Holiday Safety First

By Chandra Orr

September 5, 2008 5 min read

HOLIDAY SAFETY FIRST

Prevent accidents during a vulnerable season

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

No one wants a trip to the emergency room for Christmas, but the hectic holiday season is a prime time for home accidents and house fires.

"Accidents tend to happen the moment our back is turned," Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council, said. The organization is a national nonprofit dedicated to reducing accidental injuries in the home. "During the holidays we're pulled in so many different directions that it's easy to lose track of safety."

To reduce the risk of accidents, get an early start on holiday decorating, take it slow and keep your wits about you.

"Accidents often happen when folks are tired, when they are busy and distracted or when they have had too much to drink -- and nothing ruins a holiday faster than someone you love being hurt, especially from something you can prevent," Appy said.

The Home Safety Council offers the following tips to stay safe this holiday season:

TREE CARE

Christmas trees are the items first ignited in an estimated 210 home fires annually, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). While this represents only a small portion of the 85 million households that display a tree, it shows the need to heed the following advice:

* When purchasing live trees or greens, inspect the needles. Test for freshness by bending a few needles in half. Needles should spring back to their original shape. If they snap in two, the tree is too dry and poses a greater fire risk.

* Keep live trees in sturdy, non-tip stands. Keep trees supplied with water at all times.

* Make sure the tree is at least three feet from any flame or heat source.

* Safely dispose of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are flammable and should not be left inside the home or garage or placed against the house.

LIGHT IT UP

Holiday lights account for nearly a quarter of all Christmas tree structure fires, according to the NFPA. Add to that the risk of electric shock, overloaded outlets and the potential to trip on stray cords, it's easy to see why decorative lighting deserves special attention:

* Carefully inspect lights and extension cords for wear. Replace any that are frayed or have broken sockets. Old, outdated lights should be replaced regardless of condition.

* Use lights that bear the mark of an independent safety organization like Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Green holographic UL Marks mean lights should be used indoors only. Red UL Marks indicate lights that can withstand outdoor use.

* Follow manufacturer's guidelines for stringing lights together. UL recommends using no more than three standard-size sets of lights together.

* Do not overload extension cords and avoid cluttering outlets. Never keep an extension cord plugged in when not in use.

* Do not run electrical cords under rugs. Instead, roll up excess cords to keep high traffic areas clear.

* To prevent shock, plug outdoor decorations into outlets protected by Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters, or GFCI.

* Hang light strands carefully. Do not use nails or staples that can damage the cord's insulation.

FLICKERING FLAMES

During the holidays, nothing sets the scene quite like the soft glow of candles, but they do pose a risk. Candles cause an estimated 15,600 home fires each year, and Christmas Day holds the record for the highest number of reported home candle fires, according to the NFPA. To safeguard your home:

* Use stable, nonflammable candleholders with a hurricane glass to shield open flames.

* Never leave burning candles unattended.

* Never use lighted candles on or near Christmas trees or greens. Opt for battery-powered candles instead.

* Keep candles at least three feet away from flammable objects, including decorations and wrapping paper.

* Keep candles, lighters and matches out of reach of young children.

NOTE: Meri-K Appy is the correct spelling of the Home Safety Council president's name.

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