Decorating your home for the holidays can be fun, but it can also be dangerous if you don't follow some simple safety tips. The State of Home Safety in America survey, conducted by the Home Safety Council, found that unintentional home injuries accounted for more than 20 million medical visits and 20,000 deaths in a single year. The following safety tips from the Home Safety Council can help you avoid accidents this holiday season:
- Inspect holiday lights before decorating. Replace any that are frayed or otherwise damaged.
- Check for red or green UL Marks on all light strings. The green holographic UL Mark means the light strings should be used only indoors. The red holographic UL Mark indicates the light strings can be used both inside and out and can withstand conditions related to outdoor use.
- Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other firm supports to protect them from wind damage. Never use metal fasteners to secure lights.
- When decorating outdoors, use only those lights listed for outdoor use.
- Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord.
- Plug your tree lights into an outlet protected by a ground fault circuit interrupter.
- Unplug all holiday lights when you go to sleep or leave home.
- Automatic lighting timers can be used to ensure that lights are not left on. These are available for both indoor and outdoor applications.
- If you have children in your home, use safety caps on all electrical receptacles.
- Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. 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 metallic 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 lights. The resulting broken glass is dangerously sharp and allows the escape of the liquid, which contains a hazardous chemical.
Candles and Votives
- Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens.
- Always use nonflammable holders.
- Keep candles at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including other decorations and wrapping paper.
- Place candles where they cannot be knocked down or blown over.
- Never leave burning candles unattended.
- Always keep burning candles up high, out of the reach of children.
- Before using a ladder outdoors, choose a location that is well away from all power lines. Coming in contact with live wires can be fatal.
- Place the ladder on level ground and open it completely, making sure all locks are engaged.
- Use the 4-to-1 rule for extension ladders: For each 4 feet of distance between the ground and the upper point of contact (such as the wall or roof), move the base of the ladder out 1 foot.
- Always face the ladder when climbing, and wear slip-resistant shoes, such as those with rubber soles.
- Keep your body centered on the ladder and gauge your safety by your belt buckle. If your buckle passes beyond the ladder rail, you are overreaching and at risk for falling.
- Stand at or below the highest safe standing level on a ladder. For a stepladder, the safe standing level is the second rung from the top. For an extension ladder, it's the fourth rung from the top.
Holiday Decorations and Trimmings
- Use only noncombustible or flame-resistant materials. Wear gloves while decorating with spun glass "angel hair" to avoid irritation to the eyes and skin.
- Choose tinsel, plastic artificial icicles or nonleaded 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!
- Some holiday plants are poisonous. Remove plants like holly and mistletoe that pose a hazard when ingested.
- Artificial snow sprays can irritate lungs if inhaled. To avoid injury, read container labels, and follow directions carefully.
- Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from the fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
- Before closing the flue, be sure that the fire is out completely.
- Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation or vomiting if eaten. Keep them away from children.
- Make sure to have at least one carbon monoxide alarm and smoke alarm in your home, and test them to ensure that they're working properly.
- Have your chimney inspected at least once a year and cleaned if necessary. Creosote, a chemical substance that forms when wood burns, builds up in chimneys and can cause a chimney fire if not properly cleaned.
- Always use a fire screen and only burn material appropriate for fireplaces. Avoid burning trash or paper, which can float up the chimney and onto the roof or yard.
- Remove ashes in a metal container. Ashes should be removed from the home because they may rekindle.
- Develop and practice a fire escape plan for your household so overnight guests are familiar with your procedures.
- Avoid loose-fitting clothing, such as long, open sleeves, which can easily be ignited by hot burners, when cooking.
- Never leave the kitchen unattended when something is cooking on the stove. Always turn pot handles inward to prevent small children from reaching a hot pan.
- Don't store items on the stove top – they could catch fire.
- Keep kitchen appliances clean and in good condition. Turn off appliances after use.
- Don't overload receptacle outlets. Check appliances for frayed or cracked wires. Do not use electrical appliances in or near water.
- Be sure the kitchen is well ventilated or keep a window cracked to help prevent the build-up of carbon monoxide from gas cooking appliances.
- Equip the kitchen area with smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.
- Use chafing dishes with caution.
- When making paper decorations, look for materials labeled noncombustible or flame-resistant.
- Never place trimmings near open flames or electrical connections.
- Remove all wrapping paper from the 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.
For additional holiday home safety tips, visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.
About the Home Safety Council: The Home Safety Council is a nonprofit organization dedicated solely to the prevention of and education about home injuries. The council is an independent, 501(c)(3), charitable organization with the mission to empower, activate and educate society to practice better home safety to prevent injuries and save lives. For additional home safety information and free brochures, visit www.homesafetycouncil.org.