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Safe Holiday Decorating

Dec 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP Every year in the days surrounding the holiday season, approximately 11,000 people suffer decoration-related accidents and require emergency room treatment, reports ABC News, which notes that falls, cuts, shocks, and burns are among the most popular injuries.  Also, says ABC, the National Fire Protection Association says that each year there are about 240 fires, 16 deaths, and $13 million in property damage linked to dried-out Christmas trees and 13,000 fires, 170 deaths, and $390 million in property damage as a result of candle fires.

"Deaths, injuries and the millions of dollars in property damage related to holiday-decorating hazards are preventable", said  Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC )Acting Chairman Nancy Nord, reports ABC.  "Keep the holidays festive, by keeping your family and friends safe from harm."

For a safe holiday season, the CPSC suggests the following:

Trees and Decorations:
  • Artificial Trees:  Have a "Fire Resistant" label, which means that although the tree can catch fire, it is more resistant to burning. 

  • Live Trees:  Are green; have needles that do not pull off easily or break when bent; are sticky with resin on the bottom, and do not many needles when tapped on the ground.
  • Tree Set-Up:  Keep away from fireplaces, vents, and radiators.  If live, ensure the stand is always filled with water.  Place away from traffic and doorways.
  • Tree Trimming:  Only use non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.
  • Around Children and Pets:  Avoid sharp or breakable decorations, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of reach to prevent swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food. 

  • Lung Irritation and Artificial Snow Sprays:  Follow container directions carefully.
Lights:
  • Interior and Exterior:  Only use lights tested for safety by a nationally-recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL/ITSNA and only use newer lights with thicker wiring and safety fuses to prevent overheating. 

  • Check Lights:  Check each set, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections; discard damaged sets. 

  • Extension Cords:  Ensure rated for use intended.
  • Metallic Trees:  Never use electric lights as the tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted. 

  • Outdoors:  Check labels to ensure lights are certified for outdoor use and only plug into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected receptacle or a portable GFCI. 

  • Bed/Leaving:  Always turn off all holiday lights when retiring for the night or leaving the house as lights could short out and start a fire.
Candles:
  • Keep burning candles within sight and away from items that can easily flame and burn, such as trees, evergreens, decorations, curtains, and furniture. 

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

  • Extinguish all candles before bed or leaving the room or house.
Fireplaces:
  • Fire Salts:  Use care and keep away from children and pets.  These produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires and contain heavy metals that, if eaten, can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting.
  • Wrapping Paper/Plastic Items:  Never burn as these can ignite suddenly and burn intensely, resulting in a flash fire. 

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


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