ESFI and NFPA advise using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.

Holiday Reminders

The holiday season in the United States typically is marked by fires, driving hazards, and increased fall and electrical hazards at home. What better time to focus on safety at home, at work, and on the road?

Safety should be top of mind during the holiday season, which began with the Nov. 23 "Black Friday" shopping bonanza and now moves into the serious issues of fire safety, electrical safety, alert and safe driving, food safety, and fall prevention. What better time is there to focus our and our loved ones' attention on safety at all times, not just during the work day? The list of potential holiday hazards is very long; even bringing home a newly purchased Christmas tree without securing it adequately can lead to traffic accidents, Jennifer Geiger noted in a Nov. 23 post on the Kicking Tires blog.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) and the National Fire Protection Association are working together this year to impress this safety message on the public. ESFI reported that a recent consumer survey it conducted indicated more than 80 percent of Americans decorate their homes for the holidays. "While holiday lighting and electrical decorations contribute to the splendor of the season, they can also significantly increase the risk of fires and electrical injuries if not used safely. According to the NFPA, an average of 230 home fires begin with Christmas trees each year, with another 160 home fires beginning with holiday lights and other decorative lighting," according to the foundation.

"Winter is the peak season for home fires, but these fires can be prevented by adopting a proactive approach to safety," said Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications for NFPA. "Understanding the hazards that are commonly associated with the holiday season and following basic safety guidelines can help ensure that the holiday season is happy and disaster free."

"Electrical problems are factors in one-third of home Christmas tree fires," ESFI President Brett Brenner said. "Be sure not to overburden your electrical system and be vigilant for warning signs such as blown fuses or flickering lights that could signify a serious electrical problem."

The two organizations offered these guidelines on electrical and fire hazards:

Christmas Trees

  • When purchasing a live tree, choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched. A fresh tree will stay green longer and be less of a fire hazard than a dry tree.
  • Add water to the tree stand daily.
  • If you purchase an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.
  • Make sure the tree is at least 3 feet away from any heat source, such as a fireplace, radiator, candles, heat vents, or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.

Lights and Holiday Decor

  • Avoid using candles when possible. Consider using battery-operated candles in place of traditional candles.
  • Never leave an open flame unattended. Keep burning candles within sight.
  • Choose holiday decorations made with flame-resistant or non-combustible materials.
  • Use only electrical decorations and lights that have been approved for safe use by a nationally recognized testing laboratory.
  • Carefully inspect each electrical decoration before use. Cracked or frayed sockets, loose or bare wires, and loose connections may cause a serious shock or start a fire.
  • Follow the use and care instructions that accompany electrical decorations, and always unplug electrical decorations before replacing bulbs or fuses.
  • Keep young children away from holiday lights, electrical decorations, and extension cords to prevent electrical shock and burn injuries.
  • Avoid plugging too many holiday lights and decorations into a single outlet. Overloaded outlets can overheat and cause a fire.
  • Do not mount or support light strings in a way that might damage the cord's insulation.
  • Never connect more than three strands of incandescent lights together.
  • Make sure any electrical decoration used outdoors is marked for outdoor use.
  • Keep all outdoor extension cords and light strings clear of snow and standing water.
  • Use caution when decorating near power lines. Contact with a high-voltage line could lead to electrocution.
  • Turn off all indoor and outdoor electrical decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

Visit to download the complete ESFI "Holiday Survival Guide."

FSIS's food safety tips for the holidays are available here. An OSHA/NHTSA fact sheet on safe winter driving is available here.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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