Holiday Safety


The holidays create a unique spirit that is expressed through gift giving, breaking bread and gathering with loved ones. It can also be one of the busiest times of the year with parents, caregivers and children spending more time in the home. Whichever way you choose to celebrate the season, be certain to take safety precautions to help keep the holidays safe.

"Parents and caregivers are often very busy preparing for festivities and may forget to think about potential hazards in the home," says Beth Washington, Safe Kids Tulsa Area. "Holiday decorations can pose a hazard to a child's health when sparkle is made a priority over safety."

Safe Kids Tulsa Area recommends the following safety tips to keep your holiday season safe:

Lights and Candles
  • Decorate your tree using only UL (Underwriters' Lab Inc.) approved lights and cords. Inspect lights for exposed or frayed wires, loose connections or broken sockets. Do not overload extension cords. Use no more than three strings of lights on one extension cord, and never run an electrical cord under a carpet. Be sure to secure electrical cords so children cannot pull them and topple the tree. Keep toddlers away from electrical fixtures and install outlet plate covers or large outlet covers on electrical sockets when they are not in use. Small plastic outlet covers may pose a choking hazard.
  • Turn off the tree lights when you go to bed or leave the home.
  • Keep burning candles out of children's reach; keep matches and lighters out of sight and locked away.
  • Teach children not to touch burning candles.
  • Do not place candles near draperies or anything that might easily catch fire.
  • If you build a fire in the fireplace, use a screen and do not leave young children unattended in the room. Make sure you put out fires and candles when you go to bed or leave the home. Do not leave candles unattended.
  • Install smoke alarms in your home on every level and in every sleeping area.
  • Test them once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year. Home fires and home fire-related deaths are more likely to occur during the cold-weather months.
Christmas Tree
  • Look for a fresh tree if you choose to buy a natural tree. Fresh trees are less likely to catch fire than older trees. (A safer option is to buy a fire-resistant, artificial tree.)
  • Keep your tree in a container full of water and check it daily.
  • Use a wide-based stand to make sure the tree is secure and will not fall over.
  • Cover the tree basin with a tree skirt or blanket.
  • Keep the tree away from heat sources such as fireplaces, radiators and heating vents.
  • Trim the lower branches to avoid eye injuries to small children.
  • Decorate your tree with children in mind. Do not put breakable ornaments; ornaments with small, detachable parts; ornaments with metal hooks; or ornaments that look like food or candy on the lower branches where small children can reach them. Also, make sure tree lights are hung out of reach of young children.
  • Never burn Christmas tree branches, treated wood or wrapping paper in your fireplace.
  • Dispose of your tree promptly after the holidays.
Holiday Foods and Ornaments
Some foods and objects pose a choking hazard to young children, especially children under age 5. To help prevent unintentional chokings during the holidays:
  • Keep round, hard foods and candies such as candy can pieces, mints, nuts and popcorn out of reach of children under age 5.
  • Keep small ornaments, tinsel, small figurines and other decorations away from children's reach. Young children have a tendency to put everything in their mouths.
While preparing your home for the holidays, be aware of poisons that can come in seemingly innocent and unexpected forms.
  • Open the flute in your fireplace when burning a fire to provide adequate ventilation. The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases dramatically in the winter. Proper ventilation reduces the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Have all fuel-burning appliances checked annually before use in cold-weather months. Install UL-approved carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
  • Keep alcoholic drinks and containers out of reach. Holiday beverages such as eggnog that contain alcohol may be sweet and inviting to young children. Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended since they might be harmful to children if swallowed.
  • Keep common baking ingredients such as vanilla and almond extract out of reach. They contain high levels of alcohol and may be harmful to young children if swallowed.
  • Beware of fire salts used in fireplaces to produce colored flames. They contain heavy metals and cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten.
  • Keep poisonous plants out of reach. Watch for holly mistletoe berries that fall on the ground because they are very poisonous plants if eaten. Other poisonous holiday plants include: amaryllis, azalea, boxwood, Christmas rose, Crown of Thorns, English ivy and Jerusalem cherry. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous, but they can cause skin irritation and gastrointestinal distress.
  • Avoid using artificial snow sprays to decorate. These sprays can cause lung irritation if inhaled.
  • List poison control center and emergency medical service phone numbers by all telephones. In addition, leave a phone number for babysitters so they can reach you if you go out to holiday party.
Gift Giving
Finding the right toy for a child can be a daunting challenge during the holidays. However, if parents keep their children's age and safety in mind, they can rest assured that their selections will be appropriate for their children's abilities and well-being.

"When buying gifts for children, adults should make safety a priority in their decision," says Beth Washington of the Saint Francis Safe Kids Coalition. "Parents should consider whether the toy is appropriate for the child's age and whether the gift requires protective gear such as helmets and knee pads."

The Saint Francis Safe Kids Coalition recommends the following precautionary tips when selecting gifts this holiday season:

Select Safe Toys
Each year, approximately 111,000 children age 14 and under are treated in hospital emergency rooms for toy-related injuries. Innocent-looking toys - such as marbles and balloons - present a choking hazard to small children. The Child Safety Protection Act, a federal toy labeling law, requires manufacturers to place warning labels on toys that pose a choking hazard to young children. When selecting a toy for your child, avoid the following:
  • Toys with small removable parts. The small parts are hazardous and can pose a choking hazard to children under age three. Use a small parts tester (which can be purchased at a toy or a baby specialty store) to measure the size of the toy or part. If the piece fits entirely inside the tube, then it's considered a choking hazard.
  • Toys with sharp points or edges. A child may unintentionally cut him or herself or another person.
  • Toys that produce loud noises. Toy guns and high-volume portable cassette recorders can permanently impair a child's hearing.
  • Propelled toy darts and other projectiles. Propelled toys can cause cuts or eye injuries.
  • Toys with strings, straps of cords longer than seven inches. Long strings and cords could wrap around a child's neck and unintentionally strangle him or her.
  • Electrical toys. Electrical toys are a potential burn hazard. Avoid toys with a heating element - batteries, electrical plugs - for children under age 8.
  • Toys painted with lead paint. Exposure to lead can result in lead poisoning, causing serious damage to a child's brain, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Toy cap guns. Paper roll, strip or ring caps can be ignited by the slightest friction and cause serious burns.
Follow Age Recommendations When Selecting Toys
Many toy-related injuries occur when parents overestimate their child's ability to handle a toy designed for an older age group. Age recommendations for toys not only take into account a child's cognitive abilities, but they also consider the overall safety of a toy.

The Saint Francis Safe Kids Coalition recommends using the following guidelines for age appropriate toys:
  • Infants under age 1 - In the first few months of their lives, children are immobile. Eventually, they learn to reach, roll over and sit up. In the second six months, children become more mobile and are at an increased risk for choking. The most suitable toys for the first year include activity quilts, stuffed animals without button noses and eyes, bath toys, soft dolls, baby swings, cloth books and squeaky toys.
  • Children ages 1 to 3 - At this age, children are curious and have little sense of danger. They like to climb, jump, throw, and play rough-and-tumble games. The best toys for this age group are books, blocks, fit-together toys, balls, push-and-pull toys, pounding toys and shape toys.
  • Children ages 3 to 5 - As any parent of a preschooler can tell you, these children "think with their feet" and spend much of their time running. They like tests of physical strength and begin to develop skills such as riding a tricycle, finger control, and the ability to build with large blocks and construction materials. Toys that are most suitable for this age group include approved non-toxic art supplies, books, videos, musical instruments and outdoor toys such as a baseball tee, slide or swing.
  • Children ages 5 to 9 - It is in the early part of this age group that children become creative and more physically active. They can write, engage in arts and crafts, and are able to use simple mechanical toys such as cars and trains. Recommended toys include craft materials, jump ropes, puppets, books, electric trains (after age eight) and sports equipment. Remember, children ages eight and up can begin to use electrical and battery-operated toys. Check tape recorders and battery-operated toys regularly for loose or exposed wires. Don't allow children to change batteries.
  • Children ages 9 to 14 - At this age, children enjoy team sports and games that require increased dexterity such as pick-up sticks, marbles and jacks. Strenuous physical activity is also popular for this age group. Children begin to develop hobbies and a strong interest in scientific activities. For these children, appropriate gifts include computers, microscopes, table and board games and outdoor and team sports equipment. Ensure that older children's toys are kept out of reach of younger children for whom they may present a danger.
Remember, a gift is not complete unless proper protective gear is Included.
Bicycles, in-line skates, skateboards and sleds are also popular gifts for the holidays; however, without the proper protective gear or skills, injury and death can occur. The Saint Francis Safe Kids Coalition recommends the following tips when buying bicycles, tricycles, skates, skateboards or sleds this holiday season:
  • Include a helmet as part of the gift. A helmet is a necessity, not an accessory. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury by as much as 88 percent. Make sure the helmet meets or exceeds the safety standards developed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) or the new federal standard. All bike helmet manufacturers must comply with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) bike helmet safety standard. Be sure to look for a CPSC-approved label.
  • Buy retroreflective clothing, stickers or bike reflectors for an older child who will be riding or skating in non-daylight hours (e.g., at dawn, dusk or night). Reflectors on the pedals and wheels also increase a child's visibility.
  • Give a horn or bell as a stocking stuffer. A horn or bell is essential for bicyclists to warn motorists and pedestrians of their presence.
  • Include elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads when giving in-line skates, roller-skates or skateboards as gifts.
  • Give in-line skating lessons from a professional instructor or a community recreation center. A class will provide instruction on how to skate properly and on proper skating etiquette.
  • Buy a sled that is constructed sturdily and safely. Avoid equipment with sharp and jagged edges.
Parents and caregivers can get a free brochure on toy safety by writing to: Toy Brochure, National Safe Kids Campaign, 1301 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 1000 Washington, D.C. 20004.

More safety sites
You can refer to the following sites for more childhood injury prevention all year long:

National Safe Kids Campaign

American Academy of Pediatrics (TIPP: The Injury Prevention Program)

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control