Holiday Decorating Safety

Tis the season! Yes, I know, Thanksgiving has not yet passed so please forgive me, but it is time to start pre-planning your Christmas decorating! My first thoughts are always the lighting. What kind of lights? Where and how many? Before crawling up on the roof to string the Christmas lights, use caution! According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and electrical shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees.

When you get out and test your old lights, inspect them carefully. Any strands that are frayed can come in contact with conductive surfaces and start a fire. Discard any strands of lights that are “questionable,” such as worn, frayed or blackened wires. Consider the newer lights, such as LED as they produce less heat and use less electricity. When purchasing new lights, make sure that a nationally recognized laboratory such as UL or Good Housekeeping has tested them. When using lights outdoors, make sure that they are for outdoor use.

Be very cautious when using extension cords for lighting. Overloading extension cords can overheat the cord and cause a fire. Never cover an extension cord with a rug or carpet. When using a ladder to place lights in higher places on your house, check for overhead wires. Always assume overhead wires are energized and dangerous.

When picking out a tree, are you going to use an artificial or a real tree? When selecting an artificial tree, buy one that has a “fire resistive” label and has been tested by a nationally recognized laboratory. Keep in mind that a fresh, well taken care of, live tree has a natural fire resistance to it. When purchasing a live tree, check for its freshness. A fresh tree is green, the needles are hard to pull from their branches and do not break when bent, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles. When setting up a tree at home, keep it away from fireplaces and heating sources. 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. There are supplements that you can purchase that will keep your tree fresher, longer, and keep the natural moisture in it. Always remove about 2” from the bottom of the trunk of a live tree prior to placing it in its stand. This will allow the tree to absorb water and nutrients.

When decorating your tree, keep a few things in mind. Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to decorate a tree. If you have small children, use caution when choosing decorations. Avoid sharp or breakable decorations. Keep decorations out of reach of children that have small removable parts, especially if the parts resemble candy. This will keep the kids from ingesting them and avoid choking accidents.

Now, let’s talk about candles. Candles can be enjoyed if used carefully, they can “set the mood” with ambiance lighting and make your house smell wonderful! But as I always say: Candles are like kids … if left unattended, they misbehave! When choosing candles, choose ones that are contained in a jar and keep them out of reach of children and off of tablecloths that can be grabbed and pulled by kids. Make sure that the candles are placed far enough away from any combustible material. NEVER use candles on trees!

When using plants for holiday decorations, be cautious on what you choose and where you place them. Some plants look beautiful but are harmful or poisonous to people and pets. Here are some of the most common plants used for holiday decorating that are poisonous or harmful to pets and people:

Amaryllis – Ingestion of the bulb can cause abdominal pain.

Holly Berries – Ingestion of these can cause gastrointestinal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and if enough are ingested, they can be fatal.

Jerusalem Cherry – Ingestion of these can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, restlessness and hallucinations.

Mistletoe – Ingestion can also cause gastrointestinal disruption. If you hang real mistletoe, consider placing netting around it, or placing it in a plastic bag to catch any leaves or berries that may fall off.

Poinsettia – These are considered safe; however, eating the leaves can give you a stomach ache and the sap can cause a rash. These are more dangerous to pets than humans.

Pyracantha – These also are considered safe, but like the poinsettia, ingestion of the berries can cause abdominal pain.

Jequirity Bean or Rosary Pea – These berries are very dangerous if swallowed and can be fatal if chewed before swallowing.

When doing early Christmas shopping, remember to choose gifts appropriately. Small toys are not recommended for small children and can cause choking hazards. When my children were under three, my rule of thumb was: If it could fit through a toilet paper tube, it was age inappropriate. Learn CPR! Contact organizations such as your local Red Cross, American Heart Association or your local hospital to see when and where they will be conducting classes.

Make sure that you have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the correct places, that they have fresh batteries and are working properly. If you have questions regarding the smoke detector and/or carbon monoxide detector laws, they are available online, or you can contact your local fire department or your state representative/senator’s offices.

Keep all emergency numbers close to your telephone, or, with today’s technology, program them into your smart phone. Some of the contact numbers that should be included, but not limited to, are: 9-1-1, poison control (the National Poison Control Center is available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222), family physician, pediatrician, local emergency department, local police and fire departments, ambulance and your veterinarian.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and always keep safety in mind!

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