Staying Safe and Healthy through the Holiday Season
Safety doesn’t just happen. It is everyone’s responsibility. Safety hazards do not take a holiday during the Holiday Season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day). In fact, some hazards increase at this time.
In the Bible
Now therefore send, get your livestock and all that you have in the field into safe shelter, for every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home will die when the hail falls on them (Exodus 9:19).
And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4:25).
When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe (Luke 11:21).
Behold, I will bring to it health and healing (Jeremiah 33:6).
In the News
Nationwide, 2016 - Accident Claims Advice, a company advising persons considering personal injury claims, scrutinized accident data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission for 2016. Of the 337 accidents that happened during the holiday season, only a few were in churches (the data primarily concerned product safety), but most of the causes do occur in churches. Here are a few examples reported in EHS Today (an environmental health and safety publication):
- Someone sneezed and swallowed a thumbtack while putting up Christmas decorations [I think he was holding the tack with his lips or teeth].
- Some people fell off ladders while putting up or taking down Christmas decorations.
- Strains, sprains, and injured backs, knees, and shoulders happened while handling heavy and/or awkward objects, such as Christmas trees and boxes of decorations.
- Persons have been burned in various ways, including by hot holiday-light bulbs.
- People have been injured by the tools they used, such as staple guns, knives, and scissors.
- Twelve percent of the injuries were head bumps.
- Broken Christmas ornaments cause cuts.
- Children often swallow berries and leaves from toxic plants.
- People choke on swallowed objects.
Rock Hill, South Carolina, November 20, 2020 - A man helping a neighbor hang outdoor Christmas lights slipped and fell off a ladder. The multiple-story plunge left him in the hospital several weeks. He suffered a fractured skull and serious brain injury.
- Falls are a leading cause of personal injury.
Norfolk, Virginia, December 21, 2019 - As many as 500 people who attended a community Christmas dinner hosted by a local church may have had food poisoning. At least 40 came down ill enough to seek medical care.
- Food poisoning is one of the hazards of holiday meals.
Oak Ridge North, Texas, August 2000 - A church had to leave its building after toxic mold was discovered in the walls. The mold was discovered after leaks were found.
- This could happen any time of year, especially in humid climates. If your church has a mold problem, it could be a health hazard for members and holiday visitors.
Kearney, Nebraska, December 25, 1969 - Almost 24 hours after crowds attended the Christmas Eve service, fire broke out at the First Methodist Church in downtown Kearney. The church was reduced to rubble. The cause of the fire was determined to be wiring near the pipe organ.
- Electrical issues are a leading cause of church fires.
Carroll County, Kentucky, May 14, 1988 - A used school bus turned church bus carrying 62 persons (4 adults and 58 teens) was returning from a trip to King's Island. A pickup truck with a drunk driver going the wrong way on I-71 collided head-on with the bus. None of the persons in the bus were injured fatally by the force of the collision, but spilled fuel ignited. The main door was jammed, and the only exit was the small door at the rear end. Twenty-seven persons died in the fire and 34 plus the driver of the truck were injured. Newer school busses have more emergency exits, including roof hatches.
- Church-operated vehicles should meet up-to-date safety standards.
The Gift of Safety: A Special Resource
Give your church the gift of safety by equipping the team (or yourself) with what is needed for the work of a Church Safety Ministry. Our special resource for December is Recommended Essential Equipment. To get it click *HERE*.
A Hazardous Season
There are a number of things which make the Holiday Season more hazardous than other times of the year. Part of this is due to the weather, but holiday gatherings, customs, environment, and decorating present hazards of their own or increase everyday hazards. Here are some of the hazards and how to safely deal with them
For much of the country, winter weather is bad enough, but it's more of a challenge for those who travel for the holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. On the church grounds, the Safety Team should see that winter weather hazards are minimized.
- Clear snow and ice from all walkways and salt them.
- Have the parking lot plowed and sanded or salted.
- Clear roof snow from where it can slide off onto people walking below.
- Put weather mats in entries to catch melting snow from shoes and boots.
- Have mops and buckets handy to dry wet floors.
Here it's not the environment in general, but the immediate environment of the church and its neighborhood.
These hazards include fluid and fuels for grounds-keeping equipment, cleaning solvents, and other chemicals. It is best to keep these in an outbuilding, especially in Winter. With cold weather, the main church building is closed and fumes from chemicals when they are used, leaked, spilled, or just opened are trapped in the building and pose health risks and - for some of them - fire hazards.
There may be other toxic or otherwise hazardous materials to take care of.
This also includes housekeeping and maintenance. Crowds may not be as large as in previous years, but you may have some visitors not familiar with your building. Remove all tripping and slipping hazards. Keep hallways and stairways clear in case people have to evacuate or head to shelter. Be sure all exit lights work. In case the power goes out, check the emergency lights.
Hazards of Gatherings
The current pandemic has been covered in a recent article, "Lines in the Sand, Part 2."
By now, almost everyone in the country knows that crowding in closed spaces increases the spread of pathogens (germs and viruses). A large part of preventing this is education. Four items to stress are:
- Handwashing - Wash hands frequently, especially after certain activities.
- Sanitation - Clean and sanitize touched surfaces frequently. Keep the restrooms clean.
- Personal Hygiene - Besides personal cleanliness, this includes practices such as covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Separation - Stay home if you are or may be sick with something contagious.
If the church has a ducted heating/cooling system, circulate air through filters when the building is occupied. HEPA filters are best since they can filter out bacteria.
Another hazard of gatherings is food poisoning. This is especially true during a covered dish dinner (potluck). Not everyone practices the same level of food safety. Even if the food is prepared safely, it needs to be kept and served safely. The key is covered, hot enough, and cold enough. This prevents harmful microbes from getting in and from growing. Find out whether those preparing the food know and practice food safety. You may have to be very tactful with some.
Hazards of Customs
No, this is not being caught at the border. There are holiday customs which increase certain risks, especially of fire. These include candles, oil lamps, and incense, each of which has led to disastrous fires.
Some small items used in various Christmas and New Year customs may pose dangers of choking (when small children put them into their mouths) and injury if carelessly handled. Be aware of how participants are handling these items in case someone gets poked in the eye, cut, etc.
Traditional Christmas programs may require electric devices, such as projectors, lighted displays, special effects machines, etc. Follow electrical safety practices. Do not overload circuits and outlets. Do not run wires and cables under rugs. Replace worn electric cords.
Hazards of Decorating
♫"Deck the halls with boughs of holly"♪
We love to decorate for holidays, whether Easter, patriotic days, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day. Frankly, Christmas enjoys the lion's share of this, which makes Christmas decorating a special safety concern. If we haven't considered the hazards inherent with decorating for Christmas, we should so we can keep this a safe activity.
There are several ways to get injured while decorating.
Falls - There are many ways to fall, especially when putting up decorations above our standing reach. How do you get up there to attach banners, lights, garlands, etc.? By standing on something. This should be a ladder, step stool, scaffolding, or scissor lift. However, people often stand on whatever is there, whether it is safe or not - not only children, but adults do this. It's amazing the thrown-together arrangements (especially with high ceilings), such as - have you seen this? - a box on a chair on a table. This is an invitation to a fall.
Ladders are a hazard as it is, although a manageable one. All it takes is a missed step, slipping off a step, leaning too far back or to one side, or using a straight ladder where a step ladder is needed (such as on a smooth floor).
Slips and Trips - These are generally preventable causes of injuries.
When cleaning floors, finish them with a non-skid "wax" application. Mop up any liquids that have spilled. Fix leaks. Ask those who are decorating to wear non-skid shoes.
Clear pathways through and/or around the spots where people are decorating. Someone walking through may be looking up at the decorations and not at what's on the floor.
Cuts - Many of us can testify to how easy it is to get cut, from a minor paper cut to a cut artery. Most cuts are from sharp tools - such as knives, scissors, and box cutters - while decorations are being trimmed, wrapping paper is cut to size, and packages are being opened. People need to know how to use them safely, then be careful. Even then, someone may be cut, and Safety Team members need to know First Aid.
Burns - Anything hot enough can burn someone. When decorating, you can be burned by a hot bulb, but that is usually minor. What if someone grabbed the tip of a soldering iron? Or carelessly sat on a hot register? Or paper they were holding caught fire? Burns can happen to persons cooking food for a holiday meal. In case someone is burned, know how to treat burns.
Flammable decorations should not be set down too close to a heat source. Nor should they be put up above a heat source. This could cause a fire that would burn more than a little bit of skin - namely the church itself.
Lifting, etc. - Back, shoulder, and knee injuries happen when people preparing for Christmas are moving heavy or awkward loads. See that hand carts, wheelies, etc. are available for moving heavy items. Coach those decorating about safe lifting, using equipment to move things, and getting help when they cannot safely move something alone. Also encourage them to not be in too much of a hurry to be safe.
Holidays are more enjoyable when no one is injured or gets sick. Watch out for safety hazards. Help others to be careful, and be careful yourself.
There Is More
This article is part of a series on Equipping for Safety. The other articles are Equipping the Mind, Equipping the Hands, Equipping to Treat the Hurting, and Equipping to Protect.
- Sandy Smith, "The 12 Injuries of Christmas [Photo Gallery]," EHS Today, December 21, 2017 [https://www.ehstoday.com/safety/media-gallery/21919426/the-12-injuries-of-christmas-photo-gallery].
- News Staff, "'He's a fighter': SC man falls 25 feet while hanging Christmas lights," WTVD-TV, December 7, 2019 [https://abc11.com/rock-hill-christmas-lights-jason-blair/5737133/].
- Brett Hall, "Norfolk Church promises changes after Christmas meal causes suspected food poisoning," WAVY, January 11, 2020 [https://www.wavy.com/news/local-news/norfolk/norfolk-church-promises-changes-after-christmas-meal-causes-suspected-food-poisoning/].
- Michael Moore, "Church relocates services over concerns about mold," Chron (The Houston Chronicle), August 26, 2016 [https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/article/Church-relocates-services-over-concerns-about-mold-9926349.php].
- Kim Schmidt, "50 years ago: Members remember Christmas Day fire at Kearney's original First United Methodist Church," Kearney Hub, December 24, 2019, Updated April 24, 2020 [https://kearneyhub.com/news/local/50-years-ago-members-remember-christmas-day-fire-at-kearney-s-original-first-united-methodist/article_8136be54-2664-11ea-b9d2-17eef65c9e48.html].
- Hooperbloob [userame] "Carrollton bus collision," Wikipedia, April 26, 2005 (edits through October 4, 2020) [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrollton_bus_collision].
- Kris Moloney, "Recommended Essential Equipment," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/8ad20a0b70].
- W.G. Vaughn, "Lines in the Sand, Part 2," Sheepdog Church Security, September 28, 2020 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/articles/lines-in-the-sand-part-two/].