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Newsletter Article - December 2004

Health and Safety at Christmas

We have recently had a number of enquiries about health and safety issues associated with Christmas, some concerned about Christmas decorations, electrical safety and of course the perennial issue of drinking. We published an article on this topic around this time last year but in the light of the interest being shown we decided it might be worth an update. You can view last yearís article here.

The problem with mentioning health and safety in relation to Christmas is the belief that we are out to spoil the festivities Ė a perception that couldnít be further from the truth. We want everyone to enjoy this most widely celebrated holiday season without having to face the aftermath of some tragic event.

By their very nature, many of our arrangements for Christmas tend to be temporary Ė often makeshift in nature Ė and that fact alone greatly increases the risk of accidents occurring. Consequently itís worth having a simple checklist on hand of what we need to keep in mind to minimise any additional risks that might arise, so here goes:

Paper Decorations

If they have not already started, people will shortly be unpacking decorations that were hastily put away last year. Paper decorations are not all that expensive, so if they are more than a year or two old, it may be worth investing in something new. If so, look for decorations that are made of flame-proof materials or that have been treated to prevent rapid spread of fire and when positioning them keep them away from hot light bulbs.

Take care when hanging decorations. Technically, you are working at height if you are more than two metres above the ground. This may not be an issue in most offices but could be in older properties, shops, factories or warehouses for example. Of more concern is that instead of using approved stepladders, people often use inappropriate means to reach ceiling height, such as climbing on desks, cabinets, chairs or other equipment that is not stable and is not designed to take the weight of a person. Hanging decorations often means stretching to an extent that would not be permitted as part of normal work activities. This all adds up to a recipe for falls that could easily result in bruises, fractures or worse.

Christmas Trees

The other favoured Christmas decoration is a tree. Whether real or artificial it must be stable; more so if it is close to a walkway where someone could catch it or if it is mounted on top of something else to give it additional height. Space in the modern workplace is often at a premium but this doesnít justify positioning a tree where it might obstruct an evacuation route or access to fire fighting equipment or even just obscure safety signs. Trees are also a significant fire hazard and therefore, when purchasing, you should try to buy one that is completely fire proof or that has been treated to minimise the potential for fire to spread.

Whether trees or decorations, it is vitally important not to site them close to a heat source and not to obscure any air intakes or ventilation grills.

Electrical Issues

Each year we see more and more ingenious variations in Christmas lights. Low voltage sets are obviously preferable insofar as they pose less risk of electric shock, assuming they are properly installed. However, even low voltage equipment is capable of starting a fire if it is faulty. Have you noticed how the lights from last year were stored? They are probably just bundled into a cardboard box and resemble the proverbial ratís nest, albeit a rather colourful one. The chances of a fault developing as they are untangled are quite high, along with the possibility of loose bulbs creating a heat source.

Even low voltage lights need to have a transformer that is plugged into the mains supply and as such it constitutes an item of Portable Electrical Equipment, which is subject to PAT testing. If your lights donít display an indication of having been tested, then it is vital that you get them checked out.

In order to plug in your lights (or other electrically operated decorations), thereís a good chance you will be using extension cables or at least have trailing wires. As always, it is important to follow standard safety rules:

  • Only used extension cables that have been tested
  • Avoid daisy chaining extension cables
  • Ensure they donít present a trip hazard for anyone
  • Avoid routing underneath carpets or other places where they will be subject to heavy loads or abrasion

Thinking Ahead

While you are trimming up for Christmas, donít forget that what goes up must also come down and the clean up after Christmas can present much the same risks.

If you took chances to reach inaccessible locations for hanging decorations, you will be faced with similar risks when taking them down. Also, if you take care in packing and storing your electrical lights after this Christmas, then they are likely to be in better (safer) condition when you take them out of storage again next year

And, of course, there is the question of disposing of real Christmas trees. Donít succumb to the temptation to simply stash it away somewhere out of sight where it will quickly dry out to make ideal tinder for starting a fire. Dispose of it promptly and safely.

Drinking

For most people, Christmas wouldnít be Christmas without sharing a drink or two (or more), but we have to be aware of the hazards that brings. If employees are celebrating on company time or premises, then we have to treat it in the same manner as all other health and safety in the workplace. For example, it may be appropriate to arrange transport to remove the temptation for members of staff to drink and drive.

Security of the premises is another consideration since it is easy for people to leave at random times with the last person leaving without closing windows or locking the door. In extreme cases, we have even come across incidents where people have passed out from having too much to drink and have later woken up to find themselves locked in the workplace overnight or even longer.

Fire

Fire is an ever present danger. Weíve already mentioned some of the hazards, but we left the topic till last because most everything else we have considered so far can contribute to the risk of fire starting or of hindering a prompt response should fire break out. As a reminder, the issues that need attention include:

  • Donít allow waste combustible materials to accumulate, but keep the premises as clean and tidy as at any other time of the year
  • Ensure decorations, Christmas trees, greeting cards, etc. are positioned to avoid them catching fire or contributing to the spread of fire should it occur
  • Ensure all electrical items are tested for safety and there are no trailing cables, daisy chained extension cables, etc. In other words, good cable management is important even when the installation is only temporary
  • If you must have electric lights, never leave them switched on when the premises are empty. In fact, it is preferable to unplug them
  • Traditional candles are currently more in vogue than they have been for many years. Obviously, if these are allowed on site, it is essential that they are treated with the same respect and care as any other naked flame.
  • Whatever you choose to do, ensure you donít obstruct any escape routes and exit doors. Likewise, ensure nothing interferes with the operation of self-closing fire doors throughout the premises.
  • Never obstruct access to fire fighting equipment or fire alarm call points.
  • It is a good idea if a responsible person is appointed who will ensure everything is safe and secured when the festivities have finished and everyone has gone home for the Christmas break





Contact EDP HS&E Consultants for all your health, safety and environment needs. We can check your current arrangements and advise you about any changes or improvements you need to make.

To discuss your requirements, without any obligation on your part, please gives us a call on 01744 766000 or complete the Enquiry Form on our website.




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