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Safety Tips For The Holidays

Release Date: November 01, 1977

Safety for the holidays is a timely message as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) launches its 1977 Holiday Safety Program.

Between November 1, 1976, and January 31, 1977, 2,200 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms were the result of accidents with holiday decorations -- trees, lights and ornaments. Over half of these injuries occurred to children under 15 years of age. Children are also the most frequent victims in accidents involving toys. Therefore, CPSC recommends the following safety advice in the selection, use and maintenance of holiday decorations and toys:


If you are planning to buy a natural tree, the most important safety factor is its freshness. The higher the moisture content of the tree, the less likely it is to dry out and become a serious fire hazard.

Fill the holder with water until the cut line is covered and keep the water at this level while the tree is in use.

Set your tree up a good distance from any heat source. Dispose of the tree when the needles begin to fall off in large quantities. This is a sign that it is becoming dangerously dry.

Metal trees present no fire hazard in themselves. However, they can be the source of a serious shock hazard if electric lights are attached to the tree. Sharp metal edges may cut the cord insulation; the metal needles might touch an electrically charged component. Either way, the whole tree will become electrically charged, and anyone touching the tree and a grounded object at the same time could receive a severe shock.

The only way to illuminate a metal tree safely is to use colored floodlights placed in different areas of the room. Since the floodlights can become quite hot, they should be positioned where children can't come in contact with them. If you purchase a plastic tree, it should be made of fire-resistant material. This does not mean that the tree will not burn, but only that it will not catch fire easily. As with natural trees, keep away from heat sources.


Check your tree lights and outdoor lights each year before you use them. Look for frayed wires, loose connections, broken or cracked sockets and spots where bare wire is exposed. Any set that is damaged, should be thrown out or repaired. Careful handling of these products during unpacking, decorating and repacking will lessen the chance of hazardous damage.

All lights should be fastened securely to the tree. No light bulbs should come into direct contact with the needles or branches. Curtains and other flammable materials should be kept away from bulbs.

Don't overload extension cords. Don't put more than three sets of lights on any extension cord. Keep the connection joints away from the water supply of a live tree.

Any outdoor lights should be weatherproof and clearly identified as designed for outdoor use. Don't try to use indoor lights for outdoor lighting. Remove outdoor lighting as soon as the season is over; even these lights are not designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.

When you leave the house or retire for the evening, be sure that all lights are turned off by unplugging them from the wall outlet. Always disconnect any electrical appliance by grasping the plug, not by pulling on the cord.

Finally, though it may provide a sense of nostalgia, never use wax candles on or near a tree. This is a very serious fire hazard. Any decorative candles should always be kept well away from children and any flammable material.

Tree Ornaments And Trimmings

Avoid placing breakable ornaments or ornaments with small detachable parts on lower branches where small children or pets can reach them and knock them off.

Trimmings used on trees or around the home should be non-combustible or flame-resistant.

Some traditional holiday decorations may be harmful if eaten and this poses a hazard for young children. Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous if more than a few are swallowed, and these plants should be kept out of the reach of children.

Fire salts, which produce a multi-colored effect when thrown on a wood fire, contain heavy metals. Eating them can cause gastrointestinal problems and vomiting.

If your child consumes any of these possibly hazardous substances, call your physician or Poison Control Center immediately.


Fireplaces are particularly popular during the holidays. Before starting a fire, remove all decorations from the area and be sure the flue is open.

Keep a screen in front of the fireplace any time a fire is burning.

Never use the fireplace as an incinerator. Do not burn wrappings or evergreen boughs there. These can burn suddenly and rapidly, throwing off sparks and burning debris. Dispose of wrapping paper immediately.


Buy toys that suit the skills and abilities of the child. Avoid toys that are too complex for young children.

Look for labels that give age recommendations or safety information, such as "Not Recommended for Children Under Three" or "Non-Toxic" on toys likely to end up in little mouths.

Watch out for toys that have sharp edges, small parts, or sharp points. Avoid toys that produce extremely loud noises that can damage hearing and propelled objects that can injure eyes.

Explain to the child how to use toys properly and safely.

Always try to supervise young children while they play.

Insist that children put their toys away so they do not get broken and so that no one else trips or falls on them.

Examine toys periodically. Repair broken toys and discard toys that cannot be fixed.

A free package of safety information on these topics is available by writing Holiday Safety, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC 20207 or by calling the Commission's toll-free HOTLINE at 800/638-2772.

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About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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