When many Americans think about spending the holidays with parents or grandparents on the farm or ranch or in some other rural setting, they often conjure up thoughts of opening presents before the fire place or Christmas tree and enjoying a home cooked holiday meal, or maybe taking a walk in the woods or enjoying a hayride to experience the rural environment.
But contrary to the images of peaceful surroundings, the farm or ranch can be a dangerous place, especially for visiting friends and family that may not understand the potential hazards.
In fact, when it comes to accidents on the farm, even the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Safety Council recognize that agriculture is the most hazardous industry in which to work, and in a large number of instances, it is many of the same types of dangers and risks that face visitors to rural America during the holidays.
For starters, travel experts say visitors to rural areas often fail to understand the dangers associated with exposure to the elements, like winter storms. From being trapped or lost in remote areas by winter storms to the more common risks of frost bite and exposure, being unaware or under prepared for the elements can not only be dangerous, but life threatening.
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Perhaps the greatest risk however are the dangers with holiday travel in general. The holidays often offer less than optimum driving conditions and too often drivers are known to relax their guard against mixing alcohol and driving, making the dangers on the highway even greater.
In fact, U.S. Transportation officials recently announced that new federal traffic safety data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that the daily death toll from drunk driving crashes during the Christmas and New Year's holiday periods is significantly more than for the rest of the year.
"If you've had too much to drink this holiday season, you should find a safe and sober ride. Driving while drunk is not worth the risk," warns Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Officials point to NHTSA data that shows from over a test period of recent years an average of 35 fatalities occurred per day on America's roadways as a result of crashes involving an alcohol impaired driver. That number increases to 44 per day during the Christmas period and jumps to 52 per day over the New Year’s holiday. Thirty-eight percent of all traffic fatalities during the Christmas period occurred in crashes involving a drunk driver or motorcycle rider and 40 percent during the New Year’s period. This compares with about 31 percent for the year as a whole.
Other holiday hazards
But it's not just getting to the farm that offers peril for holiday travelers and visitors. Children playing around electrical equipment, even holiday lights and displays can be dangerous. And oftentimes wells and even livestock ponds or irrigation trenches can present a hazard, especially for younger visitors.
Children and adults unaccustomed to working or being around livestock and other types of farm animals can find themselves in compromising positions, not only from animal mishaps but from contracting animal diseases. And there are dangers associated with grain bins, farm equipment and even silos, barns and other outbuildings that often look like a great place to children looking for a place to explore or play. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers for visiting children are areas where pesticides and other chemicals are stored.
Also high on the list of holiday mishaps, not only for rural homes but all homes, is the chance for house fires. With so many holiday lights and the use of wood burning stoves and other heating equipment associated with the cold weather season, the risk of serious fires and fire-related deaths run high.
While the holidays are traditionally a time for good will and family fun, the potential for accidents and holiday-related tragedy runs high this time of year and can quickly spoil what would have otherwise been a pleasant and memorable holiday visit.. Safety experts advise to plan for a safe journey and warn that travelers should make safety a priority, especially during the holiday season.