Playing It Safe - Seasonal Safety Guide

Fruitcake isn't the only holiday health hazard lurking in your home. Here's a seasonal survival guide.

As the holidays near, we scramble to buy last-minute gifts, decorate the house, and plan parties and get-togethers. In the rush, however, many of us abandon our sense of safety. Who among us, for instance, hasn't stood on their tip-toes on top of a rickety ladder to hang lights? Or strung strand after strand together until we've overloaded an outlet, which can start a fire?

This season, let's help everyone be a little safer around the home. Let's start with ladders; which pose the greatest risk of all, especially as we hang lights and decorations inside and out. Last year, there were an estimated 171,000 ladder-related accidents in the U.S., according to the American Ladder Institute, which is an astounding number. We're not always careful with them, to say the least, and think nothing of using old relics that have been handed down to us from our parents, broken rungs and all. It's time to put this foolishness to an end:

  • Position extension ladders correctly. For stability, an extension ladder has to be planted with its feet one-quarter of its extended length away from the house. This is not tricky to calculate. If you've got a 12-foot ladder, it has to be positioned 3 feet from the house.
  • Don't carry a ladder upright as you move it. This is a maneuver best saved for the clowns at the circus. You could easily lose control of it in this position, crashing furniture inside, and smashing windows, gutters and even power lines outside. Instead, lower it and carry it parallel to the ground.
  • Make sure the ladder is positioned on a level surface. Don't try to use rocks or bricks to prop up one side of it; those will surely pop out as you're climbing up.

OK, so now you won't end up as a Ladder Institute statistic, but don't celebrate with the eggnog just yet. We've still got the lighting issue to address. The key here is not to overload an electrical outlet, especially if you have only a single outdoor outlet that you use to power a dozen strings of lights and a few spotlights. Attempt this, and the result will be more like the Fourth of July than Christmas, as sparks and smoke fill the night sky. To do things right:

  • Follow the instructions on the strands of lights. These will tell you how many can be connected together and plugged into a single outlet. This is typically only two or three, not 10 or 12.
  • Make sure outdoor lights are plugged into a GFCI receptacle. That's the one with the reset button in the center for safety. If you don't have one outdoors, have the outlet replaced or purchase a "plug in" adapter. This cord system is about 2 feet long and will protect against electrocution if there's a short circuit.

One other thing: Be careful with lit candles. Don't put them near combustibles, such as that evergreen spray in the center of the dining room table. And remember to blow them out when the party's over. A trick my wife and I use to remember this is to set the timer on the stove to go off just around the time when we think the party will have ended. This reminds us to extinguish the candles before we go to bed.

Credit: Lou Manfredini's Tips From the Tool Box, Ace Hardware

Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and safety of this information. Neither Westlake nor any contributor can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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