Holiday Decorating & Electricity

Be Safe Around Power Lines

You’ve heard this advice before. Maybe you’ve heard it multiple times: Look around you before you start work, especially when the work is near or involves electricity, and ask yourself, “What could potentially hurt me in this situation?”

During the holidays, people enjoy embellishing their outdoor spaces with all sorts of decorations, especially lights. However, the temptation to take shortcuts or unnecessary risks to complete the job is great. If the job takes longer than planned or if the job has become familiar over the years, the temptation can be even greater.

A Lesson to Learn from Someone Else’s Mistake

Just before Thanksgiving this year, a New Hampshire man was shocked while hanging Christmas lights on a tree in his yard. He was using a metal pole, and according to an early report, his pole touched a nearby 20,000V power line. He received 3rd degree burn injuries from the electrical shock.

Less than a week later, he was able to go home. He says he is “feeling good”, though his “feet are a little sore.” The family’s annual tradition of putting up a holiday display started nearly 30 years ago. Everything is up this year (except for the tree lights), and he and his wife plan to continue their tradition next year.

Outdoor Decoration Safety Tips

ESFI (Electrical Safety Foundation International) has put together a list of safety tips we should all read over before heading outside with our strings of lights, extension cords and ladders. The following short list is taken from their recommendations:

  • Exercise caution when decorating near power lines. Keep yourself and your equipment at least 10 feet from power lines.
  • Make sure all extension cords and electrical decorations used for outdoor decorating are marked for outdoor use.
  • Match power needs (amperage) of electrical products with amperage rating of extension cords.
  • Avoid overloading electrical outlets with too many decorations or electrical devices. They can overheat and cause a fire.

Here’s an additional thought on that first bullet point: Even if you think you’re safe (if you are working 10 feet away or further from an overhead power line) and you need to get some lights on the top of a tree, but it’s pretty windy outside and you feel there is still a chance of making accidental contact with that power line, use a fiberglass pole to raise the lights. In fact, make sure all tools used are non-conductive. It’s ALWAYS a good idea to use non-conductive equipment near power lines.

Stay Safe and Enjoy the Holidays with Family and Friends

This has been a public service, friendly reminder from your friends at e-Hazard!

You can read ESFI’s complete list of Outdoor Decoration Safety Tips here.

For more holiday decorating tips from ESFI, you can visit their website here.

Ken Sellars

Ken Sellars

Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide. Read more about Ken.

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