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Safety First

Make a list, check it twice

The holidays are upon us, but along with the merriment and wonder of the season is the potential for accidents. While decking the halls, baking treats and shopping for gifts, be sure to include safety in your holiday traditions. Some simple precautions during the hustle and bustle can help ensure your family has a fun and safe holiday.

Trees / Decorations

Trimming the tree and stringing lights can add to the festive mood of the season. But if not used properly, holiday decorations can pose a serious danger. The National Fire Protection Association suggests these tips for selecting and caring for your Christmas tree this holiday season.

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “Fire Resistant.”
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green with needles that are hard to pull from branches and won’t break when bent between your fingers.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood for better water absorption.
  • Place tree away from fireplaces and radiators and be sure to keep the stand filled with water.
  • Use only noncombustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.
  • Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of reach and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food, which may tempt a small child to eat them.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.


  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per extension cord. Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • To hold lights in place outdoors, string them through hooks or insulated staples, not nails or tacks.
  • Always turn off holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed.


Did you know that more than half of the 3 billion toys and games sold in the United States each year are bought during the holiday season? While the majority of toys are safe, about 217,000 children are treated in hospital emergency departments nationwide each year for toy-related injuries; nearly half of these children are younger than 5.

“Toys have changed over the years and the assortment can be astounding, particularly to those who haven’t shopped for kids in a while,” said St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital advocate Keely Smith. “Child safety, however, never goes out of style. It is something parents and family members should always keep in mind when selecting gifts for youngsters.”

Smith notes that appropriate selection and proper use of toys, combined with parental supervision, can greatly reduce the incidence and severity of toy-related injuries.

  • Choose toys suitable to the child’s age, interest and skill level. Remember, age labels are safety, not development ratings.
  • Avoid toys with small removable parts, which could pose a choking hazard to children younger than 3. “Use a small parts tester or the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper to identify choking hazards,” said Smith. “Small children should not play with anything that can fit into one of these cylinders.”
  • Don’t buy toys with small magnetic pieces for any child younger than 6 or younger than 10 if they have younger siblings who could easily access the pieces.
  • Avoid 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.
  • Avoid electrical toys with heating elements (batteries, electrical plugs) for children younger than 8. These toys are a potential burn hazard.
  • Avoid toys with strings, straps or cords longer than 7 inches, which can wrap around a child’s neck and accidentally strangle him or her.
  • Avoid toy darts and other projectiles. Propelled toys can cause cuts or serious eye injuries.
  • Immediately discard plastic wrappings on toys before they become dangerous play things.

Bicycles, skates, scooters and skateboards are popular gifts for the holidays, but if children lack the proper protective gear or skills, injury and death can occur.

  • Include a helmet as part of a gift, which have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury by as much as 85 percent and the risk of brain injury as much as 88 percent.
  • Buy stickers or bike reflectors and use them on the front, sides and back of the bike to increase the child’s 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 bicyclist’s approach.
  • Don’t forget to buy elbow and knee pads as well as wrist guards for skates and skateboards.

Kids sometimes are reluctant to wear protective gear, insisting that they are good riders or complain that none of their friends wear them. But Smith urges you to resist that temptation. “Requiring your children to wear a helmet every time, everywhere they go, is the best thing you can do to protect them,” she notes.

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