A cocktail of excitement, stress, tiredness and alcohol can create unexpected hazards in the home at Christmas.
More than 80,000 people a year need hospital treatment for injuries such as falls, cuts and burns during the festive period.
During Christmas, your home is likely to be full of people and, in the excitement, accidents can easily happen.
“We want to help people prevent their festivities being cut short by a trip to A&E," says Sheila Merrill, home safety manager at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
“Our message is that the home should be as safe as necessary, rather than as safe as possible. With a little more care and forward planning, most accidents could be avoided.”
Hot fat, boiling water and sharp knives make the kitchen one of the most dangerous places during the holiday.
“The Christmas meal is probably the biggest meal most families cook all year. It needs careful planning to avoid injuries,” says Merrill.
Try to keep other people (especially children) out of the kitchen. Avoid alcohol until you've finished cooking, and wipe up spills as soon as they happen, so that people don't slip.
Clutter, alcohol and tiredness make the stairs an accident hotspot during Christmas, says Merrill. It's common to fall down steps or stairs after drinking.
“Keep the stairs well lit and free from obstacles, especially if you have guests who could be going up to the bathroom during the night,” she says.
Typical Christmas Day accidents include parents accidentally stabbing themselves with scissors, which they've used to assemble toys, instead of using a screwdriver. People often cut themselves with knives when they're opening presents too quickly. People also trip over toys and electric cables while rushing to try their new computers and other appliances.
“Don’t rush,” says Merrill. “Take time to enjoy the moment. Have a screwdriver ready for toys that are screwed into packaging. Clear up the packaging and wrapping paper as you go along, and remember to recycle.”
Beware of your Christmas tree. That Norwegian spruce is not as innocent as it looks. Every year, about 1,000 people are injured by their tree, usually while fixing stars, lights or other decorations to the higher branches, reports the RoSPA.
“Always use a step ladder to put up the decorations and don't over-reach yourself,” says Merrill. Buy the correct size tree so you don't have to saw the top off and risk cutting yourself.
Around 350 people a year are hurt by Christmas tree lights, according to RoSPA. Injuries include people falling while they're putting them up, children swallowing the bulbs, and people getting electric shocks and burns from faulty lights.
“Test your lights and the wiring before you put them up, as they can deteriorate over the years. If you have old lights, buy new ones that meet higher safety standards,” says Merrill. “Don’t overload sockets, as that’s a fire risk.”
About 1,000 people a year are hurt when decorating their homes, says RoSPA. Children bite into glass baubles and adults fall while using unstable chairs instead of ladders to put up streamers, or fall out of lofts while looking for the decorations.
“Glass decorations should be placed out of the reach of toddlers and pets,” says Merrill. Novelty decorations, such as stuffed Santas, reindeer and snowmen, which look like toys, may not comply with strict toy safety regulations. Therefore, they should not be within the reach of children.
People are 50% more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. Taking care with candles and oil burners is one way to help you and your family and friends avoid a Christmas house fire.
“Never put candles on or near a Christmas tree,” says Merrill. “Never leave an open flame unattended.” Always place tea lights inside an appropriate container. “They have been known to burn through baths and television sets,” she says.
Mistletoe is poisonous. Its berries contain toxic proteins that slow the heart rate and can cause hallucinations. The orange berries of the Christmas cherry can cause stomach pains. The Christmas rose is so effective at causing diarrhoea that it was used as a chemical weapon by the ancient Greeks. “Check with the garden centre whether the plants you’re buying are toxic,” says Merrill. “If they are, keep them out of the reach of children.”
Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. The combination of drink, relatives, lack of sleep and the stress of Christmas shopping can be too much for some people.
Try to find some time alone, even if it’s only to have a relaxing bath. Learn to say no to the demands of relatives. It’s important not to suppress your emotions. Try to talk to someone you trust or a third party, such as the Samaritans. Find out more on keeping Christmas stress-free.
Indigestion and food poisoning
Food poisoning is always a worry at Christmas. Read the instructions on the turkey well. It takes hours to cook a turkey properly. If you don't, you could contract salmonella poisoning, which can be life-threatening for vulnerable people. Find out more on cooking turkey.
Studies by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) reveal that, on average, we gain 2kg (5lbs) in weight during the Christmas period, so restrict the amount of chocolate, cakes and nuts you eat. Get ideas on healthy Christmas food swaps.
Apart from the risks to your own health, alcohol can be the chief mischief maker when it comes to accidents. “It reduces your risk awareness,” says Merrill. “Alcohol can make people relax so much that they don't think about everyday risks.” Get tips on cutting down.
After a party, empty any alcohol out of glasses. Children are likely to drink the remains if they get up early to play with their toys. Never drink and drive.