More than ice and snow can be dangerous during the glorious goings-on of the holiday season. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people each year for injuries resulting from falls, cuts and shocks and from fires caused by holiday lights, decorations and Christmas trees. What’s more, the National Fire Protection Association reports that four of every 10 Christmas tree fires are caused by an electrical problem or malfunction---the others are caused by placing a heat source too close to the tree. Across the nation, nearly 130,000 fires will be reported in December alone, causing more than 400 fatalities and 1,600 injuries, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International.
The safety experts at AmerenUE say statistics like these show the holiday season is a time to pay special attention to electric and natural gas safety. Key ways to stay safe around electricity include watching for and correcting problems with cords and faulty sockets and handling wiring with care. Jerking on a wire can break insulation and damage plugs. Avoid walking on extension cords. Replace faulty or loose wall sockets, and avoid placing too many appliances on one outlet or socket.
Here are some other safety tips for electricity offered by UE:
• Inspect all holiday lights for broken or cracked sockets. Look for frayed or bare wires, loose connections or damaged plugs. Throw away damaged light sets.
• Never overload electrical circuits or outlets. Use Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) certified surge protector strips if multiple outlets are required.
• Never string together more than three standard light sets.
• Keep holiday lights away from toddlers. Push the wires inward toward the center of the tree and clip wires securely to branches.
• For outdoor lighting, use UL-certified lights approved for outdoor use. Also, use heavy duty UL-certified outdoor extension cords.
• Plug outdoor cords into GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets. It is suggested that GFCI outlets be used for indoor lights, as well.
• Do not run outdoor light wiring or outdoor extension cords through door and window openings where they can be damaged.
• Keep electrical connections off the ground and away from water.
• Only use insulated staples to attach extension cords and lights to wood. Never use nails, tacks or regular staples.
• Make certain lights, decorations and other electrical devices are disconnected when installing or working on them.
• Never leave Christmas tree lights on when away from your residence.
• Do not place cords under rugs or carpets, where they can be walked upon or where someone can trip over them.
• Use flame-resistant ornaments and decorations around the Christmas tree.
• When selecting a live tree, make certain the branches are fresh and the trunk is sticky with sap. Needles should bend, not break, and should be hard to pull off branches. Keep the tree holder base filled with water.
• Keep trees away from fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, radiators, heat registers and other sources of heat.
• If you select an artificial tree, select one that has been tested and labeled as being fire-resistant. Trees with built-in electric systems should have the UL certification label.
• Never replace a fuse with one designed for a higher amperage or with a coin. A fuse that repeatedly blows or a circuit-breaker that repeatedly trips is an indication of an overloaded circuit. If the problem continues after unplugging lights or devices, have the circuit inspected by an electrician.
• Do not place fans or space heaters where small children can touch or fall upon them. Never leave operating space heaters unattended.
• Use common sense with new gifts. Never use electrical appliances in or around water. Never immerse electrical appliances in water.
• Never leave an unattended iron plugged in.
• Make certain the UL certification label is attached to any electrical device you purchase or use.
• Keep electrical devices clean and periodically check them.
For natural gas customers, UE offers these tips:
• Natural gas furnace owners should be aware of, and take precautions against, carbon monoxide poisoning---dubbed the “silent killer.” This advice also should be heeded by those with fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, natural gas/propane water heaters and fossil fuel space heaters.
• It is recommended that carbon monoxide detectors be placed in homes and apartments.
• To help avoid the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is recommended that a qualified plumber or heating professional annually inspect and clean furnace systems. Special attention needs to be paid to the flue. A rusty or loose fitting flue may cause a vent to malfunction. Improper venting of a furnace may result in carbon monoxide poisoning. Flues that also vent through walls must be clear of snow, leaves and other types of blockage to prevent carbon monoxide from backing into the home.
(Explanation: The flue is the opening that vents the products of combustion from the furnace and water heater to the outdoors. Fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and vented space heaters also have flues.
If the flue is blocked or damaged, the products of combustion may leak into the home, including carbon monoxide. Even in small quantities, carbon monoxide is deadly – one-fourth of 1 percent of carbon monoxide (2,500 parts per million) is lethal within 30 minutes. Indications that carbon monoxide may be present include high humidity, steamed-up windows, the odor of exhaust or a furnace flame that is partly yellow rather than a steady blue with a sharp pointed shape.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may be similar to those of influenza, including dizziness, headache, fatigue, nausea, irregular heartbeat, ringing in the ears, violent coughing, seeing spots and even unconsciousness. If you or a member of your household experience symptoms, get fresh air immediately. Ventilate your home by opening windows and doors. Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 and seek immediate medical attention. Call a qualified plumber or heating professional to inspect your appliances.)
• If your furnace or heating system is equipped with an air filter, follow manufacturer recommendations in cleaning or replacing that filter. You may need to clean or replace filters more frequently if you have pets.
• Never hang any item from a natural gas or propane pipe. The added weight could pull down the pipe.|
• Never use the kitchen oven as a heating source. Natural gas ovens produce carbon monoxide that will escape into the house when the oven door is left open. In addition, the oven could overheat and cause a fire. Cooking with the oven is safe because the oven cycles on and off when the oven door is closed.
• Never store combustible materials within a few feet of the furnace or water heater.
• Call a qualified plumber or heating professional to inspect the furnace if it cycles on or off with a loud noise or otherwise malfunctions. Ignition should be smooth and quiet in a properly maintained furnace.
• Natural gas contains an odorant that smells like rotten eggs. If you notice a slight smell, follow your nose to the source — it may be something you can easily and safely correct, such as an unlit pilot light or a partially open burner valve. If it’s a strong smell, or if it’s a slight smell that does not go away, open your windows and doors. Do not turn lights off or on. Do not activate any electrical device. Leave the building, and then call UE immediately.
Visit the Ameren Web site (www.ameren.com) for more safety tips or other information. Another resource is the Electrical Safety Foundation International’s website at: www.holidaysafety.org.
UE, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Ameren Corporation, serves 1.2 million electric and 127,000 natural gas customers in Missouri. Ameren’s utility companies provide energy services to 2.4 million electric and nearly one million natural gas customers in a 64,000-square-mile service area of Illinois and Missouri.
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CONTACT: Mike Cleary, 573.681.7137, or Susan Gallagher, 314.554.2175, both of AmerenUE