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November 28, 2016
Holiday cheer … or fire hazard? ’Tis the season to deck the halls safely

Do you deck the halls in your workplace? Whether you do it for business-related purposes—decorating to draw in customers looking for holiday items—or just to bring some seasonal cheer into the workplace, make sure that your holiday decorations don’t invite tragedy. Decorate safely with these holiday tips.

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Practice Tip

Encourage off-the-job safety by providing this information to your workers for their use in decorating their homes safely this holiday season.

Be fire-safe

Holiday decorations can pose a fire hazard, either because of how they’re made or how they’re used. To protect against the risks:

  • Choose safe decorations by looking for the safety organization UL’s symbol on each electrical item. For nonelectrical décor, choose items that are flame-retardant whenever possible.

  • Maintain safe egress by not giftwrapping fire exit doors (or hanging other decorations in ways that would obscure their purpose) and not placing holiday trees or other large decorations (such as life-size toy soldiers) in front of emergency exits or in corridors that lead to fire exits.

  • Maintain safe access by not putting holiday decorations where they would prevent workers from reaching fire alarm pulls, fire extinguishers, fire hoses, or other emergency equipment such as first-aid kits or automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

  • Observe safe clearances around sprinkler heads and electrical panels and boxes. Also, keep flammable decorations away from heat sources.

  • Skip the candles. They’re just too dangerous.

Be electrically safe

Twinkling lights mean electricity, and outdoor lights mean potential exposure to overhead power lines. To be safe, you should:

  • Inspect cords and plugs. Look for cracks, loose pins, and other damage, and take any damaged lights or decorations out of service.

  • Select extension cords with care. Make sure they’re rated for the product and the environment they will be used in (for example, indoor or outdoor).

  • Don’t overload circuits. Use fused power strips to prevent pulling too much power through any given outlet, and check the packaging on holiday lights to see how many strings it’s safe to plug in sequence (in general, not more than three).

  • Avoid power lines. Workers hanging lights outdoors should get a refresher on power line safety. Make sure they identify the locations of overhead lines, use nonconducting ladders, and keep themselves and any tools they’re holding at least 6 feet away from any power lines carrying 600–50,000 volts (V). Higher-energy lines require even greater clearances.

  • Pay attention to indoor/outdoor ratings. A green UL label means the item is for indoor use only; red UL labels are safe for indoor and outdoor use. The item should also be clearly marked “for outdoor use.”

  • Protect cords from damage. Don’t use staples, tacks, or nails to fasten cords. Instead, use plastic holders designed to hold lights without damaging cords.

  • Use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to connect outdoor lights. Keep plugs and connectors off the ground and out of puddles and snowbanks.

Be all-safe

Decorating the building’s exterior or a tall tree outdoors can mean exposure to fall hazards for maintenance personnel. Indoors, extra cords can pose a hazard.

  • Refresh safety training before workers start hanging lights along the roofline. This may be a good time for a toolbox talk on ladders or personal fall arrest systems. If workers will be using a bucket truck or powered lift, ensure that their safety training for that equipment is up to date.

  • Provide appropriate equipment, including nonconductive ladders, personal fall protection devices, or extension poles for hanging lights. Don’t let workers use equipment unsafely—for example, raising workers on the lifts of a fork truck to hang decorations.

  • Keep walkways clear of tripping hazards, including cords and holiday decorations (a tree surrounded with gift-wrapped boxes, for example).

Be chemical-safe

Holiday decorating may introduce chemical hazards into the workplace that aren’t usually present. For example:

  • Lead is found in many electrical cords. Check labels, and make sure workers handle these safely and wash up afterward. When students at the University of North Carolina in Asheville checked lead levels on their hands after hanging lights, they
  • Fog and smoke may be artificially generated for effect in some holiday displays. Multiple methods can be used to generate fog and smoke, and almost all of them pose a hazard to individuals with lung problems. Some of them pose other hazards, as well. Make sure to check safety data sheets and observe safe use precautions for these machines.
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