Holiday decorating plans do not normally include lacerations, falls and fires. Unfortunately, these hazards make an unwelcome appearance in the homes of thousands of consumers each year. To help avoid hidden decorating dangers, CPSC and UL are providing families with tips for a safe holiday home.
Reports of falls from ladders while stringing lights and hanging decorations, incidents of lacerations from broken glass ornaments and other holiday-related injuries are increasing. During November and December 2010, CPSC estimates that more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency departments nationwide due to injuries involving holiday decorations. This is an increase from 10,000 in 2007 and 12,000 in 2008 and in 2009.
Although estimates of deaths and injuries related to Christmas tree and candle fires are down, there are still an alarming number of incidents. Live trees or other evergreen decorations that have dried out burn fast and hot in a matter of seconds if they come in contact with an open flame.
Between 2006 and 2008, there was an annual average of four deaths and $18 million in property damage related to Christmas tree fires. During this same time period, CPSC received reports of about 130 deaths and $360 million in property losses related to candle fires.
"A well-watered tree, carefully placed candles, and carefully checked holiday light sets will help prevent the joy of the holidays from turning into a trip to the emergency room or the loss of your home," said Chairman Inez Tenenbaum. "Follow CPSC's safety tips and give your family the gift of a safe holiday home."
"This is easily the busiest time of year, but it's important to make time for safety while celebrating the holidays," said John Drengenberg, director of consumer safety at UL. "By committing a few minutes each day to safety, many accidents can be avoided and your holidays will be memorable for all the right reasons."
CPSC and UL suggest using the following 12 safety tips to help keep your holiday home safe this year:
1. Buying live trees, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, its needles are hard to pull from branches, and its needles 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.
2. Setting up a tree at home, place it away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, vents, and radiators. Because heated rooms rapidly dry out live trees, be sure to monitor water levels daily and keep the tree stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic, and do not block doorways with the tree.
3. Buying an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean that the tree will not catch fire, it does indicate that the tree is more resistant to catching fire.
4. Decorating a tree in homes with small children, take special care to avoid sharp, weighted, 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.
5. Keep burning candles within sight. Extinguish all candles before you go to bed, leave the room, or leave the house.
6. Keep candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface where kids and pets cannot reach them or knock them over. Lighted candles should be placed away from items that can catch fire and burn easily, such as trees, other evergreens, decorations, curtains and furniture.
7. Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL. Lights for both indoor and outdoor usage must meet strict requirements that testing laboratories are able to verify. On most decorative lights available in stores, UL's red holographic label signifies that the product meets safety requirements for indoor and outdoor usage. UL's holographic label, with the green UL Mark, signifies it meets requirements for only indoor usage.
8. Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets and do not use electric lights on a metallic tree.
9. Check each extension cord to make sure it is rated for the intended use.
10. Check outdoor lights for labels showing that the lights have been certified for outdoor use, and only plug them into a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)-protected receptacle or a portable GFCI.
11. Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if swallowed. Keep them away from children.
12. Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.