Don't let a Christmas tree fell you these holidays

Kia kaua koe e whara nā te rākau Kirihimete i ēnei hararei
Wide shot of the Christmas tree in Midand Park, Wellington

It's meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, so we're sharing the festive injuries that you can prevent stopping your fun these holidays.

It’s almost time to bring out the festive décor – but there are some hidden dangers lurking among one of our household Christmas favourites.

Figures show that over the past 10 years, almost 1200 people suffered an injury involving a Christmas tree during the month of December. Almost three-quarters of these injuries (72%) were “soft tissue” injuries like muscle strains and ligament tears, and most of the time they occurred while people were lifting or moving trees.

In the past 10 years, these injuries have cost a total of more than $800,000. ACC injury prevention leader James Whitaker says the lead-up to Christmas can be a busy time when we are often doing things in a rush, and this can increase the chance of an injury occurring.

“Kiwis generally know the safe way to do things but sometimes we make poor decisions when we are under pressure or in a hurry,” James says.

Close up of red baubles and Christmas tree branches

“Our research shows 90% of all injuries are predictable and therefore preventable, and Christmas-related injuries are no different.

“If we take the time to slow down and assess the risk before we get stuck in, we can prevent these injuries from happening.” Many injuries occur when people underestimate the risk and overestimate their ability, Whitaker says.

“Christmas trees can be heavy and awkward to transport and put up at home, but there are several things we can do to reduce the chance of injury.

“These include avoiding carrying trees overhead or low to the ground to protect your shoulders and lower back (this might be a two-person job), taking your time and having a plan, making sure there are no hazardous objects in your way, and seeking help when manoeuvring and putting up trees.”

Some not so festive fun

Injuries from moving and lifting heavy objects are among the leading causes of ACC injury claims.

In 2019 (the most recent pre-Covid year), there were more than 160,000 of these injuries. It’s estimated these will come at a cost of almost $290 million to help people recover. Almost 70% of these injuries occurred in people’s homes.

“Remember, if you get injured, this impacts not just yourself, but also your friends, family, and workmates,” James says.

Another lurking danger in the festive period is the traditional Christmas ham. Our figures show that in the past 10 years, an average of more than 50 people lodged a claim for a ham-related injury each December.

The most common injuries were cuts to the finger or thumb, but strains and sprains accounted for more than one-third (35%) of these injuries also.

Wide shot looking up towards the top of a large Christmas tree with the blue sky behind it.

Ham-related injuries have cost a total of more than $280,000 over the past 10 years. James says it’s important to take your time when lifting and transporting frozen hams, which can be heavier than you may think.

If possible, avoid putting strain on your lower back – ask for help if you need to – and make sure your kitchen floor is dry and clear of obstacles.

To reduce the chance of cutting yourself, make sure you are using a sharp knife and cutting on a stable and dry surface, like a cutting board with a damp tea towel or kitchen cloth underneath to stop it slipping.

“We love that people get into the Christmas spirit, and we want them to do so in the safest way so they can continue spending time with their family and friends and doing the things they love.”

Common Christmas-related injuries 2012-2021 (10-year totals)

Christmas tree:

  • 1187 total injuries
  • Total cost: $804,054
  • Most common injury – soft tissue injury (856 claims)

Christmas ham:

  • 516 total injuries
  • Total cost $280,736
  • Most common injury – laceration/puncture/sting (291 claims)

Christmas gifts:

  • 254 total injuries
  • Total cost $126,274
  • Most common injury – soft tissue injury (151 claims)

Christmas lights:

  • 367 total injuries
  • Total cost $459,087
  • Most common injury – soft tissue injury (243 claims)

Close up of a tree with a picket fence reading Meri Kirihimete next to it