Christmas lights aren’t dangerous, right?

Nothing puts you in the mood for the holidays quite like the sound of carols blasting at the shops, the scent of pine on your grandpa’s Christmas tree and the traffic jams right up to your nearest Westfield. Ahh yes, Christmas in Australia, which for many wouldn’t be complete without thousands of twinkly Christmas Light Displays to really remind us that the silly season is upon us!

As you and your family rip open boxes of lights you got from Kmart at last year's Boxing Day sales, eager to set up and impress your friends and neighbors with the sickest and ‘brightest display in the street, you might be inclined to forget about the most basic and common sense of precautions.

The Australian Medical Association admits that there are limited Australian studies on the injuries caused by Christmas decorations. Instead, they relay the findings of an American study on their website.

Did you know that between 2011-2015, the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) reported 17,000 accidents in the 100 hospitals that they monitor?

Solid Foundations

Quite a number of injuries are caused by trees or decorations toppling over. To avoid this, try to make sure that the tree is on a stable and level surface. Sometimes we can be overzealous with the decorations which actually makes the display unbalanced. Securing the base in paramount, as the leverage of the tree is sure to topple it over. You can weigh down the base with a couple of bricks or water bottles for example.

You want your decorations to be able to withstand the occasional yanking, touching, brushing up, leaning on by unsuspecting visitors too.

The CPSC disclosed that most Christmas-related injuries happen as you install or dismantle your display. Many of the accidents are related to overreaching for something while stepping on a ‘makeshift’ ladder (think kneeling on a bar stool!), causing a pretty nasty fall. This is where you get into danger territory - lacerations from broken ornaments, sprains, broken bones, and even concussions ensue.

Perfectionist who loves to trim the tree? Make it a group activity and spread the cheer! Enlist friends and family to help. Use proper ladders on stable surfaces to get to out-of-reach heights. One person could pass the ornaments whilst one holds the ladder in place. This doesn’t just make for a safer installation but also for a fun as easier task too. You might even want to make a new tradition!

Sparkle and Twinkle

Did you know the modern day Human is programmed to associate shiny things, almost automatically, with Christmas? So whilst you may be keen to pop out the glitter or special paints and dyes to achieve that reflectiveness, beware of allergic reactions and skin sensitivity. No really, some people are more sensitive to these finishes than others (and you wouldn’t want to take down Granny on Christmas day?)

Our top tip for dealing with shiny glitter explosions and hard core paint & decorations? Wear gloves and Safety glasses. Oh, and keep a vacuum cleaner nearby to suck the dust of your ornaments and boxes that have finally seen the light of day after 11 months in the garage.

We want a glimmer in our eyes during the holidays, not glitter!

A Feast for the Eyes

The best Christmas displays are definitely eye-candy. If you have small children, pets, or a stupid cousin called George, they might think those white balls are real marshmallows. No Joke, about 17% of the hospitalizations reported happen due to people injecting Christmas ornaments!

Secure the ornaments using florist’s wire or cable ties. Typically, baubles and their hooks are too easily removed. It may be a little more tedious to install and dismantle, but it’s better to be safe and overly cautious than sorry.

You may also want to consider keeping ornaments, especially glass ones, and lights out of reach children (yes, including the Jojo and George). If you’re using a real tree you’ll also have to be mindful of the water and tree preservatives which sometimes act as magnets for our thirsty, furry friends. Try faux gift boxes or placing mini picket fences around the base of the tree. The possibilities are endless.

If you’re going to decorate your dining table or kitchen, avoid using glitter, no matter how tempting. Try to avoid using fresh poinsettias, certain varieties of holly and mistletoes as those are poisonous when ingested.

Nice to see, not to eat.

That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling

Fire. The four letter word that sends shudders down even the seasoned decorator as they piggy on another double adapter. It’s always a possibility but would never happen to me, right?

Well the bad news is, Christmas decorations, real of artificial, are inherently flammable, even if labelled as fire-resistant. So unplug your tree while you are away, including when you leave your home or go to bed. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby, double check your smoke alarms and keep doorways clear - even if it seems a little overkill.

It Only Takes a Spark

Hanover Insurance shares that one out of three fires are electrical in nature. So when you have a thousand hot lights snuggling up around baubles and paper gingerbred men on your tree, you want to keep a few things in mind:

  1. 1. Quality Check.
    Use lights from a reputable supplier. You’ll need to look for well-made lights with thick enough wires. If you want to be extra careful, you can test the Christmas lights by leaving them on for a few hours straight (prior to installing them) with the lights on (attended). If they’re more than warm to the touch, you might want to consider swapping it out for a different kind.
  2. 2. Certified.
    If you don’t know where to find the Christmas Lights, have no fear. There are a few certifications to look out for. The more reputable stores will carry brands and models with these.
    Underwriters Laboratory, Inc. The former, UL, ensures that the Christmas Lights are manufactured with wires that are thick enough for the wattage. Prior to 2008, it was considered safe to connect a maximum of 3 sets of lights. But with more advanced technology and lower wattages, more lights can be strung together. The new UL Standard states that it is safe to connect as many lights as long as it doesn’t exceed 210 watts for gauge 22 wires and 420 watts for gauge 20 wires. This information should be on the label or printed on the box.
    RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Arsenic, Chromium, Antimony Bromine, Zinc, Vanadium, Titanium, and Lead are some of the chemicals used to make Christmas Lights. Scary right? When the lights are RoHS compliant, you can rest easy that only the safe quantities are used.
    IPxy (Ingress Protection) IP determines how sealed off the individual lights are. The first digit refers to the protection from dust while the second digit refers to the protection against moisture. Typically indoor lights are IP44. For outdoor, especially if you live in an area where there is heavy rain or snow, you might want to consider IP65 (or higher) Christmas lights. These lights are dust proof and resistant to splashes of liquid from all sides. The higher the second number, the closer it is to being waterproof.
  3. 3. Go for LED
    You need to be very careful with overloading your circuits (including extension wires). Professionals will only connect 3 Christmas lights in a series unless indicated on the box. We’ve seen higher quality lights that can have 10 sets connected in one series. Another source of sparks are the connections. When the connections between 2 sets of Christmas lights loosen and come into contact again, there is a tendency for sparks to occur. To avoid this, try to use screw type connections, or secure the two sets of lights with electrical tape.
    We highly recommend changing out the older model Christmas lights for LED ones. Since, LED lights produce less heat, and less likely to catch fire. Added bonus: you’ll have a lower electricity bill as well.
    As an extra precaution, you may want to consider a low voltage (12 or 24v) set of lights. This is particularly important when there are kids and pets in the home where one may strip the wire and the other may touch it.
  4. 4. No Shortcuts
    When hanging lights, do not hammer tacks or nails into the electrical cord directly (that may be stating the obvious). Instead use cable ties and tack 'em. Make sure to replace damaged lights too. Stripped or taught wires are prone to short circuit and a single spark is enough to ignite an entire tree.
  5. 5. LED Lights for Dummies
    There are some manufacturers who have pre-lit Christmas Tree options. You’ll love this if you’re lazy like me. It’s also a bit safer because as the wires have been sized properly, you’ll have less concerns about trying to proportion the length of string lights so it wraps around your tree evenly.
  6. 6. Lazy Daisy
    Roll them up! As always, the most tedious task is the clean up. On the 12th Day of Christmas, remove the lights carefully and roll them up into a ball so you can easily unpack them next year. No tangles or damage!
    Before packing up, make sure you dry the lights, especially when they’ve been used outdoors. Keep them in a storage bin with some silica gel. This will prevent the wire from rusting. Store in a cool place without direct sunlight to prevent the plastic from becoming brittle. You’ll thank yourself next year.

If you’ve made it this far then you’re on the right track! Christmas Lights in Australia are synonmous with all things Festive! Big or small, not only do they bring cheer to all who see...they are pretty darn fun to put up!

So, have you started yet?

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