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Have yourself a crisis-free christmas

Ah, Christmas…. a time of yuletide cheer, decorating the tree, opening presents, office holiday parties, and of course, eggnog. All the things that make the holiday season so special… and so dangerous? If you’re feeling overcome with Christmas cheer, leave it to the business continuity professionals to put a damper on those holiday spirits with this list of top holiday risks:

Fire

The last thing anyone wants for Christmas is a house fire, yet it is estimated that these are up to four times more prevalent during the holidays than any other time of year. This statistic certainly rings true for me, having seen my mother light at least three (small and quickly extinguished) fires on Christmases and New Years past, thanks to her fondness for decorating candles with ribbons and paper. While candles and trees certainly contribute to Christmas fires, cooking, heating are far more common sources of flame. The NFPA and USFA offer great advice for keeping your house from becoming kindling, and this two-page heating fire safety handout from FEMA is perfect for posting on an office bulletin board.

Trees

Keeping your tree healthy and away from heat/flame sources is key to avoiding a Tanenbaum bonfire. Sounds simple enough – and the Home Safety Council makes it even simpler with their “STAR” method to avoiding Christmas tree fires:

  • Keep your tree at least three feet away from any heat source or flames such as candles and fireplaces.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room or go to sleep.
  • Add water daily to keep your tree from drying out too fast.
  • Replace lights when they are cracked or the wire is frayed.  Holiday lights should be replaced about every 3 years. Look for the UL label on the box so you know they have been tested for safety.”
  • But fires are actually not the most common way for Christmas trees to attack – more common are accidents such as back strain from carrying the tree, the tree falling on someone, falling off a ladder while decorating, walking into the tree and getting needles in your eye…. who knew those pines were so vicious?

Presents

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone got to stay home from work on Christmas? Unfortunately, our brave fire, police, EMT and doctors actually see a spike in accidents on and around Christmas. A lot of these are decorating disasters, such a falling off ladders, roofs, trees, etc. while trying to hang lights. But on Christmas day, the frenzy surrounding gift-opening festivities can also contribute to injuries, such as this list from the UK Daily Mail:

  • People cutting themselves with knives which they are using to open presents too quickly
  • Children falling off rocking horses or smashing new bikes into walls
  • Tripping over toys and trailing cables in the rush to try out new computers and other appliances

So, no matter how excited you or your kids are about new toys, remember to take your time, and keep the scissors away from anyone who’s been near the eggnog.

Holiday Parties

Probably the biggest Christmas risk for businesses is the office holiday party. The old lampshade-on-your-head trick might have gone out of style, but these days everyone’s got a camera or iphone to capture whatever shenanigans might occur – and a Facebook account to share those magical moments with their friends, your clients, and whoever else might have access to their account. This Australian HR Company’s “Christmas Party Risk Checklist” provides some good advice for being prepared with HR policies for these six hair-raising scenarios:

Scenario 1: A drunken employee wraps their arms around another employee and gives an unwanted kiss.
Scenario 2: An employee drinks heavily, gets into their car and crashes on the drive home.
Scenario 3: A frustrated employee, fuelled by alcohol, decides to get even with another employee and a fight erupts.
Scenario 4: A high value client is invited to the office party and insulted by an inebriated employee. They cancel a contract the next day.
Scenario 5: Employee spills a full glass of wine on to the Marketing Manager’s laptop. The laptop fails and data is lost because it wasn’t backed up.
Scenario 6: An employee with a mobile phone camera takes inappropriate pictures and posts them on Facebook along with comments.

I don’t know that HR policies could prevent these problems, but at least they can help you avoid liability. Note that all the scenarios involve the words “drunk”, “inebriated” or some variant…you could certainly avoid some problems by taking away the free alcohol, but I’d have to agree with this Gawker post on that topic: “What’s a Christmas party without excessive drinking? Boring. That’s what.” Try investing in transportation for your employees to prevent drunk driving, and hiring a party photographer so employees don’t feel obliged to snap shots of every moment themselves. And of course, regarding scenario 5, make sure you have a great business continuity/disaster recovery plan in place!

Eggnog

We all get excited when we show up to a party with that lovely, creamy concoction served up by the ladle…. but seriously, can we say salmonella risk? If you’re making it yourself, try this highly rated eggnog recipe which involves a cooking step to eliminate bacteria. If you’re not, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to risk it, but it may be interesting to note NPR’s experiment on whether spiking your eggnog reduces the risk of salmonella. In any case, you can use it as an excuse to go heavy on the rum.

Have a safe and happy holiday!