The holiday workplace party season has commenced and office workers are decking the halls, putting up lights, cards, trees and other ornaments in reception areas, work stations and other places to make for a jolly welcome.
However, experts have warned employers, “Don’t create a situation where you’ll have a merry little lawsuit on your hands.”
“The biggest hazards around the workplace during the holidays – besides the wild parties – are electrical and trip hazards,” said D.J. Hartwig of General Health & Safety Services Corp., an internationally recognized professional service organization that provides safety and industrial hygiene consulting, training, program planning and implementation and expert witness testimony.
“If the employees survive putting up the decorations while standing on chairs, desks and other unsuitable objects, I see an increase in trips over extension cords placed across walkways or decorations too close to walkways,” Hartwig said. “Another common hazard is fire, especially in offices, retail stores and restaurants from over-loading electrical circuits and using power strips and extension cords that are not rated for the devices that are plugged in. And finally, the hazard of fire due to combustible material placed too close to holiday lights.”
There are about 200 decorating-related injuries each day during the busy holiday season, said Ann Marie Buerkle, the acting chair of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in Rockville, Maryland.
“Make safety a part of your family’s holiday decorating this year. Keep your Christmas tree watered, check holiday lights before you put them on the tree and use extra caution with candles,” Buerkle said in a release.
CPSC estimates that from 2013 to 2015, there was an annual average of about 100 Christmas tree fires, resulting in 10 deaths, 10 injuries and $12 million in property loss per year.
According to CPSC data, there were 18,400 injuries associated with holiday decorating seen in emergency departments nationwide from November 2016 through January 2017. The most frequent of these incidents involved falls (38 percent), lacerations (14 percent) and strains or sprains (18 percent).
There were two deaths involving falls from a ladder.
David Jewell, also of the General Health & Safety Services Corp., said there are ways employers can decrease the chance of accidents and avert disaster.
“They can decrease the electrical overload some by using LED lights,” Jewell said. “They also do not generate the heat that the old style bulbs do or break as easily reducing hazards.”
Lee Marchessault, president of Workplace Safety Solutions Inc., said it’s imperative that when putting a tree in the office to be sure to use low voltage decorative lights to avoid excessive heat that may cause a fire, especially with real trees that dry out over time.
“Avoid placing trees near heat sources and provide water for trees regularly. If the tree becomes dry and starts to drop foliage, cease using lights,” said Marchessault, whose consultant firm has a mission to reduce accidents and injuries to employees through education, training and by increasing safety awareness.
Employers should always turn off indoor decorative lights that are inside before the last person leaves the office for the day, Marchessault said. When placing decorations that take up floor space, everyone should be careful not to block exit routes or access to fire extinguishers, electrical panels or AEDs, he said.
Other tips from Marchessault include:
• Don’t cover exit signs or emergency lighting with decorations.
• Don’t hang garland or other decorations from sprinklers.
• Don’t stand on chairs to place decorations. Always use a proper sized ladder.
• When using a step ladder to place the star or install the garland, be sure it is fully open, someone is holding for you and you don’t step on the top to steps.
• Use your legs to lift boxes of decorations rather than your back. For larger or heavy boxes use 2 people.
• When set up decorations outside use caution if the ground is snow-covered. Walk with short, sure steps and wear appropriate footwear.
And, he said, “Avoid alcohol at company holiday parties.”