Safety at Work – Christmas Tree Fires

At this time of year the festive season is well under way. Houses and offices become the bearers of festive cheer with tinsel-strewn Christmas trees, fairy lights and baubles of every shape and colour. The tradition of installing and decorating a Christmas tree has a long history, and makes for a much cosier and happier home and work environment.

Employers of course have a responsibility to provide and maintain a safe place of work for employees. However, this should not be used as an excuse not to allow Christmas decorations to be put up in the office. As long as employers take sensible precautions – such as providing suitable step-ladders to put up decorations, there is no reason not to go ahead.

However, one thing we always advise is that employers do not to put up a real Christmas tree in the office or indoor workplaces, particularly those accessible to the public.

Take a look at this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_eHBqVYa8A

It makes for frightening watching, doesn’t it? As you can see, within only thirty seconds the entire room was engulfed in smoke, and flames had reached over half the room. This is because a real Christmas tree often dries out very quickly, especially if placed near a radiator or other heat source, and therefore can catch fire very easily. Once alight it’s all the fire needs to really get going.

What can start a fire?

Faulty fairy lights, for one. The UK Fire Service says that you should:

  • Check the fuses are the right type (check the box they came in for the maximum size of fuse you should use)
  • If bulbs blow, replace them
  • Don’t leave fairy lights on when you close the office
  • Don’t let the bulbs touch anything that can burn easily, like paper decorations on the tree
  • Don’t overload sockets.

It’s a myth that indoor Christmas lights need a portable appliance test (PAT) every year particularly if they are of the low voltage variety and are visually inspected for any damage before being put into use. The HSE says: “Lots of companies waste money in the false belief they need to test their Christmas lights annually, or even don’t put them up at all! By following a few sensible precautions, such as checks by the user for obvious signs of damage, every workplace can switch on safely and sparkle!”

We always recommend Christmas tree lights are of the low voltage variety so that damage to the bulbs cannot cause an electric shock. This is essential in workplaces such schools and hospitals where children may have access to the lights. It is particularly important that only lights designed for outdoor use are used outside a building and there is a safe way of connecting them without damaging cables.

Make sure Christmas tree lights are unplugged when the office is closed. Check that fire detection systems are properly maintained and that fire exits are not obstructed. Other things that represent a danger are putting the tree too close to a heat source..

We’d like to wish all our readers a very happy and very safe Christmas. See you in the New Year!

To find out how our team of qualified experts can provide the health and safety advice you need, call us today on +44 (0) 118 929 9920, or email info@healthsafety.co.uk.

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