Holiday time also hazard time
Tis time to be more than jolly. 'Tis the season to be careful, too. Whether you're putting up a Christmas tree or lighting candles, taking simple precautions can help make your holidays safer.

Topping the list of hazards is the tree itself, presenting a plethora of risks from prickly branches poking kids' eyes and the potential for fire to breakable ornaments and dangerous lighting electric cords.

A prominent paediatrician says just a few simple measures can help keep kids and trees out of each others' turf.

"One idea is to put the tree inside the playpen so kids can't get in," she says. "Some people will use a coffee table to make a barricade around the tree."

"You also may want to put all the ornaments up high so the kids can't reach," she suggests. "And try not to use ornaments that kids can put in their mouth, especially the old glass ornaments."

And make sure the tree isn't going to topple over, she adds.

"With little kids, it's also a good idea to somehow secure the tree so they can't pull it down on themselves," she says. "That can be done by tying a string around the tree and somehow affixing it to a hook on the wall."

Any number of creative ways exist to prevent kids' interest in electrical cords, she says.

"It's a very good idea to use the automatic timers to turn off the Christmas tree lights, and there are also switches in which you use your foot to turn lights on and off," she says. "That way, the kids don't see you plugging and unplugging and get the idea to try to imitate you."

Still more hazards emerge over the holidays because parents face so many distractions, adds Angela Mickalide, a safety programme director.

"You've got a potentially dangerous mix going on around the holidays," she says. "Parents are distracted, and there can be more lapses in their supervision than is normal."

"On top of that, if your children are out of school, they're now under foot, when you might not be used to that," she says. "And then you've got the added element of family and guests in the house who have purses filled with all kinds of temptations for kids - grandma's medications, coins, sewing kits, matches, lighters."

The additional company might make it seem that more people are watching the little ones, but that's deceptive, Mickalide says. "When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge," she points out.

What To Do

To help families enjoy a safe holiday, safety campaign organisers suggest:

  • To help prevent choking, keep round, hard foods and sweets - such as mints, nuts and popcorn - out of the reach of young children. Also keep small ornaments, tinsel, small figurines and other decorations away from children.
  • While preparing your home for the holiday, be aware of seemingly innocent and unexpected forms of poison.
  • Keep alcoholic drinks and containers out of reach. Do not leave alcoholic drinks unattended. They could be harmful if consumed by children.
  • 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.
  • Keep poisonous plants out of reach.
  • Use sun protection when outdoors.
  • Cut back the lower branches of your Christmas tree to avoid eye injuries to small children.
  • Decorate your tree with children in mind. Don't put breakable ornaments, ornaments with small, detachable parts or metal hooks, or those 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.
  • Keep phone numbers for local poison control centres and emergency medical services by all telephones. And leave your cell phone number for babysitters so they can reach you while you are out.
  • Keep ipecac syrup in the home for use only on the advice of a poison control centre or a physician.

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