For many of us, part the fun of Thanksgiving and Christmas is turning our homes into our own personal winter wonderlands. Doing so safely guarantees the holidays will indeed be merry and bright.
"Let's face it, tumbling off a ladder or dealing with a fire caused by a faulty extension cord can easily put a damper on any holiday gathering," said Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist. "Have fun and enjoy your time with family and friends, but also be careful, be smart and stay watchful for potential dangers."
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated during November and December of 2010 more than 13,000 people were treated in emergency rooms nationwide due to injuries related to holiday decorating. Hazards could include trees, trimmings, candles, lights and fireplaces.
For those who enjoy live trees, Sonya McDaniel, Pottawatomie County FCS Educator, said before toting it home, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green and its bottom is coated in sticky resin. The needles are hard to pull off branches and do not break when bent between your fingers or easily fall off when the tree is tapped against the ground.
"When you're scouting for the perfect spot for your tree, pick a space away from fireplaces, vents, radiators and other heat sources. Heated rooms dry out trees quickly, which creates a fire hazard," she said.
It is also a good idea to cut about 2 inches off the bottom of the trunk to expose fresh wood and encourage better water absorption. Be sure to monitor the water level in the tree stand each day.
Artificial trees should carry a "fire resistant" label. That designation does not mean the tree will not catch fire, but it will be more resistant to flames.
Real or artificial, your tree should be located away from foot traffic and doorways. Larger trees can be anchored to walls or the ceiling with thin guy-wire, which is almost invisible.
A big part of the holiday fun is decorating the tree, McDaniel said, but safety should remain a priority.
"Make sure your decorating materials are noncombustible or flame resistant," she said. "If you've got little kids, try to avoid sharp, weighted or breakable ornaments, as well as ones with small pieces or that resemble candy or food."
When it comes to lights, use only strands that have been tested by a nationally recognized laboratory such as UL. A red holographic label from UL is a sign the product meets standards for both outdoor and indoor use, while a green UL label indicates indoor use only.
McDaniel urged families to handle light sets carefully because they could contain high levels of lead, which could be ingested from hand-to-mouth contact or released into the air as they are being hung or taken down. Specifically, lead is used in the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) jacketing of the cords to prevent cracking and increase their resistance to heat, light and moisture damage.
"It's recommended that children should avoid handling lights, if possible, and anyone who does touch them should wash their hands immediately after finishing," she said.
Also, before stringing those lights on your tree or house, check each set for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Repair or throw away any that are damaged. Check your extension cords, too, and use no more than three standard-size light sets per cord.
If candles are part of the holiday décor, keep them on stable, heat-resistant surfaces out of the reach of pets or kids, and away from items that can easily ignite, such as trees, other decorations, curtains and furniture. Burning candles should be kept within sight and extinguished before you go to bed or leave the room or house.
"Take care with fireplaces, too," McDaniel said. "Fire salts, which generate colored flames when thrown on wood fires, contain heavy metals that can make you sick if swallowed. Burning wrapping paper in the fireplace also can lead to a flash fire."