Published On: 12.6.2012 Charlotte, NC
Holiday Decorating Dangers and Safety Tips
On behalf of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates
With the Christmas season upon us, many are getting into the holiday spirit by decorating their homes with twinkling lights and many other traditional Christmas decorations. While these bright and tantalizing decorations bring a lot of joy and excitement, there are also a lot of things that can go wrong and cause a potentially dangerous situation.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. Furthermore, the CPSC warns that candles start about 11,600 fires each year, resulting in 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and $173 million in property loss. Christmas Trees are involved in about 300 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 30 injuries and an average of more than $10 million in property loss and damage.
The CPSC conducts surveillance of holiday lights and decorations at stores nationwide, and this year has prevented the import of 116,400 units of holiday lights that did not meet safety standards. Despite these improvements, people are still encouraged to look for and eliminate potential dangers while decorating.
Here are some tips from the CPSC to help make your holiday a safe one:
-When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “Fire Resistant.” Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
-When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and do not break when bent between your fingers. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
-When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
-Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, which indicates conformance with safety standards. Use only lights that have fused plugs.
-Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections, and throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
-Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord. Make sure the extension cord is rated for the intended use.
-Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
-Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
-Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into older homes.
-Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
-Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
-Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights – they could unravel and inadvertently wrap around power lines.
-Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.
-Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
-Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
-In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.
-Be careful when trying to lift heavy items. Trying to lift something too heavy, or lifting it improperly, can cause some serious damage. If something is to heavy, ask for help.
-Be careful if using a ladder to put up your decorations. Make sure the ground it’s on is stable and flat, and get someone to hold the ladder steady while you’re on it.
-Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.
-Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
-Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.