Decorate safely this holiday season

The Home Safety Council offers tips to keep you safe during the holiday season

Decorate safely this holiday season

The nonprofit Home Safety Council's research shows that nationally, home injuries lead to nearly 20,000 deaths and 21 million medical visits each year. While home injuries are a year-round concern, decorating during the holiday season can present an increased injury risk for many households.

A recent Home Safety Council survey found that more than 60 percent of U.S. families report that home fires from candles, Christmas trees and other sources are their biggest holiday safety concern. The same survey found that nearly 20 percent reported falling from ladders while decorating was their top holiday safety worry.

"The holidays bring joy and laughter, but also the risk of serious injuries from falls, fires and poisons," said Home Safety Council president Meri-K Appy. "It's important to recognize the potential dangers associated with holiday decorating, such as the use of candles, ladders and holiday lights, and take extra care. By doing that, families can avoid ruining their happy holiday with a trip to the emergency room."

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), each year, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for falls, cuts, shocks, and burns due to incidents involving holiday decorations. Consider this decorating safety advice from the Home Safety Council before preparing your home for the holidays:

Candle Safety

Home fires caused by candles peak during the holiday season, with the highest number of candle fires occurring on Christmas Day, followed by New Year's Day and Christmas Eve. Leading the Home Safety Council's holiday decorating tips is this candle safety advice:

  • A lit candle can cause a fire in the blink of an eye. Never leave burning candles unattended even for a short time. Extinguish all candles before going to sleep or leaving the room. Before leaving your home, double check to make sure that all candles are extinguished.

  • Do not permit children to keep or use candles or incense in their rooms. Candles and candle-making kits should only be used when an adult is present and awake.

  • Never use lighted candles on or within three feet of a Christmas tree or other greenery.

  • Keep candle flames at least three feet away from anything that can burn, including other decorations and wrapping paper.

  • Always use stable, nonflammable candle holders (such as ceramic or glass). Using a hurricane-lamp enclosure around a flame is a good idea.

  • Place candles where they will not be knocked down or blown over and well away from drapes, blinds and other materials that can burn.

  • Always keep burning candles up high, out of the reach of children and pets. If you have children living in or visiting your home, store candles, matches and lighters out of their sight and reach (preferably locked away).

  • As an additional safety measure, consider using flameless candles (with a battery-powered "flame" light) which will eliminate the risk of an open candle flame.
Ladder Safety Tips

Year-round, falls are the leading cause of unintentional home injury fatality. The safest way to climb indoors and out is to use a sturdy safety ladder. Chairs and other furniture can tip or collapse under your weight. Use the following Home Safety Council tips when using a ladder to decorate trees, retrieve stored items or hang holiday lights.

  • Before using a ladder outdoors, choose a location that is well away from all power lines. Coming in contact with live wires can be fatal.

  • Place the ladder on level ground and open it completely, making sure all locks are engaged.

  • Use the 4-to-1 rule for extension ladders: for each 4 feet of distance between the ground and the upper point of contact (such as the wall or roof), move the base of the ladder out 1 foot.

  • Always face the ladder when climbing. Make sure rungs are dry and wear slip-resistant shoes, such as those with rubber soles.

  • Keep your body centered on the ladder and gauge your safety by your belt buckle. If your buckle passes beyond the ladder rail, you are overreaching and at risk for falling.

  • Stand at or below the highest safe standing level on a ladder. For a stepladder, the safe standing level is the second rung from the top, and for an extension ladder, it's the fourth rung from the top.
Holiday Electrical Safety

Holiday lights and electrical decorations create a warm and festive atmosphere both inside and outside the home - but they can also create fire hazards and electrical shock risks, if they are not handled properly. The Home Safety Council recommends taking the following precautions while decorating your home this year:
  • Inspect holiday lights and extension cords before decorating. Replace any that are fraying or otherwise damaged. Pay special attention to lights, cords or decorations that may have been damaged from winter weather conditions.

  • Check for red or green Underwriters Laboratories (UL) marks on all light strings and extension cords. The green holographic UL Mark means the light strings should be used only indoors. The red holographic UL Mark indicates the light strings can be used both inside and out -- and can withstand conditions related to outdoor use.

  • Follow manufacturer's guidelines for stringing light sets together. As a general rule, UL recommends using no more than three standard-size sets of lights together.

  • Do not overload extension cords or electrical receptacles.

  • Unplug all holiday lights when you go to sleep or leave home.

  • Automatic lighting timers can be used to ensure that lights are not left on. These are available for both indoor and outdoor applications.

  • Roll up excess electrical cords and keep them away from high traffic areas. Do not run electrical cords under rugs.

  • Never keep an extension cord plugged in when it is not in use.

  • When replacing a light bulb, make sure that the replacement bulb is of equal or lesser wattage than that recommended by the manufacturer.

  • If you have children in your home, use safety caps on all electrical receptacles.
For more information and resources to stay safe in and around the home during the holidays and year round, please visit