Did you know that over 12,500 people end up in emergency rooms every year because of holiday-decorating related accidents? Candles start nearly that many fires each year, and over 300 Christmas-tree related fires happen each winter. In hopes that you will not end up as one of those unlucky few, I’ve compiled a list of safety tips for this holiday season.

Christmas trees: Most artificial trees are fire resistant. When purchasing one, check the box labels to ensure this. For fresh trees, make sure the needles are green and don’t pull out of the branches easily. The trunk should be sticky from sap and if the tree is tapped lightly on the floor, it shouldn’t loose needles. Keep trees away from high-traffic areas, radiators and stoves. Because homes tend to be really dry during the winter, and most heaters and stoves contribute to the problem, make sure the stand always has plenty of water in it.

Lights: only use lights that have a UL Listed sticker on it, which means the lights were inspected for safety before reaching stores. Most lights coming in from out of the country have to be inspected and thousands are kept out of stores every year for being unsafe.

Always inspect lights from previous years, check for cracked and loose sockets, and connectors. Check the insulation along the light strand to make sure there are no broken or scorched spots.
Never plug more than three strands into a single extension cord. Make sure all cords are out of the way, especially from small children. Even one foot of extra cord is enough to strangle a small child.

Outside lights and extension cords needs to be rated for outside use, and plugged into outlets with a ground fault circuit interrupter. If your outside outlet doesn’t have a GFCI on it, check into having an electrician add one. Whatever the cost, the peace of mind and added safety is well worth it.

Make sure all outside lights are securely fastened to walls, eves, and trees to prevent damage to them from the wind. Also, make sure you turn off your lights at night or when you aren’t home. If you tend to forget, use a timer to turn them on and off so they aren’t left on all the time.

Decorations: Use non flammable decorations on trees and use tinsel and other decorations made of plastics instead of metals, since metals are more likely to cause sparking. Never use lighted candles on evergreens, and always make sure candles are placed on a fire-safe surface and out of reach of small children. Don’t forget to extinguish candles when you leave the room.

If you have animals or small children in the house, stay away from breakable decorations or those with sharp edges. Also, decorations with small parts could become chocking hazards for children. In my own house I try to keep away from glass balls on the tree because cats and dogs have been known to bite them, causing cuts in their mouths. The good news is there are lots of great plastic balls available now that look like glass.

Other safety concerns: Avoid using furniture to reach high corners, always use a step stool or ladder where possible. If you do have to use furniture to stand on, make sure it is stable. Always make sure ladders and stools are on a flat surface, and have a helper hold it still when climbing the ladder. When climbing on a rook or high surface, make sure the ladder extends at least three feet above the roof line. If you you have a soft or rocky surface to place the ladder on, use a wooden plank or something similar to give you a stable base. Make sure aluminum ladders are not touching power lines or cords, and never stand on the top step.

Be careful not to carry too much weight, and be sure to use good lifting techniques and body mechanics (lift close to the body, with the legs and not the back. Also, make sure there isn’t a lot of clutter left around the house to trip on. Put boxes and packages away after using them.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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