The holidays, celebrated all over the country with strands of lights and glowing candles, can turn from joy to tragedy in an instant if some key safety measures are overlooked. Grim facts about injuries and deaths are not what consumers want to hear this time of year, but it’s important to understand how you may be at risk and what you can do about it. It’s also important to know what the consequences of overlooking or ignoring important safety measure are.

According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, every year during November and December, 12,000 people are injured seriously enough in holiday decorating incidents to receive emergency medical treatment. Additionally, live Christmas trees that have dried out are a factor in an estimated 17 deaths and $13 million in property damage each holiday season. Candle-related fires kill 150 people and cause nearly $400 million in property damage annually.

Fortunately, all of the hazards that cause these tragedies are preventable with easy steps. “To prevent a holiday tradition from becoming a holiday tragedy, keep lighted candles in sight, check trees for freshness, and don’t use lights with broken sockets or frayed wires,” CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum advises.

Below are 10 steps Tenenbaum and the CPSC staff urge consumers to take this holiday season:

Trees and Decorations

  • When buying a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches and they do not break when bent between the fingers. When tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles. The bottom of a fresh tree is sticky with resin.
  • When setting up the tree, place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels and always keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways.
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for a “Fire Resistant” label or tag. This does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, but it does indicate the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
  • In homes with small children and pets, avoid sharp, weighted, or breakable decorations. Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets, who could swallow or inhale small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.

Lights

  • Indoors or outdoors, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree!
  • If using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the intended use.
  • When using lights outdoors, DO check labels to be sure that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.

Candles

  • Keep burning candles within sight. Always extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
  • Always keep candles on a stable heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains, and furniture. 


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