Be Safe for the Holidays
November 15th, 2012 by Pam Blair

Caution and planning while decorating can help you avoid holiday mishaps

treeDecorating for the holidays is a tradition filled with joy. But thousands of needless injuries and some deaths are caused by improperly used holiday decorations.

Thanks to the use of heaters and fireplaces, most homes are drier during the winter. Combined with an increase in the amount of electricity used, the open flames from holiday candles and the general hustle and bustle that accompanies the holidays, that can increase the potential for disaster.

Before starting a fire in the fireplace, remove all decorations from the area and make sure the flue is open. Don’t burn wrapping paper or evergreen boughs in the fireplace. They can throw off sparks.

Scented holiday candles add a warm, festive touch. However, never leave a candle burning when an adult is not present to supervise.

Trimming the Tree
With a natural tree, the key to safety is maintaining its freshness by ensuring it always has water and never dries out. The drier a tree gets, the easier it is to ignite. Don’t place the tree near a heat source, and check the branches for falling needles or brown spots.

Small twinkle-type lights won’t dry the tree out as fast as larger bulbs. Move the lights around occasionally to avoid drying the tree. Bulbs should be securely fastened to the tree, but should not come in contact with needles or branches. Keep the lights and extension cords away from water-filled tree stands, and don’t use outdoor lights on a tree inside the home. They generate too much heat. Avoid bulb contact with tinsel, garland and all other decorations.

If using an artificial tree, make sure it is made of fire-resistant material. Metal and aluminum trees are good conductors of electricity, and never should be decorated with lights or any other electrical product.

Don’t put lights or small, breakable ornaments on lower tree branches if you will be having young children or pets in your home. Never use lighted candles on or near a tree or any other decorations.

Lighting Your Holidays
When stringing Christmas lights on your tree or house, use only decorative lights and cords that are UL approved. Underwriters Laboratories gives its seal of approval only to products that pass rigorous safety tests.

Follow package directions on stringing limits and the appropriate use of lights. Indoor lights should not be used outside, and outdoor lights should not be used inside. Do not connect standard sets to midget sets.

Make sure outdoor lights are weatherproof and clearly identified as being for outdoor use, and remove them at the end of the holidays to reduce exposure to the elements. Even outdoor lights aren’t designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the weather.

If using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the use, and do not overload it. Using a surge protector with the lights is a good idea.

Inspect all lights and connections for cords with frayed insulation, exposed wires, or loose connections or plugs. Make sure no lights are loose, broken or missing. Check bulbs for bare spots and peeling paint—signs the lights are burning too hot.

Don’t test standard strings of lights on carpeting or furniture. The bulbs get hot enough to damage fibers and wood finishes. Unplug tree lights and other interior lights from the wall outlet at night, and whenever you leave the house.

Poisonous Decorations
Mistletoe and holly berries are poisonous, and old tinsel may contain lead. Fire salts—which produce a multicolored effect when thrown on burning wood—contain heavy metals. All three can be deadly.

Lamp oil also poses a danger. Some are colored like Kool-Aid and have aromas that may be enticing to youngsters. To keep the joy in your holiday celebration, keep all hazardous materials out of the reach of children. If your child consumes any hazardous substance, immediately call your physician or the Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.