For many of us, the holiday season is rich with nostalgia.
As a safety professional, my nostalgia starts and stops each year with good ol’ Clark W. Griswold, the character played by Chevy Chase in the classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
What safety lessons can we learn from the Griswold family and apply in our own lives at work or home?
Cousin Eddie: Gas Safety
Remember Clark and Ellen, looking out their front window, watching Cousin Eddie disposing waste from his RV into the storm sewer, all while smoking a cigar? There are so many environmental and safety hazards there, where do you even start? Luckily, Eddie did not blow up the Griswold neighborhood, as Clark feared. This scene reminds me of a few things you can do to protect yourself and your family from dangerous gases.
We all know about smoke detectors to warn us of fire; there is less awareness of devices detecting carbon monoxide and other flammable gasses. When we use internal combustion engines and flame-heat sources in an enclosed space—furnaces, fireplaces, temporary heaters, or gas powered forklifts—we risk exposure to carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas you cannot see or smell. For prevention and alarm for your home or shop environment, I strongly recommend purchasing a carbon monoxide detector! Be sure to purchase carefully and read the fine print on the package. Also, pay special attention to the parts per million (PPM) alarm threshold. Depending on the manufacturer, CO alarms may sound at different levels. Pick the detector with the lowest PPM number, keeping in mind Federal OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 50 PPM over an 8-hour period. Know that some states have adopted lower exposure numbers.
If you are already shopping for a CO detector, do yourself a favor and upgrade to a combined flammable gas and carbon monoxide detector, often called a ‘3-in-1’ or ‘multi-gas detector’. These detectors will sound an alarm for natural gas, methane, and propane exposures, in addition to monitoring carbon monoxide levels.
Whether you are choosing smoke, carbon monoxide, or combination gas detection units, remember the following:
- Replace batteries twice a year.
- Read the manufacturer suggestions on number of detectors needed and where to place them, including near floors or ceilings.
- Read life expectancy for all units. Some have sensors that rated for 5 years while others last up to 10 years.
- Read, test, and listen for the alarm sounds, teaching your family what they mean. Your smoke detector will likely have a steady alarming sound, while your CO detector may issue 3-short beeps in a row. Some detectors even allow you to record your voice, which can work better for warning children of hazards.
- NOTE: The detectors you buy for home use are not rated for industrial use and cannot be used at work.
- Have an evacuation plan whether at work or home and ensure all people are familiar with when and how you evacuate, and where you will gather outside to account for everyone.
Clark W. Griswold: A Study in Ladder Safety Training
Oh, Clark! We know you wanted to impress the family, including Aunt Bethany and Uncle Lewis, with a best-in-the-neighborhood Christmas lighting display. However, using any ladder improperly, as you did, was a risk not worth taking!
Here is what I’d tell Clark…what would you tell him?
- Ditch the aluminum ladder - it’s conductive! I can’t tell if overhead power lines were a concern here, however, if contact is made with an overhead line by an aluminum ladder, Aunt Bethany would’ve been shouting out more than, “Play Ball!” I would be concerned about the light strands being energized too, but know the lights weren’t plugged-in until Ellen finally figured it out. BTW—Clarks of the world: don’t staple power cords of any sort!
- ‘Jumping’ a ladder to move it rather than climbing down and safely re-setting the ladder in another location…don’t do that!
- Remember to maintain 3-points of contact on a ladder at all times! That means (2) feet and at least (1) hand in contact with the ladder.
- Also, climbing on the wrong side of the ladder is always a bad idea.
Any film buffs spot Clark practicing other unsafe ladder uses?
“Sparky”: Electrical Safety for the Holidays
Ellen was the one who finally figured out that the overloaded outlet was powered by an adjacent switch on the wall. What can we can teach Ellen and the rest of the Griswold family about electrical safety in this holiday season?
In no particular order, here are some tips:
- Do not overload outlets! It builds heat and risks fire. If you aren’t sure what ‘overloading’ means try Googling, “How do I know if my outlet is overloaded?” You’ll get a lesson on amps, watts, and volts, along with what you can safely plug into an outlet.
- You know those multi-strip outlets many of us have in our houses or under our desks in the office? Don’t plug one into another and into another; you will quickly overload a circuit. Also, household multi-strips are not intended for industrial use. If you have one or several on your work bench or work area, that’s a safety hazard.
- Clark used tons of extension cords in various holiday colors. Is that okay? Well, using them to overload a circuit or outlet is not, but that applies to any electrical device. Here are some quick tips on extension cords:
- For workplace safety, extension cords are allowed for temporary use only (90-days or less) or for tools and equipment you are moving from place to place to use. They are not allowed in place of permanent wiring.
- When you select an extension cord for home or work, get one with a ground pin (that’s the 3rd, round pin on the plug). Select a cord for indoor or outdoor use as appropriate. Chose a cord with a rating appropriate for the application distance the cord will travel. Search, ‘Extension Cord Length/Amperage/Size Chart’ to find useful tips in selecting a safe cord for your holiday decorating needs or tools and equipment.
- For outdoor, damp, or wet locations, plug your cords into a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet. A GFCI protects against electrical surges, tripping faster than a standard breaker. You’ve seen these outlets in your bathroom and kitchen, with ‘test’ and ‘reset’ buttons. If you don’t have this type of outlet where you need it, don’t worry. You can buy cords with GFCI’s built-in and/or portable GFCI units.
- Ditch all those two-wire white, brown, or green extension cords you bought at the craft store for $1.98 ten years ago (you know the ones I’m talking about). When you unpack your holiday stuff, those cords are so stiff they must be flattened before use. Cheap cords with insulation so flimsy you can scrape it off with your fingernail are one pathway to a costly fire. Don’t use them!
As a safety professional, Clark and the whole Griswold family offer us many safety tips beyond the three listed here. If you are looking to engage employees this holiday season, consider using these tips and others you remember from the movie as a guide for work and home.
A few years ago, I used some of these tips at our Vivid Learning Systems family holiday party. With each tip, we gave away multi-gas detectors, heavy duty extension cords, and portable GFCI units.
Have fun and model safe practices (unlike Clark) this holiday season!