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Health and Family Services Cabinet
Think About Safety While Shopping for Toys and Holiday Decorations

Press Release Date:  Tuesday, November 22, 2005  
Contact Information:  Mike Cavanah or Ken Spach
(502) 564-4856

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Nov. 22, 2005) Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving is the busiest shopping day of the year for Americans purchasing holiday presents and decorations. With that in mind, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services urges shoppers to take a few minutes during this busy time to think about safety.

“Health and Family Services wants all Kentuckians to enjoy a wonderful and healthy holiday season. The best way to do that is to equip yourself with a few simple safety tips to remember before you go shopping, purchase a toy or decorate a Christmas tree,” said William D. Hacker, M.D., commissioner of the Department for Public Health. “No one should ever suffer an injury – or worse consequence – under circumstances that could have been easily prevented.”

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. Here’s a closer look at some general safety guidelines for the holidays:

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 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 under can choke on small parts contained in toys or games and balls with a diameter of one and three-quarters of an inch or less.
- Remove strings and ribbons from toys before giving them to young children.  Children under age 8 can choke or suffocate on deflated or broken balloons. Watch for pull toys with strings that are more than 12 inches in length, which is a strangulation hazard for babies.
- Older siblings need to make sure to keep games and toys with small parts away from younger brothers and sisters.
- Toys also should be put away safely to prevent trips or falls. Many injuries occur when toys are left out.

In 2004, about 210,000 toy-related injuries were treated in hospital emergency rooms. Nationally, there were 16 recorded toy-related fatalities in 2004, up from 11 in 2003. Seven of these occurred on wheeled toys.

Vehicles such as scooters, bicycles, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), skateboards, big wheels and tricycles are often popular holiday gifts. In 2004, there were two scooter-related deaths, one riding toy fatality and four tricycle fatalities. Overall, wheeled toys, which remain a popular gift choice, account for more injuries than any other toy. 

If considering the purchase of an ATV, remember to inquire about age and recommended engine sizes measured in cubic centimeters.  For example, children under age 6 should never ride an ATV; ages 6-12 should only ride those with engine sizes under 70cc; ages 12-16 can use engines between 70-90cc; and those over 16 can ride ATVs with engine sizes over 90cc.

- Look for a “Fire Resistant” 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 is sticky with resin, and when tapped on the ground, the tree should not lose many needles.
- Place trees away from fireplaces, radiators or portable heaters. Because heated rooms dry live trees out rapidly, be sure to keep the stand filled with water. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
- 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.

- Use only lights that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory, which indicates conformance with safety standards. 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.
- Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per 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 a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
- Check labels on outdoor lights 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. Use only insulated staples to hold strings in place, not nails or tacks. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (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 decorations that are sharp or breakable, keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children and pets to prevent them from swallowing or inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or food.
- 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

Annually, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people for injuries, such as falls, cuts and shocks, related to holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. In addition, there are 11,600 candle-related fires each year, resulting in 150 deaths, 1,200 injuries and $173 million in property loss each year. 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.

For more information, visit or or or call Mike Cavanah or Tammy Warford, Environmental Management Branch, Department of Public Health, (502) 564-4856.


Last Updated 11/22/2005