Holiday Safety Tips, Part 1: Decorating Safely

The holidays are an exciting time of year for kids, and to help ensure they have a safe holiday season, here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The Tree

  • It can’t ignite. When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "Fire Resistant."
  • It’s fresh. When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. First of all, a fresh tree is green. If its needles are fresh, they’ll be hard to pull from the branches and, when bent between your fingers, fresh needles don’t break. The butt of a fresh tree’s trunk should be sticky with resin. When tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • It’s away from fire and heat. When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators, or portable heaters. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not allow it to block doorways.
  • It has plenty of water. Be sure to keep the stand filled with water, because heated rooms can dry out live trees rapidly.
  • It’s able to sip that water. Cut an inch or 2 off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This will allow the tree to absorb water more easily, which will help keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • It’s perhaps enclosed. Consider putting a safety fence around the tree or gating off the room with the tree to avoid the risk of the tree falling on a curious climber.

Lights

  • Check all tree lights—even if you've just purchased them—before hanging them on your tree. Make sure that all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets, or loose connections.
  • Never use electric lights on an artificial tree that’s metallic or made of metal. Such a tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, so that a person touching a branch could then be electrocuted.
  • Before stringing lights outdoors, check labels to be sure that they’ve been certified for outdoor use. To hold outside lights in place, hang them on hooks or string them through insulated staples; don’t use regular nails or tacks. Never pull or tug on lights when taking them down.
  • To avoid potential shocks, plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing through the wires and will instantly trip, or disconnect, the circuit if it detects an imbalance, such as when the current starts passing through a person’s body.)
  • Don’t leave decorative lighting unattended. Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.

Decorations

  • They cannot ignite. Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim the tree.
  • All tinsels used to be made of lead— the extra weight of the toxic metal made these old tinsels hang beautifully straight. But of course the lead was phased out  because of its toxicity. Choose tinsel and artificial icicles that are made of plastic or nonleaded metals.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. When setting lit candles on tables or other surfaces, always use non-flammable candleholders, and place candles where they cannot be knocked over.
  • Keep the kids in mind. In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable. Keep trimmings with small, removable parts out of the reach, to prevent children from swallowing or inhaling small pieces. Avoid trimmings that resemble food or candy, which might tempt a young child to eat them.
  • Protect yourself. Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun-glass "angel hair." And while decorating with artificial snow sprays, carefully follow the directions on the container to avoid lung irritation.
  • Get the ladder. When decorating the higher reaches of a tree, it’s tempting to stand on any old hassock or radiator or box that’s handy, since it will only be “for a moment”—but don’t. Go get the ladder and have someone steady it while you’re placing that antique ornament that crowns the whole thing.
  • Clean up. After the gifts have been opened, remove all wrapping paper, bags, tissue paper, ribbons, and bows from areas around the tree and fireplace. These items not only can cause a fire if a flame is nearby, but they can also pose a choking or suffocation hazard to a small child.

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