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Holiday Decorating Safety Tips from the CPSC

Nov 29, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP

Holiday decorating accidents are a surprisingly frequent occurrence this time of the year, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).  According to the Commission, around 10,000 people are seen in emergency rooms every year as the result of burns, falls, shocks and cuts they received in the midst of holiday decorating.   So once again, the CPSC is reminding everyone to stay safe this holiday season by following some simple rules when it's time for holiday decorating.

The holidays are a time for friends, family, giving and sharing.  Unfortunately, it's also the time for fires - and not the cozy kind one finds in the fireplace.  Christmas trees are a mainstay in many homes over the holidays.  And while they are beautiful, the CPSC says Christmas trees can easily become fire traps.  According to the Commission, dried out Christmas trees start more than 200 fires each year - some of which are fatal. But there are a few things consumers can do to avoid a Christmas tree tragedy during the holiday season.  Purchasers of artificial trees should only consider products that are labeled "fire resistant".  The freshest trees are the least combustible, so live Christmas trees should have green needles that are difficult to pull from branches, don't break when bent and don't fall off if the tree is tapped on the ground.  The Christmas tree's bottom should be sticky with resin.  All Christmas trees - live or artificial - should be kept away from fireplaces, radiators and high traffic areas in the home.

When decorating a Christmas tree, use only noncombustible or flame retardant materials.   Wear gloves when decorating with spun glass made to resemble angle hair, and follow directions when using artificial snow sprays as they can irritate lungs.   Families with young children should avoid decorating with ornaments that have small removable parts  that could be a choking hazard, and they should also avoid artificial icicles that are made with lead.

The CPSC says candle related incidents are involved in 14,000 fires and 170 deaths every year. Avoid candle fires by keeping them away from other decorations and furniture, children and pets.   And always use nonflammable candle holders.

Holiday lights, while adding to a festive Christmas atmosphere, can also be a source of house fires.  Opt for newer lights that have been tested by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as the Underwriters Laboratory (UL).  Christmas lights should have thick wiring, and should be devoid of broken or cracked sockets, loose connections and frayed or bared wires.  If lights are going to be used outdoors, they should be marked as such.  Avoid extension cords unless they are specifically designed for lighting use.  Never use electric lights on a metallic Christmas tree, as this can pose an electrocution hazard.

Finally, while Santa likes stockings hung at the chimney, he asks that it be done with care.  A screen should be placed around the fireplace to keep sparks from coming into contact with decorations, furniture or other flammable items.  It is also not a good idea to burn wrapping paper or plastic materials in a fireplace.  And fire salts, which are used to produce colored flames, must kept away from children.   The CPSC says they contain heavy metals which can cause gastrointestinal problems and vomiting if eaten.

Holiday decorating accidents don't have to ruin anyone's fun this year.  By keeping in mind these simple tips, the season can be truly joyous for all.


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