Holiday Hazards: Fire, Lights, and Christmas Trees
Don't spend the holidays nursing an injury - follow these tips to get through the season safely.
It's that time of year again. And while we are wasting no time ensuring that our homes are filled with joy and holiday spirit, all that optimism can make it easy for us to forget about the potential dangers that come along with the festivities.
The holidays should be a magical time for everyone, yet every year over 8,000 adults and children find themselves in hospital emergency rooms being treated for injuries related to holiday lights, fires, and Christmas trees. So, here are some tips that will help you make sure an accident doesn't spoil all the fun.
Fire Safety Tips
Fire hazards are plentiful during the holiday season with your stove and oven doing double-duty while you're preparing the holiday dinner, the fireplace kept blazing throughout the long evenings, not to mention that big flammable tree you might've stuck in your living room.
Here are some safety tips that you can follow to prevent or reduce the risk of fire hazards this holiday season.
- Place all candles in non-tip candle holders
- Keep all lit candles away from the curtains, the Christmas tree, and out of the reach of children and pets
- Never leave lit candles unattended, and be sure to snuff each of them out before going to bed
- Always use a secure screen to contain sparks and embers
- Never leave a lit fireplace unattended
Other Fire Safety Tips
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Do not overload electrical circuits
- Keep a working fire extinguisher close at hand
- Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home (learn more about Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer)
- Test both of these detectors monthly, and replace their batteries at least twice a year
Installing Decorative Lights
Many people who have hung lights around the exterior of their homes have put themselves into some pretty dicey situations on a ladder. But you don't have to let your festive spirit or even your desire to have the brightest house on the block (hey, we're not judging!) get in the way of your safety.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're stringing lights up outside.
If you're using a stepladder, make sure that the spreaders and shelf are fully opened. Also check to make sure it's stable – with all feet on a firm, stable, non-slippery surface – before you start climbing it.
If you're using a portable ladder, always maintain three-point contact. Never sit or stand on the pail shelf – even though it looks like the right size, it's not designed to hold the weight of a person. And do not over-reach or shift the ladder while you're standing on it – if you need more reach, just climb down and move the ladder to a new spot.
(See Keys to Safe Ladder Use for more ladder safety advice.)
Lights and Extension Cords
- Only use lights and extension cords that are in good condition
- If reusing old lights and extension cords, check for signs of wear and tear like broken or cracked plugs and gaps in the insulation; replace them if you see any signs of damage
- Unplug any cord that feels warm to the touch after being in use for a while, since this could indicate that the cord is defective
- Always read and follow the manufacturer's guidelines before installing new lights or using a new extension cord
- When positioning extension cords, be careful not to create a tripping hazard
- Only use indoor lights indoors, and outdoor lights outdoors
- Don't use nails or staples to hang cords or lights, as this can damage the insulation protecting the wires inside them
- Under no circumstances should the ground pin be removed (doing so interferes with electrical grounding and increases the risk of electrical shock)
- Do not overload electrical circuits
- Turn off all lights before going to bed or leaving the house to prevent them from shorting out and starting a fire
Christmas Tree Safety Tips
Displaying and decorating a majestic conifer tree indoors is the cornerstone of many families' Christmas traditions. But when you're dealing with anything that big, there are bound to be some safety issues.
If a Christmas tree is part of your holiday tradition, check out these safety tips.
Selecting and Setting Up your Tree
- If purchasing an artificial tree, check to make sure it's labeled as fire resistant
- If purchasing a live tree, go for a really fresh one so it doesn't dry out too quickly and become a fire hazard
- To check the freshness of a tree, give it a shake; the drier the tree, the more needles will fall
- If you're using a chainsaw to cut down your own tree, be sure to follow all safety procedures (for more on chainsaw safety, check out Chainsaw Safety 101)
- Cut at least an inch off the tree trunk to encourage the tree to absorb more water
- Place your tree in a sturdy stand with at least 3 liters of water
- Be sure to check the water level every day and water the tree as you see fit
- Add a small amount of sugar to the water as a substitute for preservatives
- Place your tree away from fireplaces, heating vents, and doorways
Trimming the Tree
- Decorate your Christmas tree with flame-resistant or non-flammable decorations
- Do not decorate your Christmas tree with metallic ornaments, as they can become shock hazards if they come into contact with defective wiring
- Avoid using spray-on snow with angel hair (glass wool) on your Christmas tree; this is a highly combustible combination
Have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season
The holidays are a special time of year, but it's also a season that's heavy on accidents. So follow the steps in this guide to keep your spirits high and your incidents low!
Written by Kurina Baksh
Kurina Baksh is a Health, Safety and Environment Professional from Trinidad and Tobago. As a recent graduate in the field, she is trained to analyze and advise on a wide range of issues related to her area of expertise. Currently, she is an independent consultant who develops public outreach and education programmes for an international clientele. She strongly believes that increasing public outreach and education can promote hazard awareness and ultimately save lives.