

  • Buy elbow and knee pads; for bikes, inline skates, roller skates and skateboards, include wrist guards.

  • Give a gift of inline skating lessons from a professional instructor or a community recreation center. A class can provide valuable instruction on safe and proper techniques.

  • Buy a sturdy, well-made sled, preferably with a steering mechanism. Avoid equipment with sharp and jagged edges. Do not let children go sledding near roadways. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that children under 12 wear a helmet while sledding.

Second Hand Gifts

"Many families face economic challenges this holiday season and may be looking for second hand toys, which can be a good idea and save money. You can easily assess the condition of most of the toys yourself, but check on two things - whether the item has been recalled or whether safety gear has been involved in a crash. In this case, it's buyer beware," advises Juliette.

  • Recalled toys are listed at www.recalls.com, which not only keeps a list of recent recalls but allows you to search for specific products by model number. Check before you buy.

  • Avoid used helmets unless you know they have never been in a crash. Although there may be no apparent damage, once the helmet's been in a crash, its integrity may be impaired and experts advise disposing of it and getting a new one. Good quality helmets are relatively inexpensive and an important safety feature.

For More Information

Visit Safe Kids USAs fire safety Web site at www.usa.safekids.org/fire for more information about fire and injury prevention. You can check on recent recalls of toys at www.recalls.gov. If you mail in warranty and product registration information, you will be notified if recalls are made. Safe Kids Worldwide has a downloadable list of age-appropriate recommendations that you can tuck in your pocket and take along when you shop. For added convenience, Safe Kids Worldlwide has suggestions on Holiday Safety (pdf) and Toy Safety (pdf) that also can be downloaded.

The Injury Prevention Program at Dell Children's

The Mission of the Injury Prevention Program at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas is to lessen the burden of pediatric injury in the Central Texas community by:

  • Performing injury surveillance in the Central Texas area
  • Providing injury prevention education and resources to the community
  • Ensuring patients at Dell Children's have access to safety resources
  • Conducting innovative research that advances the field of injury prevention, and
  • Advocating at the local, state and national levels to promote policies and statutes that protect children.

To learn more about the Injury Prevention Program, click on "Safety and Injury Prevention"

Safe Kids Austin

Safe Kids Austin is a member of Safe Kids Worldwide, the nations first non-profit organization dedicated solely to the prevention of accidental childhood injury. Safe Kids Worldwide is made up of more than 450 state and local Safe Kids coalitions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. For more information about Safe Kids Austin, please contact Tareka Wheeler, Coalition Coordinator, at twheeler@seton.org.

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