During the holiday season many families suffer unnecessary tragedies as a result of accidents and injuries involving holiday festivities and products.
They're sometimes called "freak accidents," but generally they are accidents that could be prevented with a bit of forethought and awareness. And the time to begin a holiday safety campaign is early in December. For instance, when choosing a Christmas tree.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests checking for tree needles that "will bend between the fingers without breaking."
Vince Marzo, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, cautions not to depend just upon the deep green color for freshness, because trees may be sprayed to improve their appearance. He advises to check for a strong evergreen scent. Also, the "trunk butt of the tree should be sticky with sap," Marzo said.
A tree with brittle branches and dry, shedding needles is a fire hazard. Before buying, the commission suggests tapping the tree lightly on the ground and if a great many needles fall off, the tree is probably too dry for safe use.
Keep Tree Butt in Water
Keep the tree outside with its butt in water until it's ready to be moved inside and decorated. The commission suggests cutting the "butt end diagonally one or two inches above the original cut." When inside, the tree should be placed in a sturdy holder with a wide base filled with water, and refilled daily if necessary.
"Place the tree out of the traffic pattern of the house; don't block doors or stairways," Marzo cautions. And avoid any source of heat, such as a fireplace, radiator or burning candles. The safety commission warns not to "rely on any do-it-yourself external flameproofing treatments, because they are virtually impossible to apply correctly at home."
Never use your holiday tree as wood for a fire. "Trees and gift-wrapping paper should go out for the trash collection, not be disposed of in the fireplace," Marzo said.
Although metal trees are generally safe, never attach electric Christmas lights, because the tree could become electrically charged if the sharp metal edges cut the cord insulation, according to the safety commission.
In a home with crawling infants and curious toddlers, careful placement of a tree is important because sharp tree needles could cause serious eye injuries. Also, a playful child could pull the tree down and get hurt.
Valerie Broeske, co-owner of the Safer-Baby! Family Safety Center in Studio City, suggests putting the tree on a table or placing a kiddie guard or corral around the tree to prevent young children from getting too close. This might also be a solution in homes where pets can disturb the tree or be harmed by the decorations.
Using Breakable Ornaments
Breakable ornaments and decorations should be avoided entirely if young children will be in the house. Infants and toddlers may choke if they put an ornament in the mouth or could cut themselves on the sharp edges of a broken ornament. If decorating with breakables is unavoidable, place dangerous ornaments securely on the top half of the tree. Save the soft ornaments for the bottom half and use yarn to fasten them to the tree. Metal hooks present an unnecessary danger.
Artificial snow sprays may be poisonous, and other decorations such as tinsel, flocking, popcorn on a string and candy canes, if swallowed, could cause a child to choke. Tinsel manufactured back in the early '70s could contain hazardous levels of lead.
Be aware that fire salts, used to produce multicolored effects, contain heavy metals and can cause serious gastrointestinal problems and vomiting.
Mistletoe, holly berries and poinsettias are toxic and should be kept out of a child's reach. They also could become lodged in a child's throat, nose or ears.
Corrine Ray, administrator of the Los Angeles Poison Control Center, warns that plant ingestion is a major problem with children younger than 1, because as they crawl, they may take plant parts that have fallen to the floor or from low plants and suck on them.
To avoid fires, lights should be inspected before using them each year. Check for frayed wires, loose connections, broken or cracked sockets and spots where bare wire may be exposed. The safety commission suggests that a light can be checked for "smoking and melting by placing it on a non-flammable surface and plugging it in for 10-15 minutes."
Marzo suggests that if you suspect something is wrong, "get rid of the whole set of lights. They're inexpensive to replace."
Never overload an extension cord: "No more than three sets of lights per extension cord," Marzo warns. And always unplug lights when leaving the house or before going to bed.
The safety commission also warns against using "gasoline or other extremely flammable liquids to start or restart a fire in a fireplace, because the invisible flammable vapors can explode."