Safety watch: Avoid injury when installing holiday decorations

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Updated Dec 4, 2023

The accident: A 42-year-old landscaper and his co-worker use an aluminum extension ladder to put Christmas lights on a large pine tree. They are on the ground when one man moves the ladder and starts to climb up. The other worker suddenly sees smoke coming from the victim’s body and notices the ladder is touching a power line. The man on the ladder falls to the ground, and emergency responders respond. He is declared dead about an hour after the incident.

The bottom line: One of the greatest dangers of exterior holiday decorating is improper use of ladders resulting in falls and electric shock. When a metal ladder comes in contact with an electric line, the metal parts become energized and dangerous. Touching a power line or coming in contact with one can result in serious injury or death.

Consider the following tips to avoid injuries associated with overhead electric lines:

• Use extreme caution around power lines.

• Never assume fallen lines are dead.

• When broken, power lines often fall onto fences or wires. These objects may also become energized and deadly.

If a piece of equipment contacts a power line and becomes energized:

• Do not leave the equipment until contact between the equipment and electric wires is broken. If it is necessary to leave the equipment, jump entirely free so no parts of the body are in contact with the equipment and the ground at the same time. Shuffle or hop away, keeping both feet together.

• Never touch anyone who is in contact with overhead lines or energized equipment.

• Follow first aid/CPR procedures as needed.

Here are other ways to avoid injury when installing holiday decorations:

• Use lights designated for outdoor use.

• Replace blown bulbs with bulbs of the same wattage. Always unplug outdoor lights when replacing bulbs.

• Use insulated hooks instead of stapling or nailing lights or decorations.

• Use outdoor-rated extension cords.

• Avoid connecting more than three strings of lights to a single extension cord, and only use those with three-prong plugs.

• Never tap into the home or building’s feeder line to power lights or hang decorations on the line. m

(Sources: OSHA and Utah State University)

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