Wednesday 30 November 2016

Christmas Decorating Safety

   I love Christmas decorations. I love the colours, the glitter, the light, the temporary clutter - it's one of my favourite things about the season! And I like to go all out, use every decoration I have and cover every available surface. It's terrible, but it's absolutely wonderful, too. And while I absolutely despise anything that interrupts or inconveniences my workout, the only exception is the Christmas tree. No joke. I will leave the living room to perform a set of one particular move in the conservatory if there's not enough space then go back again for the rest. I even make sure I have all the Christmas lights on in that room while doing it.

   The trouble is, it's easy to go overboard. Christmas TV adverts and movies show all these beautiful houses covered in lights, and while it looks spectacular, there is one detail that gets forgotten in the excitement of it all: safety.
   In light of the recent release of safety statistics and things that have happened to people close to me in recent years, I thought it would be wise to put together a post about Christmas decorating's safety hazards. Because there is such a thing, and you'd be surprised how easy it is to tempt fate, especially when doing things you don't normally do.
   But it's not just about falling while putting the star on top of the tree. A few weeks ago I heard on the radio that a lot of people choose Christmas to do home improvements and DIY! It sounds absolutely insane, which is why it stuck in my mind - why choose such a stupidly hectic time to turn your home inside out?! Well, apparently it's mostly new home owners and it's because of Christmas. Work gets put off, but when Christmas rolls around and furniture is being shuffled about to make room for big trees and holes being drilled for hanging decorations, people think "What the hey? I wanted to knock that wall through anyway - what better time?!" Then, of course, they're pressed for time to have it all done before Christmas, which may be only a couple of weeks away, so it all gets rushed or done incorrectly.
   So, apparently, people are insane, and it's not surprising that there are so many accidents in the home at Christmas. So I thought it would be a good idea, in light of all of this, to put together a list of the most common Christmas decorating hazards and how to avoid injuries which would ruin you and your family's Christmas.

Ladder Safety
   If you're going up into the loft, the roof or climbing the garden tree, make sure you don't do it alone. Have, ideally, two other people on hand - one to hold the ladder and the other to fetch or catch things while you're at the top. And make sure you're using the right kind of lights! But if you're going into the loft, be additionally aware of the strength of loft flooring - in short, there's very little. If you slip, you're going to have a bad time. And be wary of the location of the loft hatch itself. Ours used to be right next to the top of the stairs, the worst possible place, but also the most convenient - loft hatches are usually located at the centre of the house so that you rise at the tallest point beneath the roof and so that you travel the shortest distance to get to the ends. So, again, don't go into the loft without someone waiting below - that also makes it easier to get the boxes of decorations down and reducing the risk of falling.

Plug Sockets
   It's easy to wish you had more plugs at Christmas, but more sockets is not a good thing - it's all too easy to overload the power supply, and if you're using old systems, it could trigger a fire rather than simply shorting out. Don't plug in more than you have to, and leave them unplugged when you're not using them. Better still, get an extension block with individual power switches, that way you can control what is on and what isn't much more easily.

Christmas Lights
   Old Christmas lights get hot and, when left on for long periods of time, can cause fires themselves. They can damage artificial trees, set alight to real trees or decorations, and burn the skin if touched by little hands. So it's worth noting that LED lights don't get hot.
   Christmas lights are expensive, so if you can't get any in the Black Friday sales, make sure you pick some up in the post-Christmas sales ready for next year.

Christmas Tree Chocolates
   Who doesn't love chocolates on the tree? People like me trying to lose weight, I suppose - it's too easy to eat them. But that's not the problem I'm outlining here. Instead, it's pets. Chocolate is poisonous to most animals - 'chocolate' drops for dogs and such aren't actually made of chocolate. Make sure you don't leave any chocolates within reach of crafty animals. If they get a small amount it will probably only upset their stomach, but dogs especially are opportunists, and they will eat anything they're not supposed to, and as much of it as they physically can.
See this article by Pets at Home for more Christmas pet safety tips.

   Now it gets simpler: tripping. Be sure you keep leads and cables beneath rugs or up high so that neither you nor anyone else trips over them. Also be sure nothing small is left in the reach of small, curious children. Kids explore by putting things in their mouths and noses, and you don't want little things finding their way into their mouths any time of the year, but it's easier for it to happen at Christmas due to baubles and such.

Large-Scale Rearranging
   Apparently, when the Christmas decorations come out, a lot of people decide it's a good idea to do some DIY. Perhaps they're mostly new home owners who are decorating for their first Christmas and are moving things around to make room for the decorations, but when you consider how hectic the Christmas season is, it's rather surprising that anyone would decide it was the ideal time to undertake such a project.
   This can be dangerous, too. If you mess around with electrics and then plug in lots of lights and such, you're more at risk of an overload, and if you're going as far as to knock down walls or move doors (at Christmas?!) for a long-term change, especially in a building you're unfamiliar with, you risk collapses and mesothelioma - a type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure, which you're quite highly likely to find in most buildings built before 1999! It's still a relatively young issue and is so wide spread that there are specific mesothelioma solicitors out there for precisely this matter, so don't think it's a minor or unlikely threat.
   But it's not just large-scale home improvements and alterations that carry a health risk - making your own decorations or scaffolding to support outdoor displays is also dangerous - only 4% of people think that sawing through treated wood or even MDF has any safety risks!
   And make sure you know what you're doing if you're using power tools. They're not as simple as they seem, and while you may be able to turn them on and think that's half the battle, you'd be wrong. As an example, my neighbour recently tried to hang blinds up in his living room. He was drilling for ages, and it really sounded like he had no clue what he was doing. Turns out that he - like many of us - thought any drill and bit would do, and that he only needed to drill a hole big enough for the screw to fit into. Wrong. He was using a bit made for wood rather than brick, and he was trying to drill the hole to fit the screw rather than a hole a little bigger than he needed and inserting an anchor beforehand. He didn't hurt himself, but it goes to show that such a seemingly simple task is far more complicated than the average person would think, and those blinds would surely fall down in time if not for my dad's intervention (to save everyone headaches). Fortunately, my dad has been an engineer since he was 18 and has done all kinds of home improvements, and with my mum's disability, those have been more varied and necessary than simply changing up aesthetics.

   This might all seem like fear-mongering, but it's a simple fact that things are more likely to go wrong when you do something out of the ordinary. The opportunity to decorate so garishly comes around for only a short time each year and we take extreme advantage of it, but that means that these drastic changes are often made with little thought beyond aesthetics. The stresses of Christmas also make it easy to forget things we might be more aware of otherwise, and so the possibility of overloading power supplies doesn't occur to most of us as quickly as it should.
   There are more fires and accidents during the Christmas period than any other time of the year all across the Western world, and most of these due in one way or another to Christmas decorations. But it doesn't take much to safeguard yourself against them, as I outlined entirely above, so it's worth bookmarking this post and sharing the information with those around you. It could save your Christmas, and it could even save your life.


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