A healthy work force on the job requires sound safety practices off the job too.
By Randy DeVaul
Once Thanksgiving hits, we are officially into the Holiday Season. This is when many of us grow distracted at work thinking about hunting, time off with family, and other holidays cheer before thinking about having to pay for it. So before launching into the focus of this issue – having a safe and meaningful holiday – let me briefly remind you to keep your thoughts on work while at work so that you can, in fact, enjoy the holidays with family and friends.
The holiday season is always personal. How you celebrate, what you celebrate and where you celebrate is all about personal choices and almost always includes sharing it with others. So for this issue I want to deliver a more personal message, from our home to yours. Also, feel free to share this with your family and friends.
When I think about the holidays, besides taking time to be thankful for what I have, I default to food. Are you ready for all of that food? Aside from the fact that Americans between November and January add, on average, more than 10 pounds to go with the blessings, there is one sure way to keep those pounds off. No, it’s not exercise or diet; not smaller portions; not choosing to eat out rather than at home (that’s what buffets are for, right?). No, one method of weight control that should not be part of your thinking is food-borne illness – from those little creatures that love to help you see what you already ate!
There are a number of ways to get a food-borne illness and a handful of ways to protect yourself and your family. First, when purchasing your materials, always place your meat and poultry items in the shopping cart last, and separate them from each other while in the cart and in the bags when going home. Refrigerate these meats as soon as you get home, and don’t take a side trip on the way. When shopping for your canned vegetables, be sure to purchase cans that are not dented, cracked or bulging.
Wrap or bag your meat, or place it on a plate before placing it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t leak raw juices onto other foods. Ensure the refrigerator temperature stays below 40 degrees F to prevent growth of food-borne bacteria.
According to Michigan State University findings, bacteria are the source of 67 percent of all food poisonings in the United States. These bacteria thrive in food kept between 40 and 140 degrees F for longer than two hours. So preparing it, storing it and eating leftovers by keeping the food in the proper temperature range is critical. And the most common food handling mistake is letting food cool too long before putting it back in the refrigerator.
Children and infants produce less stomach acid than adults, making them more prone for bacteria attack. Pregnant women place the fetus at risk because of an underdeveloped immune system. Older adults can be more at risk due to poor circulation, reduced nutrition, or from low protein in their diets.
So don’t thaw your meats at room temperature. Don’t stuff your turkey the night before. That body cavity insulates the stuffing and produces millions of tiny bacteria. Cook your meats at temperatures above 325 degrees F. Don’t let your prepared food set out for day-long munchies. Use good personal hygiene habits.
Planning to fry your bird in a fryer this year? Keep these safety tips in mind. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into the safety of turkey fryers after Underwriters Laboratory (UL) would not give turkey fryers its stamp of approval.
Using a turkey fryer requires heating three to five gallons of oil with propane before cooking the turkey. The fryer can easily tip, causing a serious burn and fire hazard, not to mention the now slippery, oil-soaked kitchen floor. And talking about fires, many of these fryers do not have a thermostat control. This can cause the oil to overheat and ignite into flames. The sides, lid and top get extremely hot, so do not attempt to move it when it is full, and do not allow kids or pets near it.
Set the fryer outside of the house for cooking, away from combustible materials, and don’t place it directly on your deck. Keep it flat and stable so it will remain upright. Thaw the turkey completely before placing it in the oil. If you have not already invested in one, buy and keep a kitchen fire extinguisher handy while the turkey is cooking.
Enjoy all that food. New Year resolutions come after the holidays for a reason. Prepare and eat the food properly so you can be safe at home.
How you prepare your home for the holidays can create memorable family times. Make sure it is not from calling the poison control center or the fire department. So keep the following safety tips in mind.
If you plan to have a real Christmas tree, pick out a healthy one right from the start. A fresh, live tree shouldn’t lose needles when tapped on the ground. Once in place, give it plenty of water so the needles don’t dry up and “flame out.” A 6-foot tree will use up to a gallon of water every two days. And if you want the tree up earlier for the holidays, consider an artificial tree and an aerosol can of “pine tree scent.”
Ever hear of putting aspirin in your tree stand water to keep the tree healthier longer? It may help your tree, but aspirin-laced water can be fatal to your pet. And if you choose to not use aspirin, still don’t let your animal drink the water in the tree stand. It can often contain fertilizers as well as pine needles, which can cause puncture holes in the intestines, and stagnant water breeds millions of interesting little bacteria. You also don’t want pets (or young children) eating (or leaking on) your tree, wrapped gifts and extension cords, so placing some type of netting or screening around the tree will eliminate a multitude of hazards.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost half of all fires involving Christmas trees were caused by electrical problems – short circuits, circuit overloads, etc. So use miniature lights, and do not connect more than three strands of lights together. Many of the artificial trees today post a limit to the number of lights for the tree so it doesn’t become overloaded. Check the light cords each year. If the cord is frayed or the outside insulation is cracked or peeled, throw the lights away. Do not load up an extension cord or wall outlet with more extension plugs. If you need more plug space, use a power strip with a built-in circuit breaker. And always turn off the lights when you leave the room or get ready for bed.
Some of us this year are new parents (or grandparents), so take care as to how you place the tree and decorations. The view from your 9-month-old’s perspective is much different than yours. Take extra precautions to anchor the tree, guard or reposition any plugged-in cords on the floor, keeping those pretty lights with their “chewable” cord beyond the reach of small fingers and small teeth or gums; place glass ornaments somewhere other than the lower branches, use a screen with your fireplace, and don’t go overboard with candles. Consider the age of your children and temperament of any pets as you decorate.
Outside decorations can be beautiful. I love those lights tours that show off people’s imaginations. If you compete this year, here are some pointers.
Make sure your neighbors are up for it. There is nothing quite like an abrupt change in your holiday plans after a neighborhood “shotgun party.” It may be your right, but you have to live with your neighbors all year. Use lights and cords designed for the outdoors. And if you are hanging lights from the house, use the right ladder the right way. The National Safety Council reports that more than 25,000 people on average per day slip and fall, and more than 130,000 each year fall from makeshift “ladders” at home.
In many places, the weather outside can get frightful, but you don’t want the inside of your home to be. For those of us with pets (or maybe young children), consider these safety pointers.
If you have a dog (or perhaps a 2-year-old) – one that eats and drinks anything first only to wonder later if it was worth it – watch what plants are in your home. Dogs and cats seem to enjoy holly, mistletoe, poinsettias and lilies, but to their detriment.
Those “gotta have one” holiday snow globes often contain antifreeze, so if you drop and break one, clean up the liquid immediately since antifreeze tastes sweet and is deadly.
Cats love to eat and play with tinsel. Keep the loose tinsel on higher branches and off the floor. A cat that ingests tinsel can get it blocked in the intestines, creating pain and perhaps death.
The increased activity and visitors during the holiday season can overstress your pet and young children. Often what is a normal routine throughout the rest of the year changes during the holidays, and pets and young children do not like change. Don’t take the behavioral differences out on them (pets or kids) if you are the one causing the problem. Try to maintain regular feeding and exercise schedules, and give them both a little extra attention so they know they are loved.
Although it may be tempting, don’t give in to feeding your pet table scraps during the holidays (or at any other time). We are already going to gain an additional 5 to 20 pounds from overeating, but that is not what you want to achieve with your pet. Also, pets do not handle sodium well and often holiday foods (gravies, sauces, and other treats – especially the commercially-packaged ones) contain enough sodium to endanger your pet.
A special word from pet groups everywhere: Do not give a pet as a gift to someone else. Everyone is under stress during this time of year, including the pet and the recipient. Instead, give pet supplies or gift cards, and let the new owner find a more appropriate time to select and care for a new pet. Everyone wins.
And what good is a holiday season without all those parties? Parties can be a great time of family and friends celebrating the season and the New Year. But don’t drink alcohol on an empty stomach, and don’t drink and drive. In addition to the dangers of innocent people being hurt or killed due to our negligence, many states have very strict enforcement of DUI laws, particularly during the holidays.
Keep in mind that a 1-ounce shot of liquor equals one 5-ounce glass of wine, which equals one 12-ounce glass of beer. They are all equal in alcohol content. Any one of these drinks will raise the average blood-alcohol level by 0.02, meaning an average-sized person only needs four drinks in one hour to be at a 0.08 blood-alcohol level. This level in most states will cause you to be classified as legally intoxicated.
No holiday article would be complete without addressing some health hazards related to the season: snow!
First, it is cold. More precisely, it is frozen. Extended skin contact with snow can lead to frostbite. Coupled with a stiff wind, exposed skin is a sure candidate for freezing and damage.
Remember the story of the slush ball that was saved during the winter so it could be launched unsuspectingly in July? Snowball fights are fun. But be selective from where you get your ammunition. Stones in snow are funny when you aren’t the one getting hit, but dangerous for the one who is.
Of course, there is that whole “shoveling” topic. Snow shoveling does have its problems. This is going to sound stupid, but are you task-trained on using a shovel? Using proper lifting and carrying (or throwing) techniques is important to protect yourself from a serious, life-changing back injury. The lower back is most susceptible, from muscle strain to a ruptured disc.
And then there’s the heart thing. The National Safety Council reports that snow shoveling is more strenuous than running. In a test with men from the ages of 22 to 35, each person lifted about 12 shovelfuls a minute (one every five seconds). Each load weighed about 16 pounds. After two minutes of shoveling, the heart rate increased above the recommended training zone for aerobic exercise for all but one man. After 10 minutes, each person reached 97 percent of maximum.
Also, the three major aspects of snow shoveling – resistance, not breathing properly during exertion, and cold air – combine to increase heart rate and blood pressure to levels that can cause chest pain, irregular heartbeat or heart attack in people who smoke, do not regularly exercise, and/or have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Ice and snow on steps, walkways and driveways can create a hip-fracturing fall, not to mention the slide effect when your feet go out from under you once you make it to the concrete garage or porch floor. Make sure you have some ice-melting chemicals on hand to melt the hazard.
To drive in snow and ice, allow yourself more time, slow your speed, increase your following distance behind other vehicles, and drive defensively since you do not know what to expect from another driver. Have warm gloves and sunglasses for increased comfort and safety.
Enjoy the holidays and keep yourself and your family safe and healthy. From our home to yours, Happy Holidays!
Randy DeVaul ([email protected]) is a veteran safety professional/consultant and internationally-recognized author, writer, and speaker on Performance Safety principles and practices. Comments are always welcome.