Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

December 2014

Ho Ho Holy Smokes That Hurts!

- Being Safe This Christmas

Most of us have wonderful memories of Christmas seasons past.  Some, however, have had painful experiences around this time of year.  As a matter of fact, hospital emergency rooms across the country treat thousands of injuries each year related to holiday decorations and festivities.  Most commonly, these injuries include falls, electrical shock and cuts; and if you’re a true “Clark Griswold”, all three at once! 

Every other year, FISTA refers to the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission for chainsaw injury numbers.  Many more informational resources are found on their website as well.  After going through their Holiday Safety Checklist, here are a few tips to help avoid injury this holiday season. 

If you are a traitor of the tree farmer and purchase artificial trees, at least look for the label "Fire Resistant.”  Although this label does not mean the tree won’t catch fire, it does indicate the tree will resist burning and should extinguish quickly.  Also, be prepared for lightning bolts to rain down upon your home courtesy of the forestry gods!  (Just kidding).

For those fine, American citizens purchasing a live tree, be sure to check for freshness.  A fresh tree is green, with needles that are hard to pull from branches and when bent between your fingers.  The needles should bend, and do not easily break. The trunk butt of a fresh tree is lightly sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.

Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood.  This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.  Be sure to wear the necessary PPE if using a chainsaw to accomplish this task.  A chainsaw injury can still result from an accident during this single cutting operation.  If using a hand saw to make the cut, at least wear protection in the form of sturdy gloves.

When setting up the tree in your home, place it away from heat sources like fireplaces and radiators.  Heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, making the tree more of a fire hazard, so be sure to keep the stand filled with water.  Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways and exits.

Use only noncombustible or flame-resistant materials to trim a tree.  Choose tinsel or artificial icicles of plastic or non leaded metals.  If you have pets, it may be best to avoid this common decoration.  While you and your guest may get a chuckle from your pet’s “tinsel tushie”, severe discomfort and even death could be the end result.  Also avoid leaded materials, as they are toxic and hazardous if ingested by humans and animals.

Never use lighted candles on or near a tree or near other evergreens.  (DUH!)  Always use nonflammable holders and place candles out of children’s reach.  Modern LED lights are much cooler than incandescent lighting systems, so replace them with LED’s when possible. Before plugging in and placing lights on the tree, or anywhere for that matter, always check the wiring for frayed or bare/broken areas, and either fix or discard faulty systems.  Do not use more than three standard-size sets of lights per single extension cord and never use electric lights on a metallic tree. Trees containing metal can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.  Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls, or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage and use insulated staples or specialized light hooks to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks.  By plugging all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground fault circuit interrupters you avoid potential shock hazards.  Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house, as the lights could short out and start a fire.

Take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp or breakable and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children to avoid the child swallowing or inhaling small pieces.  Also, avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food, which may tempt a child to eat them.  Wear gloves to avoid eye and skin irritation while decorating with spun glass "angel hair."  Follow container directions carefully to avoid lung irritation while decorating with artificial-snow sprays.

Fire salts, are catching on with the fancy-pants, city slicker types and produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires.  Unfortunately, they contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if ingested.  Always keep them, and other decorations containing toxic chemicals away from children.   Just in case you don’t have it on hand, the National Poison Help Hot Line is 1-800-222-1222.

I can remember the clean-up stage after Christmas morning when we would burn wrapping papers in the wood stove.  As it turns out, this is not a very good idea!  A flash fire may result, as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely or the intense, sudden heat could cause a looming chimney fire.

The glow of a fireplace is something we all enjoy this time of year, but before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from fireplace area.   Also, check to see that the flue is open.  I know this may seem patronizing to most of us used to heating with wood, but duh-huh incidents happen all the time.  It’s good to be reminded, even if it’s so that we are in the frame of mind to warn others who may soon be subjected to natural selection.

Probably the biggest hazard during the holiday season is driving.  Traffic is always heavier no matter where you are.  More “tourons” unaccustomed to log truck traffic and harvesting operations are out and about on roads we use for commerce.  Remember, these folks have no idea what it takes for a log truck to stop when they slam on the brakes after passing grandma’s driveway.  Not only is traffic heavier, but there will be more intoxicated drivers on the road as well.  While we’re all trying to take advantage of every hour the gates are open, simply be aware that the traffic conditions and others we share the road with during this month are very different than the rest of the year.  A heighten sense of awareness is a must!

The topics discussed in this article are just a small sample of what is covered on the checklist as a whole.  To see the full list, visit  Happy and safe holidays from myself and Jennie at FISTA!  See you next year!

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or

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