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Workplace Holiday Season Safety

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 12,000 people nationally are treated for falls, cuts, shocks, and burns due to incidents involving faulty holiday lights, dried-out Christmas trees, and other holiday decorations. Proper safety precautions should be observed at all times to avoid potential property damage and personal injuries.

Statistics show that incidents of fires rise drastically during the holidays. Christmas trees are involved in over 300 fires annually, resulting in an average of 10 deaths, 40 injuries, and about $7 million in property damage and loss. Make sure that your smoke detectors are working, and fire extinguishers are fully charged and easily accessible.

Decorating the workplace can result in falls and dangerous tripping hazards. Avoid placing trees, gifts, or freestanding decorations in busy areas where people might run into them or trip over them. Always use the proper step stool or ladder to reach high places safely. Before using a ladder, read and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Potential trips over cords or decorations and falls from a ladder are workers’ compensation claims waiting to happen.

It's also essential to make sure that your holiday décor does not block exits, cover exit signage, or block access to fire safety equipment. Do not place any type of decorative items in exit corridors or on sprinklers.

Holiday Safety Tips

Holiday Decorations

Holiday decorations should create higher morale at the workplace, not hazards and potential for accidents and injuries, so take proper precautions. Choose artificial greenery made of fire retardant materials for office decorating. All decorations (including trees, wreaths, curtains/drapes, hangings, etc.) should be either noncombustible (not all artificial trees are), inherently flame retardant (the label will say so), or have been treated with a flame retardant solution.

Trees

  • Consider an artificial tree, which poses less risk than a live one.
  • Make sure live tree has water at all times so as not to dry out & become a fire hazard.
  • Live trees can be safer when sprayed with flame retardant.
  • Live trees should be in a location that does not interfere with foot traffic. Do not allow blockage of your escape route--doorways, exits, or pathways.
  • Live trees do not belong near heat sources (vents, flames, space heaters, etc.) where they can dry out.
  • Keep in mind trees can be top heavy, so use a sturdy stand. Consider using support from thin guy wires attached to walls or ceilings, to keep them from falling over and injuring someone.

Electric Lights

  • Before plugging in electrical decorations, carefully check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed, loose or bare wires, or loose connections. Damaged sets may cause a serious electric shock or start a fire; if damaged, discard - do not attempt to repair. Always unplug a light string or electrical decoration before replacing light bulbs or fuses.
  • Don't overload extension cords, which could overheat and start a fire. Extension cords have different ratings so be sure to check before plugging in multiple light string sets.
  • Never tack or staple an extension cord to the wall or woodwork--it could damage the cord and create a fire hazard. Make sure cords do not dangle from counters and table tops where they can be pulled or tripped over.
  • If an extension cord is used in a busy area or crosses a walkway, secure with duct tape or cover with mats or carpet.
  • Consider using miniature lights with cool-burning bulbs. Use only lights that have been tested for safety, identified by a label from an independent testing laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Use indoor lights only indoors and outside lights outdoors.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, building, walls or other firm support to protect from wind damage. Don't mount or support light strings in any way that might damage the cord's wire insulation.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and any person touching a branch could be electrocuted. To avoid this danger, use colored spotlights above or beside a tree, never fastened onto it.
  • Turn off all lights on trees and other decorations when you leave the workplace. Lights could short and start a fire.

Trimmings/Other Decorations

  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials. Choose tinsel, artificial icicles, plastic or non-leaded metals.
  • Wear gloves while decorating with spun glass "angel hair," which can irritate eyes and skin. A common substitute is non-flammable cotton. Both angel hair and cotton snow are flame retardant when used alone. However, if artificial snow is sprayed onto them, the dried combination will burn rapidly.
  • When spraying artificial snow on windows or other surfaces, be sure to follow directions carefully. These sprays can irritate your lungs if you inhale them.
  • Never place trimmings near open flames or electrical connections.

Candles

  • Contribute to 10,000 fires per year. They are generally not safe to use in the workplace.
  • Never use candles to decorate trees; keep away from flammable materials, such as boughs or wreaths, other decorations or wrapping paper, and curtains/drapes.
  • Never leave lit candles unattended, and extinguish before leaving the workplace.

Parties

  • Preparation for holiday parties: Decorate only with flame-retardant or noncombustible materials. If guests will be smoking, provide them with ashtrays and check them frequently. After the party, check around furniture and in trashcans for cigarette butts that may be smoldering.
  • Holiday food preparation: Thoroughly cook and serve foods at proper temperatures.  Refrigerate cooked leftovers within 2 hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or below. More information can be found at http://www.foodsafety.gov/.

Seasonal events and decorations for the workplace can be a fun way to help employees enjoy the spirit of the holiday season together. Just remember to keep safety in mind, and make sure proper safety precautions are observed at all times.

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