Decorating Safety

Decorations create a festive atmosphere, highlight important aspects of holidays and lend an air of gaiety to a parish office or school. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), they are also the cause of 14,000 hospital visits and over 400 million dollars in structural damages during the holiday season. To help prevent injury and property damage, please keep in mind a few safety tips. Minding exit signs, following proper fire safety protocols and using care when decorating ensure a fun, safe atmosphere for everyone. 

Fire Prevention

Most of us enjoy the fresh scent of a real Christmas tree, but real trees are a fire hazard if not cared for properly. Make sure real trees are potted and freshly watered at all times to prevent dry, brittle leaves, which become a potent fuel source. Check the water level daily. Do not allow the tree to become a semi-permanent fixture - the National Fire Prevention Association recommends taking down live trees four weeks after purchase. To eliminate or significantly reduce fire hazards, consider using fake, fire-resistant trees.

Real wreaths can be difficult to keep watered and dry out quickly. Consider using a water bottle to spritz it and, most importantly, keep it away from heat sources. Best practice is to use a fake wreath that is fire-resistant. For other living decorations, purchase fresh versions and avoid dry items like hay, grass and cornstalk. As for non-living decorations, many have a flame retardant mark on their tags, making it easy to find safe garlands and hanging items.

Check labels on lights for the UL mark, which indicates an accredited testing facility performed the safety evaluations. Never place lights on a metallic tree due to electrocution concerns and use miniature lights indoors. Aside from the altar area and advent wreath display, real candles are best avoided as decoration as they lead to the most fire-related death and damages. In schools with small children, avoid heavy, breakable or sharp decorations and keep small items out of reach.

Decoration Placement

Placing decorations in doorways can impede traffic or cause trip and fall accidents. Keep entrances clear and never place a decoration over or in front of an exit sign. People should be able to see fire exits from all areas of a room. Keep hanging decorations at least 18 inches away from sprinkler heads and never hang anything from a sprinkler pipe. Trees and other live decorations should not be placed near heat sources like vents, furnaces and radiators. In school settings, do not hang decorations from light fixtures as the ballast or light fixture may become overheated, making it easy for the decoration to catch on fire.

Decorating Safety

Using a chair or other piece of furniture to hang decorations can lead to fatal accidents if one chair leg wobbles or the center gives way. Use a stepladder instead and have a spotter down below for extra security. Move boxes, wrappings and other items out of doorways and to the sides of rooms and hallways. Clean up spills right away and mind where you step. 

Extension Cords

A common cause of fires is a faulty or incorrectly used extension cord. Use one extension per outlet, keep them confined to low-traffic areas to prevent accidents and cover them with ground covers to keep them secure. Try to avoid running them under rugs or through doors. Purchase three pronged, or grounded, cords with a heavy duty rating to prevent overheating the socket.


Once the holiday ends and the decorations come down, proper storage becomes an important task. Keep boxes from becoming too heavy by periodically testing the weight while packing and being sure to distribute weight evenly. Thoroughly label the boxes, number them and store all related containers together so that volunteers next year can find them easily. Wrap up any breakable or fragile items with plenty of tissue paper or bubble wrap. When unplugging items, grip the base of the plug without tugging on the cord. Check lights for broken bulbs and throw out those with defects. Wind functioning light strands into neat, separate piles for easy unwinding next year. Keep electrical decorations in a dry place such as a plastic container.

If you have any questions about any of the suggestions above, please contact the Office of Risk Management.