Putting up Christmas lights is a festive tradition, but you could end up in the ER or dead if you fail to follow some simple safety tips.
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, approximately 2,500 people nationwide are injured each year hanging Christmas lights. While most of those injuries are minor, other have been serious, and a handful have been deadly.
"We see people in our ER each year that have been hurt hanging Christmas lights and decorations," said Ogden Regional Medical Center ER director, Janet Smith. "It's mostly from falling or slipping, and it's usually broken bones, cuts and scrapes, and sometimes serious. We have even seen an occasional, very serious injury to the back, spine and pelvis."
Smith also said people have come in after being shocked and burned by light displays.
Dr. Les Greenwood, an ER physician at Davis Hospital and Medical Center, said he usually sees at least a dozen patients during the holiday season with injuries from a fall, including head contusions, spinal injuries and fractures.
"Falls from hanging lights are very common this time of year," Greenwood said.
Sandy Egbert, McKay-Dee Hospital emergency room intensive medicine director, said she has seen back strains; ankle, wrist, leg and arm fractures; bruises; skull fractures; subdural hematomas; shock and burns; and even death from folks making their house look merry and bright.
Just because there are dangers doesn't mean you can't have a beautiful, twinkling house for the holidays. Just use some common sense and be responsible while stringing up your lights.
"First, stop and think about what you are actually physically able to do," Smith said. "Don't push or overextend what you're capable of, even just once a year. If you have limitations, like troublesome knees, or experience dizzy spells, absolutely do not get on a ladder or roof."
Ladder accidents are responsible for 90,000 emergency room visits each year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Many of those visits stem from the annual ritual of hanging Christmas lights on the house.
"Water, ice and Christmas decorating don't mix, ever," Smith said. "Do not decorate if it's snowing or raining. Never put a ladder or stool on a slippery or wet surface. A slip is almost always inevitable."
Never plug lights in if you are near water or ice. Be careful if it's windy, Smith said. A gust could knock you off balance and send you straight to the ground.
Always decorate in full light and watch out for old nails, staples and broken bulbs from years past. They can cause nasty cuts and can also get caught on clothing.
Egbert said never hang over an edge from the roof to hang lights, make sure the ladder you use is wide-based and in good condition to handle your weight and body size and don't ever stand on the very top of the ladder.
"Don't lean out from the ladder to reach away from your core while hanging lights," she said. "It's best to get down and move the ladder over as you progress with hanging lights instead of reaching out. You could cause a weight shift and tip over and injure yourself when you hit the ground."
Smith also said never to mix alcohol with decorating. It's risky at best and can be downright dangerous.
"And have someone present in case an accident occurs, to get help quickly," Greenwood said. "If you have poor health, you should avoid performing these types of duties altogether."
* Getting grounded. Outdoor lights should be connected to a grounded outlet. The best option is a GFCI outlet that has a built-in fuse. If there is an overload, the outlet will turn off instead of causing a fire, and, it is hoped, will save the fuses in your bulbs as well.
* If you have a frayed wire in your bulbs, throw it out.
* Don't overload your extension cords. Connecting three strands or 300 lights is enough for one outlet.
* Never hang lights on a metal tree. The tree can become charged with electricity and cause a shock or the tree can short out the lights and cause a fire.
* Pay attention when you're on the roof. Get up the ladder and do what you need to do and get down. Don't stand there and play around with things.
* Use clips to attach lights whenever possible. Avoid driving nails into cords or attaching with staples, which can damage the lighting strands. Source: Lowe's and the Consumer Product Safety Commission