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A Checklist for Safer Holidays

With all its merry-making, Christmas brings a special set of hazards. A house all aglow and filled with people, celebrations can be dampened very easily by mishaps. People tend to become more careless about safety details because there is so much to think about and so many exciting events are brewing. It pays to take time to ensure your holidays will be as safe as possible.

Use this checklist to have a safer, more enjoyable holiday season

  • Make sure that the tree you choose is freshly cut. Take it down when the needles begin to dry out. Studies show that it takes just 27 seconds for an eight-foot tree to burn. Spray-on products added to the water may add life to the tree, but make little difference in flammability.
  • Place the tree in an area where connections will not get bumped. Make sure the stand is big enough so it will not topple over.
  • If you are using an artificial tree, check label or box for instructions. Some trees have a limit on the number of years that fireproofing is sustained.
  • Electrical lights should never be used on an aluminium tree. If lights short out, somebody coming by to touch the tree could get a shock or even be electrocuted. Instead, use colored spotlights set above or besides the tree.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy, making sure it can be used for electrical fires (there are different kinds for different kinds of fires), and be certain that everybody in the family knows how to use it. In case of emergency, begin spraying, using a side to side motion, about six to eight feet away. Slowly work your way towards the fire with the nozzle aimed at the base of the flames. The room needs to be ventilated afterwards. Never use water on electrical fires.
  • Check light strings for fraying and exposed wires. Discard those with loose connections or broken sockets. One single exposed strand can cause a shock or a fire. Rubber or plastic cords that lay around in attics or closet boxes can harden and crack. Date electric lights and extension cords so you know when it is time to replace them.
  • Look for sturdy wires when buying electric decorations. Small wires break easily. Use care in handling lights, especially miniature sets, which are more fragile. Be sure to purchase extra bulbs when buying light strings so they fit perfectly when needed later. Purchase only UL-certified replacement light sets, extension cords, and decorations (such as lighted Santas). Never connect miniature sets to traditional ones, nor floodlights regular Christmas light strings of any kind.
  • Be careful not to overload electrical outlets. Never use a plug or cord that becomes hot or very warm to the touch during use. Keep lighted bulbs well away from flammable decorations, such as those made of cardboard or paper.
  • Position the off-on switch away from the tree for easy access in case of fire. Keep distance between electrical connections and the tree's water supply. Turn tree and wreath lights off at bedtime and before leaving home, even if there is a baby-sitter in the house. She may not be as safety-minded as you are.
  • If light set instructions say "For indoor use only," do not display them outside. They are not waterproof and could short out, which could cause a fire, if it rains or snows. Similarly, lights marked for outdoor use would probably generate too much heat to be safely used inside. Check the label to be certain all outdoor lights are weatherproof. Check extension cords, too !
  • Keep extension cords short and out of traffic areas. It is not a good idea to coil the cords since coiling dissipates heat unevenly, drying out the cord in places to make it a potential fire hazard. Never run a cord under a rug or drape it over a surface like a stove, furnace pipe, or radiator that may get hot later.
  • Keep electric toys, like train and racing car sets, and small appliances that may spark away from the tree.
  • Be especially watchful of babies and pets, who will sometimes chew on extension cords. And keep an eye out for toddlers, who may stick hairpins or other metal objects into electric plugs, resulting in burns or shock.
  • Keep lighted candles on higher tables or shelves, out of the reach of young children. Use extreme care when combining candles and cut greens for use as table centrepieces or other displays. Use flameproof holders and keep candles away from crowded areas where they can get knocked over. Blow them out unless someone is there to keep a constant watch.
  • Avoid tree trimmings that look edible. Small children or pets can choke on tinsel, little pieces of ribbon, tiny ornaments, or little parts from toy sets. Sweep up dry needles. Artificial snow rubbed in the eyes, swallowed or inhaled can cause serious damage, too. Bubbling tree lights contain a chemical which can be dangerous if bulbs are swallowed. Children should not be allowed to handle angel hair decorations. Adults should wear gloves when handling these ornaments since angel hair is made from fibreglass, which can penetrate skin and get in eyes. Consider giving kids their own tree to decorate with harmless paper chains, candy canes and cookies.
  • Remember that mistletoe, holly and poinsettia foliage can be poisonous if ingested by children or pets. Other plants considered hazardous are amaryllis, azalea, Christmas cactus, Christmas rose, crown of thorns, English or American ivy, Jerusalem or Christmas cherry, balsam fir, privet and rhododendron.
  • Keep half filled glasses of alcohol out of reach of children. Be especially alert during parties.
  • Never dispose of Christmas wrapping in a woodstove or fireplace. Much of the ink used in making colored paper contains lead, which can end up polluting the air or building up inside the chimney.

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