The risk of injuring yourself may not be the first thing that comes to mind as you untangle those holiday lights, but the US Consumer Product Safety Commission hopes you’ll take precautions.
According to the CPSC’s 2017 report, last year’s holiday season resulted in 14,700 decorating-related injuries that needed to be treated in an emergency room. That’s about 240 a day during the months of November and December. Roughly 41 percent of these injuries were from falls, 10 percent involved lacerations, and 5 percent resulted in back strains. The CPSC even reported three deaths — all from falling off a ladder.
We spoke with physical therapists about how to stay safe while putting up the tree and the lights and even lifting heavy boxes filled with decorations.
“I think setting aside enough time and planning your approach in the initial stages are important,” Barsotti noted. “Do I have a big enough ladder? Am I using enough equipment? Is the pathway clear?”
Lee Marinko, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training at Boston University, also emphasized the danger posed by being in a rush.
“You go from outside, where it is wet [to] inside where you slip,” Marinko said. “People are just in a rush, so they are trying to get their bundles all in at once.”
By giving yourself enough time to decorate and having a set strategy, you avoid being careless.
“Trees can be heavy and awkward,” Barsotti said. When you start the decoration process, do not to be afraid to ask for help. Marinko even recommended that someone else be home while you are doing the heavy lifting.
“If it is an awkward shape, it is best to have someone help you, even if it’s not that heavy,” she said.
When you are lifting, you want to get the object as close to you as possible,” Barsotti said. “Having it a few feet away is much more strain on the back, legs, and arms. … If it is between your feet, that is best.”
You will want to pick up the item with as little force as possible and with the best grip you can. Know where you are going to grab it and where you are going to move it before you lift it.
When it comes to climbing ladders, Barsotti cites the 4-to-1 rule.
“For every four feet you have to climb, you want [the ladder] that far from the house,” he said.
Surprisingly, Marinko says she oftens sees injuries related to sitting.
“It is usually [people] wrapping presents, bent over on the floor,” she said.
Those wrapping woes result in lower back pain.
“Usually you are better off if you wrap on a table, where you can stand,” Marinko said, and “try not to do [the wrapping] all at once.”
If, during the decorating process, you start to get tired, Marinko recommends you stop. “Don’t just do that last ditch effort,” she said. “It’s the last one that gets you sore.”
Once the decorating is done for the day, Barsotti said, even if you are tired, you may want to do some light activity to keep your muscles moving.
“The worst thing we can do is just sit on the couch,” he said. “You get stiff. It’s like a cool down after the gym.”
Once the tree is up and the lights are on, you still have a few things you need to worry about — fires involving candles and Christmas trees.
According to the CPSC, from 2012 to 2014, there were 100 Christmas tree fires resulting in $15.7 million in property damage per year. In November and December of 2012 to 2014, on average, there were 1,200 fires ignited by candles, resulting in $42.2 million in damage.
Though there are many things you can do to prevent fires this winter, there are some tree-specific ones CPSC mentions, such as making sure your tree stays fresh, keeping it from heat sources, and, if you have an artificial one, making sure it is fire resistant. If you have small children, you should also take note of the types of decorations you use, in order to prevent them from breaking and to prevent the child from choking.
When you put lights on your tree, be sure that you test for things like frayed or bare wires. Make sure any extension cords are in good condition.
Like candles? Make sure that they are on a heat-resistant, stable surface and always within your sight.
“Safety should be part of all your decorating efforts,” Ann Marie Buerkle, CPSC acting chair, said in a statement. “Make sure your live Christmas tree has plenty of water, keep lit candles away from flammable items, and use caution when standing on a ladder or a chair to hang decorations.”