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Holiday safety issues
Holiday (Christmas) Trees
The NFPA 1 Fire Code (2009) code language for combustible vegetation, including natural cut Christmas trees, is covered in section 10.14. Its provisions are covered below.
Your local fire code official (a.k.a. authority having jurisdiction, or AHJ) may allow limited quantities of combustible vegetation in any occupancy if the AHJ determines that adequate safeguards are provided based on the quantity and nature of the combustible vegetation.
The model code also has the following additional provisions that must be met. Your local AHJ or municipal code may be more stringent.
- Fire retardant.
- Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees shall be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.
- Such fire retardance shall be demonstrated by each individual decorative vegetation item, including any decorative lighting, in an approved manner.
- Egress: Vegetation and Christmas trees shall not obstruct corridors, exit ways, or other means of egress.
- Only listed electrical lights and wiring shall be used on natural or artificial combustible vegetation, natural or artificial Christmas trees, and other similar decorations.
- Electrical lights shall be prohibited on metal artificial trees.
- Heat and flame sources:
- Open flames such as from candles, lanterns, kerosene heaters, and gas-fired heaters shall not be located on or near combustible vegetation, Christmas trees, or other similar combustible materials. [see also general prohibition on fire on university property at UWS 18.10(4)(a)].
- Combustible vegetation and natural cut Christmas trees shall not be located near heating vents or other fixed or portable heating devices that could cause it to dry out prematurely or to be ignited.
- Provisions for natural cut trees.
- Where a natural cut tree is permitted, the bottom end of the trunk shall be cut off with a straight fresh cut at least 1/2 in. (13 mm) above the end prior to placing the tree in a stand to allow the tree to absorb water.
- The tree shall be placed in a suitable stand with water.
- The water level shall be maintained above the fresh cut and checked at least once daily.
- The tree shall be removed from the building immediately upon evidence of dryness. [NOTE: A method to check for dryness is to grasp a tree branch with a reasonably firm pressure and pull your hand to you, allowing the branch to slip through your grasp. If the needles fall off readily, the tree does not have adequate moisture content and should be removed.]
Ladder safety reminders for holiday decorating
Holiday decorating frequently involves hanging items higher than you can reach while standing on the floor. Below are some helpful reminders about safe ladder use; these hints are also available to print as a small reminder for employees.
- When putting up holiday decorations, always use the proper step stool or ladder to reach high places. Don’t stand on chairs, desks or other furniture. In 2011, falls from chairs, desks and other furniture resulted in 69 days of lost work, over $47,000 in cost, and much pain and lost function for UW System employees.
- If you have to use a step ladder near a doorway, lock or barricade the door and post signs so no one will open it and knock you off the ladder.
- A straight or extension ladder should be placed one foot away from the surface it rests against for every four feet of ladder height.
- When you climb, always face the ladder and keep three points of contact on the ladder whether two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand.
- When climbing, keep your hips between the side rails and do not lean too far or overreach. Reposition the ladder closer to the work instead.
- Use ladders with slip-resistant feet and wear clean, dry and slip-resistant shoes when climbing a ladder.
Reference material, files, and websites
Holiday Safety Tips — A useful one-page summary of holiday safety tips. University of Wisconsin System Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management Departments, 2006.
City of Milwaukee – Press Release on Codes and Safeguards for Natural Christmas Tree Placement in Buildings.
Holiday safety tips from the Safety and Buildings Division. A 2008 brochure from the Safety and Buildings Division of the Department of Commerce (now DSPS).
Memo from Safety and Buildings Division (now in the Department of Safety and Professional Services) – Explains the conditions under which Christmas trees are permitted inside buildings.
This publication was prepared for environmental, health and safety staff at University of Wisconsin System campuses, to assist in finding resources and information for regulatory compliance. It is not intended to render legal advice.
(Read full legal disclaimer.)