COLLEGE STATION – While Christmas decorations reflect the joy and beauty of the holiday season, they also represent potential danger if not used or placed properly, said a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.
“Nothing should spoil the holidays, especially an accident that might have been prevented by taking a moment to ensure decorations were put out or removed as safely as possible,” said Janie Harris, an AgriLife Extension housing and home environment specialist in College Station.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, every year hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees.
“Christmas is a time for kids, and you should think about decorating for the season in the same way you think about child-proofing your home,” she said. “Avoid putting out decorations with sharp edges or small pieces that may fall off if a child can reach them. And be sure to put either heavy or breakable decorations up high enough so they won’t be pulled off or down by a child.”
Harris said other Christmas decorations like small toys, pine cones and potpourri may constitute a potential choking or poisoning danger for young children and also should be kept out of their reach.
“Of course, adults are also at risk of potential dangers from holiday decorations that are improperly placed or used,” she added.
Product safety commission data also shows Christmas trees are involved in about 250 fires nationally each year, resulting in deaths, injuries and millions of dollars in property loss or damage. In addition, the data shows annually candles are responsible for about 11,600 fires nationally, resulting in 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and an average of $173 million in property damage or loss.
One of the top risks to homeowners from holiday decorations is the potential for fire,” she said. “If you prefer a real Christmas tree, be sure to keep it adequately watered and don’t keep it too long. Check for frayed or loose electrical connections on tree lights, and don’t place the tree close to candles or a fireplace, heater or any other heat source in your home.”
Harris said overloaded cords and wall sockets are a serious fire danger around the holidays.
“Avoid overloading circuits and running electrical cords under rugs, carpeting, tree skirts or other potentially flammable materials,” she said. “It’s also a good idea to turn off Christmas lights and other electrical decorations if you expect to be away from home for a significant period of time.”
Harris noted that while candles also are a favorite Christmas decoration, they are a major cause of holiday house fires.
“Candles should be kept out of the reach of children and away from anything flammable,” she said. “Put them in a proper candle holder on a level fire-safe surface and away from air vents or ceiling
fans as these may fan or redirect the candle flame.”
Harris said candles should be checked regularly to ensure they are burning properly and should be extinguished before going to bed or when leaving a room where one is burning.
“Use a metal candle snuffer to extinguish the flame and never use your fingers or water to put out the candle,” she said. “And extinguish a candle if it is burning irregularly or unevenly or its flame is too high. Don’t take chances; it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Harris said exterior decorations should be certified for outdoor use, be kept away from power lines or utility poles and be plugged into circuits which are protected by ground fault circuit interrupters.
“Don’t use tacks or nails to keep lights in place, but use insulated staples instead,” she said. “You can also hang the lights on hooks, which has an added advantage in that these hooks can be left in place for the next holiday season.”
Harris added that safety should also be the watchword when removing exterior decorations.
“If you’re using a ladder, make sure it’s on stable ground and never use the top step,” she said. “And don’t pull on exterior light cords as this may make you lose balance while on the ladder or possibly fray or break the light cord and create an electrical hazard.”
Harris said vigilance and concern for one’s self and others are key to holiday safety.
“When you put holiday decorations up or out, just take a moment to ask yourself if what you’re planning to do might present a potential hazard to yourself or another member of your family, then make the necessary changes to minimize that danger,” she said. “The holidays should be a time of joy, not a time for bandages or trips to the emergency room.”