Beware of the Holiday Hazards Ahead

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Written by Menopause Minute® Editors

With more people around the house during the holidays and busy schedules, it is often easy to overlook home safety. For the accident-prone, Christmas is not one of the easiest holidays to navigate. When thinking about potential physical dangers of the holiday, the first person who pops in my head is Clark Griswold. His disastrous Christmas, 250 strands of lights and sled explosion is a good safety reminder for everyone.

Each year, hospital emergency rooms treat more than 12,000 people for injuries including falls, cuts and shocks, related to lights, decorations and Christmas trees. Christmas trees are involved in about 400 fires annually resulting in 20 deaths, 70 injuries and an average of more than $15 million in property loss and damage. Many of these accidents could have been prevented.

It’s a hectic time of year filled with a lot of potentially hazardous activities and factors including decorations, trees, candles, lights, ice and ovens! Undoubtedly, it just wouldn’t be the same without all of these things. They are a big part of everyone’s tradition, but how can we make sure they don’t become the Grinch’s of our holiday?

As you prepare for the holidays, keep your season merry by taking some time to make your home a safe home. Make a list and check it twice!

The Tree
The tree is usually the focal point for everyone’s Christmas and on occasion it is even relegated as a Chanukah bush. Whether you choose an artificial tree or a real one, there are a few important safety tips to keep in mind. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 48% of home Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and 27% from a heat source too close to the tree.  The NFPA provides some good safety information for trees. Some of these tips may seem obvious, but make sure you’re checkin’ the list and checkin’ it twice for a safe and jolly Christmas.  

  • When purchasing an artificial tree, be sure it is labeled, certified, or identified by the manufacturer as fire retardant.
  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall off when touched.
  • Before placing the tree in the stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.
  • Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not for both.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.
  • After Christmas, get rid of the tree when it begins dropping needles. Dried-out trees are a fire danger and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside against the home. Check with your local community to find a recycling program. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

The Kitchen
Cooking and the holidays go hand in hand. The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking. Here are a few tips to keep your home safe while cooking from the Bowling Green Fire Department:

  • Use oven mitts or potholders when moving hot food from ovens, microwave ovens, or stovetops. Never use wet oven mitts or potholders as they can cause scald burns. Remember to keep combustibles like potholders and paper towels away from the stove.
  • Wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing can dangle and catch fire if it comes into contact with a stove burner.
  • Plug microwave ovens and other cooking appliances directly into an outlet and never use an extension cord since it will overload the circuit and cause a fire.
  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food and if you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
  • Use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
  • Never use an oven to heat your home or for any other purpose besides cooking.
  • Turn pot handles away from the stove’s edge to prevent the pan from being knocked or pulled off the stove.
  • Treat a burn right away by putting it in cool water for 3 to 5 minutes. Seek medical attention immediately if you have any questions about how to treat the burn.
  • If your smoke detectors sound during normal cooking, after quickly making sure there is no fire, fan the area around the detector with a towel to clear smoke away from the detector. Don’t ever disable the detector when receiving nuisance alarms. Consider moving the detector further away from the stove if possible, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Know where the fire extinguisher is located (if you don’t have one, get one).

The Outdoors
To some, outdoor decorations are just as important as indoor ones. On 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, at Christmas, the entire block of row houses transforms into the Miracle on 34th Street Christmas Light Display. I always wonder how the people who live in the constantly glowing houses sleep when it looks like the lights of Times Square in their yard. I guess they are professionals. Here are some safety tips for your yard this season:

  • Have a certified electrician install a GFCI outlet, if you don’t already have one.
  • Make sure product is intended to be used for outdoor Christmas tree lighting and follow all manufacture instructions.
  • Any extension cords used for outdoor Christmas tree lights should also be intended specifically for use in the yard.
  • Be careful of the placement of wires, especially around the doors, walkways and driveway.
  • Water and electricity don’t mix, so keep any connections out of the snow/puddles and insert bulbs into sockets such that the sockets point down.
  • Unplug outdoor Christmas lights before replacing bulbs.
  • Don’t string outdoor Christmas tree lights on trees that come into contact with power lines.
  • If re-using old outdoor Christmas tree lights, inspect the wire to ensure that there are no wear spots.
  • Clear snow and leaves from pathways and sprinkle salt on patches of ice.

Don’t let the safety stickler (me) prevent you from enjoying your holiday. Clark Griswold really knows how to have a good time during Christmas but please don’t follow his holiday light rigging methods unless you want to temporarily black-out your entire town. Laugh, have fun and enjoy your time with friends and family. Relax and enjoy your eggnog, but remember to be safe and don’t drink and drive. 


“Holiday Hazard Checklist.” Reader’s Digest. American Academy of Pediatrics, Web. 14 Dec 2009. <website>

“Project Holiday.” National Fire Protection Association. Web. 14 Dec 2009. <website.

“Winter Safety.” Emergency Care for You. American College of Emergency Physicians Foundation, Web. 14 Dec 2009. <website.