Be sure your holiday season remains happy and safe

posted on:
November 20, 2009

author:
KURT NILAND

Be sure your holiday season remains a safe and happy time of year by observing a few safety tips. Special traditions and holiday decorations often introduce new dangers into the home, elevating the risk of fire and injury. To help Americans avoid some of the common perils that often come bundled with the holidays, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has released a list of simple safety tips. 

Approximately 11,000 people receive treatment in hospital emergency rooms nationwide for falls, cuts, burns, electrical shock, and other injuries related to Christmas trees and other holiday decorations. About 400 fires erupt every year because of Christmas trees, causing on average 20 deaths, 70 injuries, and more than $15 million in property damage and loss. Fires caused by burning candles also spike during the holiday season. The CPSC estimates 13,000 fires occur annually, causing 170 deaths and costing nearly $400 million in damage.

Each year, the CPSP conducts routine surveillance of holiday lights and decorations, preventing the importation of hundreds of thousands of holiday light units that do not meet federal safety standards.

Trees and Decorations:

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 is more resistant to burning.

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 bottom 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, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms dry out live trees rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways.

When trimming a tree, use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.

In homes with small children, take special care to avoid sharp or breakable decorations, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children who could swallow or inhale small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food that may tempt a child to eat them.

To avoid lung irritation, follow container directions carefully while decorating with artificial snow sprays.

Lights:

Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL/ITSNA. Use only newer lights that have thicker wiring and safety fuses to prevent the wires from overheating.

Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets.

If using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the intended use.

Don’t 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.

When using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.

Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

Candles:

Keep burning candles within sight.

Keep lighted candles away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.

Always use non-flammable holders and keep away from children and pets.

Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room or leave the house.

Fireplaces:

Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that, if eaten, can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting. Keep them away from children.

Don’t burn wrapping paper or plastic items in the fireplace. These materials can ignite suddenly and burn intensely, resulting in a flash fire.

Place a screen around your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby flammable materials.

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