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CPSC Announces Holiday Season
Decorating Safety Tips

Decorate for the holidays safelyThe U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is issuing safety tips for holiday decorations. Holiday decorations, like candles, lights and Christmas trees, add a joyous and festive mood to the holiday season. But when these decorations are not used properly, they can cause fires, injuries and death. Each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for falls, cuts, shocks, and burns due to incidents involving faulty holiday lights, dried-out Christmas trees and other holiday decorations.

To prevent these injuries, CPSC monitors holiday lights and other decorations sold at stores and on the Internet. CPSC works with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to identify and detain unsafe holiday light sets posing fire risks from being distributed in the U.S.

Christmas trees are involved in about 300 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 30 injuries and an average of about $10 million in property damage and loss. In addition, there are more than 13,000 candle-related fires each year, which result in 140 deaths and $205 million in property loss.

"The flickering light of candles can add beauty and tradition to the holidays," said CPSC Chairman Stratton. "However, when left unattended or within a child's reach, burning candles can turn your celebration into tragedy. Following a few simple safety tips can help prevent holiday decoration-related fires."

CPSC suggests following these tips to make your holiday a safe one.

Take Care of Your Christmas Tree!

When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant." Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does indicate the tree is more resistant to burning.

A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree. To check for freshness, remember:

  • A fresh tree is green.
  • Fresh needles are hard to pull from branches.
  • When bent between your fingers, fresh needles do not break.
  • The trunk butt of a fresh tree is sticky with resin.
  • When the trunk of a tree is bounced on the ground, a shower of falling needles shows that tree is too dry.

Place tree away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources. Heated rooms dry trees out rapidly, creating fire hazards.

Cut off about two inches of the trunk to expose fresh wood for better water absorption. Trim away branches as necessary to set tree trunk in the base of a sturdy, water-holding stand with wide spread feet. Keep the stand filled with water while the tree is indoors.

Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways. Use thin guy-wires to secure a large tree to walls or ceiling. These wires are almost invisible.

When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces and radiators. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.

Artificial "Spray Snow"

Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. To avoid injury, read container labels; follow directions carefully.

Holiday Lights... Choose the right type for your needs...

Whether for use Indoors or outside, use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or ETL. This indicates conformance with safety standards. Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses.

  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • If using an extension cord, make sure it is rated for the intended use.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you go to bed or leave the house. Lights could short and start a fire.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and any person touching a branch could be electrocuted! To avoid this danger, use colored spotlights above or beside a tree, never fastened onto it!
  • Keep "bubbling" lights away from children. These lights with their bright colors and bubbling movement can tempt curious children to break candle-shaped glass, which can cut, and attempt to drink liquid, which contains a hazardous chemical.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles into older homes.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage.
  • Use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) to hold strings in place. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
  • Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights - this could cause stress on the connections that could create a fire hazard.

Outdoor electric lights and decorations should be plugged into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can also be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician or the skilled handyman (depending on local codes).  See our article on GFCI's.

Candles and Other Decorations

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
  • Keep burning candles within sight and away from other decorations and wrapping paper.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles out of reach of children and pets.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid sharp 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.
  • To avoid lung irritation, follow container directions carefully while decorating with artificial snow sprays.
  • Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.

Trimmings

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials.
  • Wear gloves while decorating with spun glass "angel hair" to avoid irritation to eyes and skin.
  • Choose tinsel or artificial icicles or plastic or non-leaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.

In homes with small children, take special care to:

  • Avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable.
  • Keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children. Pieces could be swallowed or inhaled.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food. A child could eat them!

Fireplaces

  • Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that, if eaten, can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting. Keep them away from children.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. Wrappings can ignite suddenly and burn intensely, resulting in a flash fire.
  • Place a screen around your fireplace to prevent sparks from igniting nearby flammable materials.
  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from fireplace area. Check to see that flue is open.
  • Keep a screen before the fireplace all the time a fire is burning.

Paper

  • When making paper decorations, look for materials labeled non-combustible or flame-resistant.
  • Never place trimming near open flames or electrical connections.
  • Remove all wrapping papers from tree and fireplace areas immediately after presents are opened.
  • Do not burn papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

General Rules for Holiday Safety

  • Keep matches, lighters, and candles out of the reach of children.
  • Avoid smoking near flammable decorations.
  • Make an emergency plan to use if a fire breaks out anywhere in the home. See that each family member knows what to do. PRACTICE THE PLAN!
  • Avoid wearing loose flowing clothes - particularly long, open sleeves - near open flames - such as those of a fireplace, stove, or candlelit table.
  • Never burn candles near evergreens. Burning evergreens in the fireplace can also be hazardous. When dry, greens burn like tinder. Flames can flare out of control, and send sparks flying into a room, or up the chimney to ignite creosote deposits.
  • Plan for safety. Remember, there is no substitute for common sense. Look for and eliminate potential danger spots near candles, fireplaces, trees, and/or electrical connections.

This article provided courtesy the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissions (CPSC)

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