Here’s what to tell patients about holiday safety

When most of the parents and children in your ED think about the holidays, injuries are probably the last thing on their minds. However, each year EDs treat about 8,700 patients for injuries, such as falls, cuts, and shocks related to holiday lights, decorations, and Christmas trees, according to the Washington, DC-based U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition, Christmas trees are involved in about 400 fires annually that result in 20 deaths, 70 injuries, and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage.1

Education on holiday safety can be presented in a variety of ways, from posters and brochures in waiting rooms and triage areas to community presentations, says Cindy Hearrell, RN, BA, CEN, an injury prevention marketing assistant for Fallbrook (CA) Hospital.

Here are ways to educate patients about holiday safety:

Take advantage of "teachable moments." Don’t limit your teaching to the injury that prompted the visit, advises Janet Lassman, RN, director of program development and training for Emergency Nurses CARE, the Alexandria, VA-based injury prevention arm of the Des Plaines, IL-based Emergency Nurses Association. For example, Lassman suggests talking about dangerous toys to a parent who brings a child in because of a sore throat or ear infection. "It is a good idea to consider the circumstances, such as the time of year and the age of the patient," she adds. Address fire prevention with all patients, she says. "Also talk to parents about safety with regard to sleds, ice skates, and other sports-related gifts," she recommends.

Include safety tips in discharge instructions. Lassman suggests including prevention messages in your discharge instructions. "Having the message written down to bring home helps to reinforce what has been said and also may help to educate other family members," she says.

Place brochures and posters in ED waiting rooms. Because patients sit in waiting rooms for long periods of time, consider this a golden opportunity to educate them, Lassman advises. "A simple, easy-to-read, eye-catching poster can bring your holiday safety message to their attention," she says. "A brochure or flier that can be taken home will reinforce that message". (See "Sources and resources," at the end of this article, for materials to order. For a patient handout with holiday decoration safety tips, click here.)

If your waiting room has a VCR, take advantage of this resource to show educational videos, she says. Lassman suggests using videos from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about impaired driving and child passenger safety, both timely issues during the holiday season.

Are your old brochures outdated?

Ensure that the information is current, Lassman encourages. "Do your homework, and don’t use videos or material that is more than a couple of years old," she says. Many EDs stockpile brochures, and they become outdated sitting on a shelf, says Lassman. "Instead, get small amounts of material and distribute it, always giving patients the newest material available," she advises.

Hand out coloring books. Coloring books or pages are a good way to educate children about holiday safety, says Lassman. "Sometimes a coloring page or two can be developed with a minimum of trouble by the hospital graphic arts department," she says. "Don’t forget to supply a few crayons so they can get to work coloring right away."

Speak at a community program. Lassman suggests giving a presentation as a way to reach large numbers of people. "A presentation about the hazards of Christmas trees, decorations, and fire prevention given to the PTO or a civic organization would be a great way to get the message out," she says. Collaboration with the local fire department is a particularly good idea, says Lassman. "The police can be helpful with presentations about drinking and driving during the holiday season," she says.

Address safety issues regarding traveling. Remind parents that they need to make sure their children are properly restrained at all times, urges Hearrell. "Their child safety seats may not fit in other vehicles as it does in their family cars," she says. "They should always make sure they have the instructions to the seat with them."

Track past injuries. Do some research to find out what types of holiday-related injuries are commonly seen in your ED, says Lassman. "That way, you will be able to target your message," she says. "You also will be able to evaluate whether the safety campaign helped to reduce those injuries." For example, if you find an increase in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes during the holidays, it would be a good idea to promote an anti-drinking and driving message before the holidays arrive, she says. "Likewise, if you find that Christmas trees and decorations catching fire are causing most of the injuries, then that is what you should base your prevention campaign on," she adds.

Retrospective research can be time-consuming, but after getting initial data, it can be easier to track prospectively, says Lassman. "If set up ahead of time and with everyone in the ED alerted, it can be pretty easy to track," she says.


1. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission "Holiday Safety" News Release 01-046, issued 12/5/00, at

Sources and resources

For more information about holiday safety, contact:

Cindy Hearrell, RN, BA, CEN, 388 Arroyo Vista, Fallbrook, CA 92028. Telephone: (858) 858-576-1700 ext. 5096. Fax: (858) 728-8664. E-mail:

Janet Lassman, EN CARE, 205 S. Whiting St., Suite 403, Alexandria, VA 22304 Telephone: (703) 370-4050. Fax: (703) 370-4005. E-mail:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has several publications pertaining to holiday safety, including Toy Safety Shopping Tips, Safety Commission Warns about Snowmobile Hazards, and Toy Safety Coloring Book. To order these free publications, contact: CPSC, 4330 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814-4408. Telephone: (301) 504-0990. Fax: (301) 504-0124. E-mail: Web:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers media kits for its "You Drink and Drive, You Lose" campaign. Each planner provides a sample media advisory, press release, letter to the editor, talking points and fact sheets. Fact sheets on Safe Winter Driving, and Safe Winter Walking also are available at no charge. NHTSA also offers a variety of materials on child passenger safety, including a booklet, Boost Em Before You Buckle Em: Don’t Skip a Step (Item No. IP1123), brochures on Child Passenger Safety Programs (Item No. IP1050), Are You Using it Right? (Item No. IP1062), and a fact sheet on Child Transportation Safety Tips (Item No. IP1045). Single copies of these materials can be ordered at no cost on the NHTSA web site: (Click on "Safety Materials Catalog" and submit topic "Child Passenger Safety.") Or contact: NHTSA, 400 Seventh St. S.W., Washington, DC 20590. Telephone: (800) 424-9393 or (202) 366-0123. Fax: (202) 366-7096. E-mail:

The National Safe Kids Campaign has a free brochure titled Toy Safety. To order, contact: National Safe Kids Campaign, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Suite 1000, Washington, DC 20004. Telephone: (202) 662-0600. Fax: (202) 393-2072. E-mail:

ENCARE offers a fact sheet that addresses holiday safety. The sheet can be downloaded from the web site ( at no charge. (Click on "Encare.") A coloring book, Learn to Buckle Up for Safety, costs $25 for a package of 100, plus a shipping and handling charge of $9.00 for one package. To order, contact: Emergency Nurses Association, Attention: Association Services Team, 915 Lee St., Des Plaines IL 60016. Telephone: (800) 243-8362.