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Safety Tips: Winter Holidays

December is the time of year when most of us gather to celebrate many different holidays, including Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, and others. While the festivities vary from culture to culture and house to house, all share one common concern: safety. Festivities can easily turn to tragedy if we don't look out for some typical holiday hazards.

According to Underwriters Laboratory (UL), an independent not-for-profit product-safety certification organization, most fires and fire deaths occur in the United States during December, January, and February. UL credits the main culprits for these fires as faulty lighting, dried-out trees, and candles.

Additionally, UL reports that nearly 12,500 people each year are treated in emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorations. But you don't have to skip the festivities in order to enjoy the holidays, just follow a few safety guidelines.

No matter what blend of holiday traditions you choose to celebrate, add a bit of safety and a pinch of caution to the mix and you'll have the perfect recipe for a safe holiday season.

  • Christmas Trees

    • Regularly check your tree for fresh, green needles. Trees that have dried out over several weeks are easier to ignite. Remember to keep your tree watered at all times.
    • Keep your tree at least three feet from fireplaces, radiators, space heaters, heating vents and other sources of heat. Never place the tree where it blocks an exit.
    • Make sure your tree stand holds at least one gallon of water. The average six-foot tree has a four-inch diameter trunk and can consume as much as one gallon of water per day.
    • Properly dispose of your tree immediately after the holidays. They continue to dry over time and become more flammable.
  • Lighting

    • Look for the UL mark on light strings, electrical decorations, and extension cords.
    • Ensure lights, decorations and extension cords are rated for outdoor or indoor application and use them accordingly.
    • Carefully inspect each electrical decoration -new or old - before plugging it in. Cracked sockets, frayed, bare or lose wires can cause serious electric shock or start a fire.
    • Don't overload outlets or extension cords by plugging in too many decorations.
    • Turn off all lights and electrical decorations before leaving home or going to bed.
    • When the holidays are over, take down your lights. Light strings are not meant to be up more than 90 days.
  • Candles

    • The incidence of candles causing house fires quadruples during the holiday season. Avoid the real thing, if possible. There are many electric candles now that look completely real, they even flicker!
    • Keep candles away from decorations, curtains, bedding, paper, walls, furniture or other combustible materials.
    • Place candles away from spots where they could be knocked over by a person or a pet.
    • Use sturdy, non-combustible candleholders that can collect dripping wax and won't tip over.
    • Don't leave children unattended in a room with lit candles.
    • Always keep candles, matches, and lighters, out of the reach of children.
    • Never use lit candles to decorate Christmas trees.
    • Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
  • Ladders

    • Use wooden or fiberglass ladders when near power lines and electrical wiring.
    • Set the ladder on a firm, level surface to avoid the soft or muddy ground.
    • Never exceed the ladder's weight limit or the maximum load rating.
    • Never stand on a step ladder's bucket shelf. Read and follow the warning stickers for highest standing levels.
    • Don't carry equipment while climbing. Wear a tool belt or have someone hand equipment to you.
    • Face the ladder when climbing up or down, keeping your body centered between the side rails.
  • Cooking

    • Remember that the number one cause of house fires throughout the year is cooking that is left unattended. During the holidays, we add the dangerous combination of more cooking, more distraction, and more stress.
    • Never leave anything unattended while cooking on the stove or in the oven. Always use a timer, even if you don't think you'll need it. There is a good chance you will lose track of time or get distracted.
    • Keep a working fire extinguisher within easy reach and make sure you know how to use it.
    • If there are small children in the house, take care to keep them out of the kitchen while cooking or make sure they are closely monitored. Keep pots on the rear burners of the stove or turn handles inward to keep them from being grabbed by little hands.
  • Driving

    • If you even think that you might have a drink, designate someone else to drive who you can trust to stay sober. Or, if you will be on your own, plan for a taxi ride home, or arrange to stay the night.
    • If traveling in a group, choose the designated driver early, before heading out for the night. Make sure the driver understands his/her responsibility for staying sober and looking out for all members of the group.
    • You don't have to be drinking or even celebrating to be in danger on the streets during the holidays. Be especially careful driving at night during the season. Partygoers are more likely to be on the road at night and the later it gets, the more likely that drivers might be intoxicated.
    • No matter what, everyone in the car should always wear a seatbelt. It's your best defense against impaired drivers.
    • Even if you are not driving, take it easy with the drinks. Alcohol is toxic and even deadly in large amounts. Make sure to eat plenty of food, and drink non-alcoholic beverages as well.

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