When it comes to putting up Christmas lights, whether they are indoor or outdoor, safety should be your primary concern. Although most folks do not even stop to think about it, accidents such as shocks, fires and falls are very real risks associated with Christmas lights.
Generally, electrical products have become considerably safer over the years due to Ground Fault Circuit Interruption outlets, non-reversible plugs and other recent innovations. Consequently, it is rare to suffer an electrical shock but that does not mean that you should be complacent when it comes to anything electrical.
Volts that Jolt – Mils that Kill
When you consider that it only takes only about one hundred volts to push less than a fifth of an amp through your body, which is enough to kill or cause serious harm. The 120V, 5-20amp systems common in the US, provides more than enough to do the job, especially if your hands are damp.
Check the Wiring Insulation
Storing multiple strings of lights away for a year, jammed into a box with ornaments, can easily strip a small hole in the plastic around wires. Therefore, the most obvious thing to check is the insulation. Missing insulation is even more likely if the lights were hung last year by tacking them on with u-shaped nails. Those compress the wire and sometimes even puncture it. Aside from that, some insulation can also become brittle with age or cold and crack.
Electrical Shock is not the only Hazard
Electrical shock is not the only possible outcome from electricity. A simple spark near a piece of exposed wood will not usually start a fire although wood shavings produced by insects or construction can provide a starter. A piece of dried paper from insulation is almost as good as the wick on an oil lamp. That is just one reason it has always been recommended to keep oil, paint thinner and similar solvents away from the walls in the garage.
Artificial Christmas trees are normally made from, or coated with, flame retardant material which makes it very difficult to combust. However, a natural tree, especially one that has dried out over a few weeks period, is a potential fire hazard. With care, the risk is very low but it is sensible to ensure that any tree strung with lights is not exposed to a source of electricity. Do not leave any sockets open and ensure there are no breaks in the insulation. Do not use spliced wire on a Christmas tree.
Falling – The most common Christmas hazard
It is common practice to use a tall ladder, both inside and outside, to string Christmas lights. However, you should always make sure that somebody is there to hold the ladder when you climb and when you descend. It only takes a slight body movement to produce a sideways force that pushes the ladder out from under you.
Always use a ladder with non-slip feet and set it one foot out for every four feet in height. As always, avoid using the top two steps. Indoors it is helpful to have somebody secure the ladder if it is more than three feet tall. Even a fall from a step stool while stringing lights on a tree indoors can result in serious hip or arm injuries.
Hazards are more common during the Christmas season because of the greater use of lights that have been stored, slippery floors from more frequent cleaning and other seasonal behaviors. By simply taking extra care, you can avoid becoming an injury statistic and not spend Christmas in the hospital emergency room.