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Keep Kids, Yourself Safe When Carving Pumpkins

Sharp knives or saws are best kept in adult hands, experts say, who also recommend battery operated lighting for those jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin carving is a time-honored tradition in the days approaching Halloween. But children and sharp tools aren't a safe mix – and adults aren't immune from injuries, either.

The dangers don't end with carving, depending on how you light the jack-o-lanterns.

Amica Insurance shared some important safety tips for carving jack-o-lanterns – and lighting them as well.

“Pumpkin carving is a tradition for many families this time of year,” said Lisa St. Onge, an assistant vice president with Amica Insurance. “But carving pumpkins – and lighting them after they’ve been carved – can pose safety hazards for children as well as adults.”

That’s why Amica is sharing safety tips from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH) and from the National Fire Safety Protection Association (NFSPA).

"Every Halloween season we see four or five patients — both adults and children — who come into our office with severe injuries to their hands and fingers," says Jeffrey Wint, MD, an ASSH member from The Hand Center of Western Massachusetts in Springfield, MA. "Treatment can often run three to four months, from the time of surgery through rehabilitation."

The ASSH offers these pumpkin carving tips:

Carve in a Clean, Dry, Well-lit Area
Wash and thoroughly dry all of the tools that you will use to carve the pumpkin: carving tools, knife, cutting surface, and your hands. Any moisture on your tools, hands, or table can cause slipping that can lead to injuries.

Always Have Adult Supervision
"All too often, we see adolescent patients with injuries because adults feel the kids are responsible enough to be left on their own," says Wint. "Even though the carving may be going great, it only takes a second for an injury to occur."

Leave the Carving to Adults
Never let children do the carving. Wint suggests letting kids draw a pattern on the pumpkin and having them be responsible for cleaning out the inside pulp and seeds. When the adults do start cutting, they should always cut away from themselves and cut in small, controlled strokes.

Sharper is Not Better
"A sharper knife is not necessarily better, because it often becomes wedged in the thicker part of the pumpkin, requiring force to remove it," says Wint. "An injury can occur if your hand is in the wrong place when the knife finally dislodges from the thick skin of the pumpkin. Injuries are also sustained when the knife slips and comes out the other side of the pumpkin where your hand may be holding it steady."

Use a Pumpkin Carving Kit
Special pumpkin carving kits are available in stores and include small serrated pumpkin saws that work better because they are less likely to get stuck in the thick pumpkin tissue. "If they do get jammed and then wedged free, they are not sharp enough to cause a deep, penetrating cut," says Wint.

Help for a Pumpkin Carving Injury
Should you cut your finger or hand, bleeding from minor cuts will often stop on its own by applying direct pressure to the wound with a clean cloth. If continuous pressure does not slow or stop the bleeding after 15 minutes, an emergency room visit may be required.

Visit the Find a Hand Surgeon pages to locate a hand doctor near you.

The NFPA offers its own safety tips o how to light those jack-o-lanterns

  • It is safest to use a flashlight or battery-operated candle in a jack-o-lantern.
  • If you use a real candle, use extreme caution.
  • Make sure children are watched at all times when candles are lit. When lighting candles inside jack-o-lanterns, use long, fireplace-style matches or a utility lighter.
  • Be sure to place lit pumpkins well away from anything that can burn and far enough out of way of trick-or-treaters, doorsteps, walkways and yards.

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