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Keep safety in mind when shopping and decorating for the holidays

Traditionally the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year for many Kentuckians looking for bargains on presents and holiday decorations. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services urges shoppers to take a few minutes during this busy time to think about safety when making holiday purchases. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the holidays are safer and happier if people take time to follow some simple safety guidelines about toys, trees, lights and decorations.

An important rule to follow is checking with the Consumer Protection Safety Commission to learn which toys, decorations and other products have been recalled or ordered removed from store shelves for safety and health reasons. The CPSC has an easy-to-navigate and up-to-date Web site. Other tips to remember include:

Toy Safety

  • Follow recommended age ranges on toy packages. Toys that are too advanced could be a safety hazard for younger children.
  • Read instructions carefully before buying a toy or allowing your child to play with a toy received as a gift. If the toy is appropriate for your child, show him or her how to use it properly.
  • Be careful with holiday gift-wrapping, like bags, paper, ribbons and bows. These items can pose suffocation and choking hazards to a small child.
  • Be aware that children age 3 and younger can choke on small toys and toy parts with a diameter of one and three-quarters of an inch or smaller.
  • Remove strings and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.  Children younger than 8 can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Watch for pull toys with strings longer than 12 inches which can be a strangulation hazard for babies.

Every year, thousands of toy-related injuries are treated in hospital emergency rooms and fatalities occur.  Choking and asphyxia on toy balls, balloons, game pieces and beads/buttons from stuffed animals are the leading cause of toy-related child fatalities. 

Vehicles, such as scooters, bicycles, skateboards, big wheels and tricycles, account for more non-fatal injuries than any other toy. Motorized, off-road vehicles, such as ATVs, contribute to an increasing number of child and adult injuries and fatalities. The CPSC estimates that more than 700 people a year are killed in all-terrain vehicle accidents, and children younger than 16 account for about 30 percent of them. “This is a good time to remind people that children should be closely supervised and properly instructed when using bicycles, scooters and riding toys, especially motorized toys, and helmets make great gifts for riders of any age,” said William Hacker, M.D., commissioner of the state Department for Public Health.  “Nothing is as tragic as lifelong disability from a head injury that could have been prevented by owning and wearing a relatively inexpensive helmet.”

If considering the purchase of an ATV remember to inquire about age and recommended engine sizes measured in cubic centimeters. For example, children younger than 6 should never ride or drive an ATV; ages 6-12 should only ride vehicles with engine sizes smaller than 70 cc; ages 12-16 can ride or drive ATVs with engines between 70-90 cc; and anyone older than 16 can ride or drive an ATV with an engine larger than 90 cc.


  • Look for "fire resistant" on the label when purchasing an artificial tree. Although this label does not mean the tree won't catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.
  • Check live trees for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree will be sticky with resin and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
  • Place fresh and artificial trees away from fireplaces, radiators, portable heaters, candles and other heat or open-flame sources. Because heated rooms dry out live trees rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place trees out of the way of foot and pet traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your live tree before bringing it inside to expose fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard as quickly.


  • Use only lights tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory. Use only lights that have fused plugs.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections and throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • Plug in no more than three standard-size sets of lights to a single extension cord. Make sure the extension cord is rated for the intended use.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights and anyone touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Check labels on outdoor lights to be sure they are certified for outdoor use.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, buildings or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks, or, run strings of lights through hooks designed for this use (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short circuit and start a fire.
  • For added electric shock protection, plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs). Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. A qualified electrician can install GFCIs permanently to household circuits.


  • Use only non-combustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or nonleaded metals. Leaded materials are hazardous if ingested by children.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • Take special care to avoid sharp or breakable decorations, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets to prevent choking and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food.
  • Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair." Follow product directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial snow sprays.

Annually, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,800 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. In addition, 13,000 candle-related fires are reported each year, resulting in 140 deaths, 1,300 injuries, and $205 million in property loss. Christmas trees are involved in about 300 fires annually, resulting in 10 deaths, 30 injuries and an average of more than $10 million in property loss and damage.


Last Updated 12/6/2007