It’s a hectic time, the holiday season: in ‘normal’ weather, houses are full of visiting family and friends, food and drink is broken out to mark the occasion, and presents are baled under the tree, lit-up and filling the room with a soft and warm glow, in anticipation of the big morning.
There’s a lot of moving pieces, as any exasperated parent (or grandparent!) might attest to, so, it makes sense to take a look at the whole affair: keeping dinner in one piece, making sure all the batteries are in the various places they need to be, ensuring everyone on the list for presents has been looked after.
So, it's understandable that looking after the place, making sure things are where they should be, and being mindful of various hazards can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.
But that's when things can go wrong, as Derry Girls star and Corkonian Siobhán McSweeney found out to her cost in late 2019, as she explains in a video put together for her local fire department in London.
Thanks to @ElecSafetyFirst and Siobhán McSweeney for highlighting potential issues around block adapters. How to keep you home safe from electrical fires https://t.co/wrsYzH9J4I pic.twitter.com/JfYuuVDzXZ— London Fire Brigade (@LondonFire) March 21, 2020
Let’s take a minute, then, to slow down and consider some of the many health and safety issues that can arise in the home over the course of a few very busy days for families, housemates and Covid-induced social bubbles.
These are general safety tips, and not medical advice - always consult a doctor in the event of emergencies.
The centrepiece of a home’s Christmas proceedings, the big tree can be as much of a threat as it can be a decoration.
Dry natural trees in particular are a risk, whether from embers from a nearby open fire, or a spark from badly-wired or well-used tree lights.
If your tree is fresh, make sure to keep it so, by watering the base. Keep it one metre from a hot radiator, and three metres from any open fires.
On the topic of fire, other things to be careful of over the season are unattended candles or tea-lights, and the risks of fire from dropped cigarettes or their hot ashes.
Make sure to check your smoke and CO alarms, have your fire blankets and extinguishers in place, and take care with storage of flammable items/substances near heat sources.
Listen to Sister Michael in the above video, and keep an eye on your adapter blocks and other electrical outlets.
Decorating the tree presents safety hassles in its own right, with a risk of falling being the big one. Get a big, heavy stepladder in, and enlist the whole gang in decorating, if possible, to mitigate risks and be mindful of each other, especially if a big tree is the hallway conversation piece.
Be sure and keep the floors clear around the house, much less around the tree, to avoid more tripping risks: be mindful of small toys, decorations and baubles in particular.
Likewise with the driveway and path outside, especially where Christmas drinks have been involved: keep an eye out for recurring icy patches nearby, and get some salt or soil on them to reduce the risks of slips in the dark!
From the new gizmos and gadgets, to old toys hauled down from the attic to perplex the kids, you’ll need batteries, and stocking up on AAs, AAAs and CR32s in advance is essential to avoid any blown gaskets or Christmas-day petrol-station dashes.
But be careful. Small batteries, like for novelty cards and watches, can easily be ingested, and once moistened by oesophageal or salivary juices, can create a little electrical current and burn though tissue in mouths, gullets, vocal cords, etc.
This is to say nothing of the risk of them getting lodged in other orifices, necessitating an unplanned trip to the ENT.
To be on the safe side, keep batteries and magnets away in a safe place, away from the young or infirm.
Catalogues, shops and online marketplaces alike are all filled with playhouses, swings, slides, trampolines, as well as make-believe sets like kitchens and shop counters, among other things.
Whether new or second-hand, be sure to look for the CE symbol on packaging or the unit itself, to guarantee its safety and suitability for children and adults.
Make sure to investigate pre-assembled used units for any missing bolts, screws or other fixings, and in the case of outdoor sports toys like trampolines, soccer/GAA goals or various other ball-sports sets, make sure all fixings and security measures are included, and securely fit as per the supplied instructions.
You’d be surprised at the amount of things that can go awry when a whole gang of people are unwrapping, unboxing, assembling and generally getting vexed at how fancy new distractions operate.
Like with batteries, loose parts, missing from their motherships, can easily go up noses or down gullets, be they human or animal, while any parent that’s ever stepped on a Lego barefoot can attest to the propulsive qualities of small, jaggy bits on the floor, with associated risks of falls and slips, especially on hard floors or stairs.
Laser beams and pellets, fired at the velocity of an excited young person, will blind people, while drones and scrambler bikes might also present issues for your community at large, especially if elderly or otherwise vulnerable people are living nearby.
While pets might relish in the opportunity to deal further destruction to discarded packaging and wrapping, aside from their own gifts, lots of noise, weird smells and new people present overstimulation and resultant issues.
Dangly decorations and misplaced batteries aside, be wary of stray chocolates, sugary/dried fruits like sultanas, and plant life toxic to dogs upon ingestion, like poinsettias.
Ideally, temptations are kept out of the pets’ path as opposed to vice-versa (it’s their house, too), and in case someone becomes ill quickly, be ready for a trip to the vet.
If all the hustle and bustle is too much for certain pets, make sure that they have a part of the house that's quiet, that they can retire to, preferably somewhere they already sleep or hide out in, to maintain their routine and familiarity amid the seasonal craziness.
When it comes to the big dinner, the bird is the word for most, bar the ‘awkward’ vegans and veggies at the table. But while it’s the main event in terms of eats, it can also lead to an early night, at best, if done wrong.
Being that your writer is one of those suitably smug herbivores, we’ll go back to CUH’s Dr. Chris Luke on his tips for trials and travails with the Christmas roast.
“The key message is that food poisoning from the bird is a clear and present danger unless you:
- keep the bird away from all other food
- make sure that bloody turkey juice doesn’t drip on to other edible material in the fridge or surfaces
- ensure that the frozen turkey is defrosted over many hours in the fridge
- use a separate chopping board for the fowl
- use a thermometer placed in the middle of the thigh (meaty/fleshy part), away from hot bone (looking for > 70°C reading)
“Keep the turkey in the bottom of the fridge, and use the Safefood.eu turkey calculator and a thermometer.”
Temperature is something to watch out for: bacteria and viruses proliferate in warm areas in the best of times, doing best between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius.
Trips between the kitchen and the toilet by hurried chefs and assistants don’t help, either, with fridges being left open, and surfaces being exposed if one forgets to scrub their mitts.
Wash your hands with soap and warm water at every possible turn, following the current guidelines. Make sure your leftovers are cold before putting them back in the fridge, where they should keep for two days max, and serve them up piping hot.
If you do manage to get sick, contact your GP or local practice to go through possible symptoms of either food poisoning or coincidental Covid-19.
If it’s the former, manage symptoms with those usual comforts of Irish life - bed, flat 7up and paracetamol - and keep away from the hospital, unless you are ill for more than 2-3 days.
Hospital visits tend to spike around the holidays for various reasons, not the least of which is kitchen and household burns.
Be careful of marauding kiddies in the kitchen, and keep kettle leads, pan handles etc. away from the reach of grubby little grabbers. Chefs that have decided on Dutch courage to deal with seasonal stress might want to exercise the same caution.
Among the more specific jumps in hospital visits around the holliers: fingertip amputations.
And while it’s easy to credit it all to boozy kitchen staff and inexperience, be careful of knives and scissors around tape, wrapping paper and plastic “clamshell” packaging around toys in particular.
“Claw” up your fingers - make cat’s claws with them - when cutting up vegetables in the kitchen, and obtain a pair of round-tipped scissors if possible, for presents and other seasonal missions.
Considering post-lockdown circumstances and the ongoing situation regarding Covid-19, please observe Level 3 restrictions, limit contacts, and conduct small gatherings between households in existing social and family groups.
While drink is handy for social situations, ice-breaking, etc., it’s also responsible for much of the chaos of the holiday season’s grown-up gatherings, between accidents and other manners of disinhibition, like interpersonal misunderstandings, or even physical altercations.
Aside from minding your head, take care with possible winter excess: according to CUH’s Dr. Chris Luke, the average holiday weight gain is half-a-stone, with alcohol’s fermented sugars being a big factor, between its own content, and the inevitable munchies that occur after overindulgence.
Choose your tipples carefully, and be mindful of the non-drinkers in your life, be they recovering or just teetotal: plenty of zero-percent alternatives to the major beers and wine are on the market now, and carving quite the niche.
From bickering, to the aforementioned altercations, and, unfortunately, beyond, alcohol’s disinhibiting quantities can end up pouring petrol on smouldering embers in our relationships - family, marital or otherwise.
Keep an eye who’s likely to get a bit aggro after a few, and help them pace themselves, if not keep sober entirely, and make sure one or two others at the party are also in the know, just in case.
Winter spread, hangovers and lethargy can often result from keepin’ her lit a bit longer than usual, and leave revellers in need of a longer break, or worse, itchy to get back to the daily grind.
You might want to go handy in that case: pace yourself when enjoying the festivities, and avoid your most impressive dad-dancing moves if you’re out of regular practice.
Remember that a glass of wine and a mince pie each contain about 200 calories; aim to get your 10,000 steps in every day, with a good bit of fresh air for you and your animal overlords; and get plenty of sleep.
It's been another hard year, and we all have people we want to see, but as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 takes its toll, we all have to be extra-vigilant in following public health advice.
Limit your visits to where you're staying for Christmas if possible; wear masks in crowded areas when out getting supplies; wash your hands and encourage others to do the same, keep a bottle of sanitiser handy; and be sure to greet ‘extra-bubbular’ friends with a relatively safe elbow-bump if you see them out and about.
Whether outside your own home, or on limited visits, Gardaí recommend you park and lock your car in secure, well-lit areas, keeping valuables, including bags and coats, hidden from the view of passers-by.
Likewise, when out Christmas-shopping (and keeping it local!), only take out as much cash as you need from ATMs, and contact Gardaí if it appears a machine has been compromised in some way.
At home, secure all the doors and windows, and use your alarm, whether the house is vacant, or you’re home at night. Avoid leaving Christmas presents in the line of view from the outside of your home, and leave a visible light on downstairs, if possible.
If you are expecting deliveries, always make sure someone is in the house to collect them, or arrange for a trusted neighbour to take them in from outside your door if the house is empty.
Check with trusted neighbours or your local neighbourhood watch, to keep an eye on each other’s homes nearby, in the event of seasonal travel being allowed and people being away from home overnight.
Last but not least: if there are elderly, infirm, or vulnerable people living in your community, or if someone you know has to spend Christmas alone for reasons of safety or limited travel availability, be sure to check in with them if possible.
A warm chat in person or on the phone, or a socially-distanced shopping drop where needed, can make all the difference to someone, especially during what will be a tough time for many people.