Sheila Merrill, Public Health Adviser at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) talks to us about Christmas Safety.

Christmas is a wonderful occasion to spend quality time with the family, but it is when your home is full of people that accidents can occur.

The excitement of Christmas can often take over, particularly in communal areas such as the kitchen where parents are busy cooking the festive food.  Meanwhile, a merry party fuelled by sherry is taking place in the lounge and the little ones are running wild around the house. But if there are more people around, make use of them by politely asking if they can look after the children and keep a watchful eye on them. Most accidents can and will be avoided with care and attention and forward planning.

One of RoSPA‘s guiding principles is that life should be “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible”. This means you don’t need to go over the top on safety precautions and take the fun out of your Christmas celebrations. But, there are some things you can do to ensure your festivities are not cut short by an accident.

Firstly, fire is one of the most serious hazards associated with Christmas; you are 50 per cent more likely to die in a house fire over Christmas than at any other time of year. A combination of smoking and drinking alcohol are well-known risk factors, but candle fires also claim lives each year. According to the National Statistics, in 2010/11 there were 1,072 candle fires in homes across Great Britain, and of these, there were 559 fires started as a result of articles being placed too close to the candle. It is important to keep decorations and cards away from fires and other heat sources such as light fittings. Don’t leave burning candles unattended and make sure they are extinguished before going to bed. Never put candles on Christmas trees and if you have old and dated Christmas lights, now is the time to consider buying new ones which will meet much higher safety standards.

Other ways to help to prevent accidental fires this Christmas:

  • Keep matches and lighters away from children
  • Do not leave cooking unattended
  • Do not overload sockets (if absolutely necessary, use a multiway trailing socket – not an adaptor block)
  • Always extinguish cigarettes properly and do not smoking in bed
  • Ensure you have a working smoke alarm – test it before Christmas
  • Have a fire escape plan.

The Christmas tree is often the centrepiece of the home at this time of year, but its eye-catching decor and twinkling lights mean that it can attract the attention of small children. Remember, Christmas novelties are not toys, even if they resemble them, and they do not have to comply with toy safety regulations. Give careful thought to where you display them; for example, place them high up on Christmas trees where they are out of the reach of children’s hands. It is especially important that you do not let children play with tree lights (some have swallowed the bulbs), and remember to switch off the tree lights when going out of the house or going to bed. Remember to keep a look out for small items that could pose a choking hazard to young children, including parts that have fallen off toys or from Christmas trees, button batteries and burst balloons.

And when the big day arrives, remember to buy batteries for toys that need them, that way you won’t be tempted to remove batteries from smoke alarms! Also make sure that children’s gifts are for the correct age group and from reputable sources that comply with standards (e.g. The Toys (Safety) Regulations 2011).

For more tips and advice on keeping family and friends safe this Christmas, visit RoSPA.