Holiday Safety – Part 2

It will take years to know from the statistics, but hopefully, in 2010, there were fewer structural fires related to cooking equipment than in previous years.  Once again, the manufacturer has to tell end users how to use the product safely, but it’s up to the users to actually do it.

So now, in terms of Holiday Safety, we turn our sights to Christmas.  This holiday surrounds itself with both outside and inside hazards.  Because there are so many items to cover, I will restrict this article to outside activities.  Checking the general conditions of outside decorations is a must.  Bad weather and cold temperatures can make new  electrical cords and sockets become brittle over time, causing cracks where moisture can get in.  We already know water (moisture) and electricity “Just Don’t Mix”.  Find out how many strings of lights will go together safely by reading the instructions, or going to the manufacturer’s web site.  The old, large bulbs can only take three sets together before the wires will begin to overheat.  Some of the newer lights can string as many as ten sets together.  Find out what kind you have, and then hang them correctly.  Do NOT remove fuses to add additional strings.  The seasonal “Structural Fire Statistic” is just waiting for someone to overload the outside circuits.

When hanging those outside decorations you’ll need a ladder.  We’ve all seen our friend Clark Griswold in the movie “Christmas Vacation” use a ladder improperly, but how many people make the same mistakes?  OSHA requires ladders to extend 36 inches above the roof you are leaning the ladder against because it is safer for you to step off than it is to try crawling over the top to get on the roof.  Ladders are also required to be tied off when used as access egress, so if you will be in one location for a while, use a bungee cord to tie off your ladder.

Roughly 20% of all workplace injuries are from falls, and I can assure you there will be plenty of falls from ladders and rooftops this month.  Ladders must be properly placed using the “One to Four” rule.  For every four feet of height, the ladder should be placed one foot out from the wall.  The ladder should be placed on hard, flat surfaces, and not on rocks or in mud that could cause the ladder to shift while you’re on it.  Place a sheet of plywood over the rocks or mud, then place the ladder on the wood.

Some things we already know about ladders, like not stepping on the rungs of a a-frame type ladder without spreading the legs out first.   We also probably know not to stand on the very top step or the next to the top step of that same ladder.  When this year’s injuries are investigated, we’ll find people guilty of violating both common sense items above.  They simply won’t have time to set the ladder up properly, or get a bigger ladder if the one they have isn’t tall enough for what they are doing.  Well, how much time will it take to go to the emergency room if you were lucky enough to avoid landing on your head?

One last thing to share about ladders.  There is a safety rule called “The Belt Buckle” rule.  It says that when you are on a ladder of any kind, when your belt buckle goes beyond the ladder’s rail (either side), gravity will take over and pull the ladder and you down to the ground.  That’s why reaching too far is not a good idea.  Simply come down and move the ladder over instead.  This is another ladder safety concept that will be violated over and over this month by people who think accidents can’t happen to them.

Finally, the roof is a very dangerous place.  If you have been going up there to do your holiday decorations for the last ten years, you have only been up there twenty times (ten times to put them up, ten times to take them down).  If you worked for my roofing Clients, that would probably be one to two weeks worth of experience, which is not very much.  Stay back from the edges, wear good non slip footwear, and remember the roof is very slippery during the cold months, and most slippery in the early morning.  There are also places on the roof like “exposed flashing areas” where you are guaranteed to slip no matter what shoes you wear.  If you’re getting on in years, don’t go up there.  Get a younger person to help instead.  They could probably use the money, and being “tough” or “independent” won’t pay for the ambulance ride.  Balance and agility is traded for the wisdom that supposedly comes with age.

I think we’ve covered the outside hazards of the holidays pretty well.  People know when they are unsafe or doing something improperly.  Hopefully now you know a little more.  My goal is to provide more safety tools, and knowledge for people to use.  Common sense is a relative term that’s hard to identify, but the two things that keep people safe are straight forward.

The first thing is “attitude” or how someone feels about being safe in the first place.  Attitude decides who we are today, and what we will do in any given situation.  Charles Swindel has claimed that “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I feel about it”.  The first safety task of every day is to manage who we are.  Good personal management yields good decision making, and less trouble to deal with.  Bad personal management yields decisions made when distracted, angry, or stressed, and problems galore will take place.

The second thing is “Safety Awareness” or the ability to do what you’re doing without being distracted.   I’ve addressed this topic before, but doing the right thing is not possible when the brain is somewhere else.  Please focus this holiday season on what you are doing, and the temporary hazards that exist where you are.  Check the decorations, use ladders properly,  be aware of the hazards on the roof and avoid them, and remember, “Safety is NOT what we talk about, it’s about what you actually DO”.


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