As Christmas approaches and we get into the excitement of choosing the tree, Christmas shopping, and decorating our homes with twinkling fairy lights and candles, the hazards of the season may be the furthest thing from our minds. But behind the festive sparkle lurk real dangers. Faulty fairy lights, overloaded plugs, unattended candles, and unsafe toys and novelty presents could be putting lives at risk. Unfortunately, accidents happen, especially at this time of year. Earlier this year, a family of eight, including six children, was taken to hospital when the Christmas tree in the lounge of their Devon house caught fire.
According to new research*, 77% of us will deck our Christmas trees with electric lights, 39% will put decorative lights up around the house, while 21% use lights to add some Christmas sparkle to the outside of our homes. But the research also found that fire-related claims spike in December, compared to the monthly average. Candles are the main cause of fires at Christmas, closely followed by electrical appliances and wiring.
In addition, over three million UK households are putting their lives at risk by leaving their Christmas tree lights on all the time, or overnight. Robert Chantry-Price, CTSI Lead Officer for Product Safety, advises: “With regards to Christmas products, the number one problem is electric lights which are not earthed or can overheat. Check them regularly and DO NOT leave them on overnight as you will be unaware if they have caused a fire when you are asleep.” Never leave candles unattended either. “Candles are a real problem, particularly near Christmas decorations,” warns Robert.
Be careful when you’re Christmas shopping and your eye is caught by that novelty illuminated snowman or miniature festive scene. These objects are not classed as toys and are therefore excluded from toy regulations in the UK, which are governed by a Europe-wide toy safety standard EN71. This safety standard governs the safety all toys sold in the UK and within the European Union. These novelty Christmas decorations could have removable parts that children could put in their mouths, presenting a choking risk.
Be vigilant when buying toys too. “Toys can present a range of issues – unsafe transformers, small parts detaching and button batteries that if they become detached and swallowed can burn the stomach and gut,” says Robert.
Also remember to check for product recalls – in 2018, companies including Marks & Spencer, Smyths Toys, and Mothercare all recalled toys because they posed various safety risks to children.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, all products must be ‘fit for purpose’, be of satisfactory quality and fit their description. This means that manufacturers’ products must fulfil the purpose the customer has been led to expect and the reasons that led them to buy it. At Christmas, buying cheap products online or from Christmas ‘pop-up’ shops might be tempting, but those products could be counterfeit, or falsely labelled, or could pose a fire or other safety risk.
When buying anything, from toys to electrical products, look out for CE marking. This mark is a declaration by the manufacturer that the product satisfies essential safety requirements and can be sold within the EU.
Make safety top of your list this year:
- Take special care buying online or on social media
- Make sure products you buy are authentic
- Always check for CE marking
- Check for product recalls
- Follow instructions and warnings provided with toys.
The Journal of Trading Standards will be running a Christmas Product Safety Advent Calendar through December. You can find it here.