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Left Book Holiday Season Safety Tip
by Manning, Paul
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As the holiday season approaches, we are all looking forward to special gatherings and celebrations with friends and loved ones. Our homes will be decorated to enhance the atmosphere of the holidays. Holiday decorations can be joyful but also dangerous if improperly used, especially for children. Every year thousands of needless injuries and deaths are caused by decorations. A little caution and planning while decorating will help you avoid tragedy during the upcoming holiday season.

TREES: When buying a natural tree, the most important safety factor is freshness. The higher the moisture content the less likely it is to dry out and become a fire hazard. Check for freshness by examining the needles. Bend them between your fingers. They shouldn't break. Note: in very cold weather, hold the needles in the palm of your hand so they can thaw before trying this test. Tap the tree gently but smartly on a firm surface, if many needles fall off, the tree is too dry. Do not rely on the tree color, many are sprayed green. To keep your tree fresh longer, cut off 4 or 5 centimeters, about two inches of the trunk and mount in a sturdy water holding stand with wide spread legs. Locate the tree away from fireplaces, windows through which the sun may shine, wall furnaces and other heat sources. Do not block stairs or doorways. Dispose of the tree when needles begin to fall off in large quantities.

Artificial trees should bear a mark, such as the Underwriters’ Laboratory label, which indicates that the product has been rigorously tested for safety. Never use electric lights on metal trees. To avoid electric shock on metal trees, use colored spotlights securely mounted above or below the tree, never fastened directly on it. Plastic trees should be made of fire resistant material. This doesn't mean that the tree will not burn, but only that it will not catch fire easily. As with natural trees, keep away from heat sources.

HOLIDAY LIGHTING: Use only CSA, ASA and/or UL approved lighting. Inspect electric lights for broken or cracked sockets and frayed wires, and replace if necessary. If you do find a minor problem, and you want to make a repair, be sure you use the right materials, like real electrician's tape. In following years, such repairs must be inspected with special care. Even the best repairs, made with good electrician's tape may dry out and loosen over time. Some in fact, would advise that even slightly damaged light strings must be discarded immediately. Do not use indoor lights outdoors or visa-versa. Do not overload extension cords, and do not connect more than three sets of lights to one cord. Outlets should be readily accessible for quick disconnection if necessary. Never use lighted candles on or near a tree or other decorations. In times past they were of course the only way to Illuminate a Christmas tree, but with modern electric lights, some of which simulate lit candles remarkably well, open flames near the tree are totally needless! All lights should be securely fastened to
the tree. No bulbs should come in contact with needles or branches.

Turn off all holiday lights when you retire or leave home. If something does go wrong, there must be someone there and available to take the necessary action. Some would advise you to keep a pale of water handy, just in case there is a fire. The problem with this is that if you throw water on a burning tree or other electrically lit decorations, and the lights are on, an electric shock is a real danger, and of course, in this situation, there is no time to disconnect the lights. It is much better to have a fire extinguisher, rated for putting out electrical fires, at the ready.

Outdoor lights should be weatherproof and clearly identified as designed for outdoor use. Remove outdoor lighting as soon as the season is over. Even these lights are not designed to withstand prolonged exposure to the elements.

POISONOUS DECORATIONS: Beware of toxic decorations. Mistletoe and holly berries may be poisonous if more than a few are swallowed. Poinsettia flowers can also be a problem. Old tinsel may contain lead. Discard old tinsel if you are not sure of its composition. Fire Salts (which produce a multicolored effect when thrown on burning wood) contain heavy metals, which if swallowed may cause serious gastrointestinal problems and vomiting. If your child consumes any of these possibly hazardous substances, immediately call your physician, 911 or your local Poison Control Center.

TREE ORNAMENTS AND TRIMMINGS: Avoid placing small or breakable ornaments on lower branches where children or pets can reach them and knock them off. Every year many children are treated for cuts from broken ornaments, or from swallowing broken pieces and small parts. While decorating your tree, if you must stand on something to put ornaments on the higher branches, be sure to use something designed for that purpose, like a step stool or a step ladder. When working up high, always move slowly, so you keep your balance. Also, don't overreach. It is much better to get down, and move your step stool or a step ladder, and get back up, than in is to risk a nasty fall. The emergency ward is no place to spend Christmas.

FIREPLACES: Fireplaces are very popular during the holidays. Before starting a fire, remove all decorations from the area and be sure that the flu is open. Do not burn wrappings or evergreen boughs. These can burn extremely fast, throwing off sparks and burning debris. Safely dispose of wrapping paper with your normal trash collection. Better still, reuse and recycle. If carefully removed from gifts, wrapping paper off of large presents can be used to wrap medium sized gifts next year. That from medium sized presents can adorn small gifts or stocking stuffers the year after. This not only takes care of disposal problems, but saves living trees in the forest, and in addition will save you money! Both trees and evergreen boughs can often be recycled as well. Today many jurisdictions provide for their collection after the Holidays, and see to it that they are converted into things like mulch and fertilizer for local parks, or for sale to gardeners.

Residential fires during the holiday season are especially tragic. Celebration and joy can quickly turn to sorrow and anguish because basic fire safety guidelines were neglected. "It can happen to you," so be careful!

TOYS: When it comes to toys and children, no matter how intelligent your child is, if you don't pay attention to what the toys are made of or what they do, you may be heading for disaster. We can't emphasize the importance of the following safety tips for you and your family to avoid any toy related hazards.

ONE: When shopping for your children always check the safety labels on toys for appropriate age. And then consider if the toy is appropriate for your child. Most labels indicate an age group, and if small parts are included that may be a choking hazard. But there are many 3, 4 and 5-year-olds who still put things in their mouths, so toys with small parts might still be a safety issue with preschoolers.

TWO: Electrical toys, battery operated toys, and art/crafts materials that are labeled "adult supervision" need to be purchased with the understanding that they will demand your time and attention. Batteries should be secured so little hands cannot get into the battery compartment. And check batteries often to be sure they haven't leaked.

THREE: Families with children of all ages need to establish safety rules about keeping toys for an older child out of a younger child's reach, and about where toys with small parts can be used. This may be difficult for some children to observe, but is well worth the effort.

FOUR: Be sure to examine the construction of all toys, including stuffed toys. Check under and around the edges of plastic toys to be sure that they are not rough, sharp, or poorly finished. Check seams and tug at eyes and adornments of stuffed toys to be sure they are secure.

FIVE: Check instructions and read the fine print on boxes of arts and crafts toys, or food/cooking toys. Be sure that all "pretend food” is made with non toxic materials, and that art supplies are labeled as nontoxic. Be cautious with "washable" paints or markers. Although they may be washable, that may only mean when wet or upon immediate cleaning. From experience, I have found that "washable" finger paints and markers can stain clothes (permanently) and hands (temporarily)..

SIX: For some reason, "projectile" toys are becoming more popular with toy makers for both "boy" and "girl" toys. Many toys have flying parts that can damage eyes, especially in the hands of young children who can't coordinate their actions too precisely.

And speaking of "boy" and "girl" toys, many children's products are still gender specific. They're usually dress-up for girls and gunplay for boys. While certain toys may appeal more to either boys or girls, there is some middle ground where a gender free choice can be found. For example, choose a red trike instead of black or pink. Both boys and girls enjoy pretend cooking, so try to provide pots and dishes in primary colors, instead of lavender. Girls as well as boys enjoy and benefit from construction toys. They help develop imagination and lay the groundwork for an understanding of spatial relationships and math concepts.

During the festive merriment of the holidays, it is easy to forget safety issues. Yet they are perhaps more important than ever at this time of year, with temporary decorations and toys all about, with excited youngsters gleefully playing, and the inevitable distractions of Christmas celebrations, hazards are more numerous than ever. Keeping an eye to caution can make sure that this most joyous season will be just that! In short, be safe and have fun!



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