Christmas Lighting and Ladder Safety

Every holiday season, around 250 people get admitted to the emergency room per day due to holiday ladder and lighting accidents (CPSC). That’s around 15,000 people every November and December. Ladder and stepstool injuries alone account for around 250,000 injuries every year (CPSC).

It might be funny to see people falling off ladders, stapling their sleeves to gutters, and getting electrical shocks in movies, but in real life, it’s no laughing matter. Use this Christmas Lighting and Ladder Safety Checklist to avoid a holiday disaster and go from “Oh, no!” to “Ho Ho!”


Ladder Safety

If you are stringing lights around your home like most Americans, pay attention to the following ladder safety tips:

  • Follow instruction and warning labels on ladders. Make sure you are under the maximum load rating. Always use the correct ladder for the job. It’s best to use a ladder that extends at least 3 feet over the working surface.
  • Place ladder on level ground. If you can’t find a level surface, purchase some leg levelers from your local hardware store. Do NOT use objects, such as rocks or lumber.
  • To position the ladder, lay it on the ground with the feet against the side of the house. Then, walk the ladder up, hand over hand. As the ladder gets to be vertical, walk the base of the ladder back (1 foot away from the base for every 4 feet of height). So, if your ladder is 20 feet high, the base should be around 5 feet from your house.
  • NEVER use a ladder during bad weather, such as strong winds, rain, or lightning. When not in use, store your ladder in a sheltered area.
  • Use a ladder with slip-resistant rungs.
  • Go up and down the ladder with both hands on the side rails. If you become dizzy, hold on with both hands, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing until you feel well enough to climb down. Climb down slowly and carefully.
  • Keep both feet on the ladder. Do NOT reach more than 1 foot to either side of your center.
  • NEVER try to walk the ladder to a new position while you are still on it. Climb down and move the ladder while your feet are on the ground. Avoid any jerky movements.
  • Remove all materials and tools from the ladder before moving it.
  • ONLY 1 PERSON on the ladder at a time.
  • Do NOT sit on the ladder.
  • Never decorate alone. Have a neighbor, friend, or family member help stabilize the ladder while you are stringing lights. Keep the 3-point ladder rule by always having at least 3 body parts touching the ladder at all times. Use wooden or fiberglass ladders.

Stepladder Safety

There are many different types of stepladders, but most are under 8 feet. Make sure you are using the proper ladder for the job.

  • Make sure the metal braces (spreaders) are locked before stepping up.
  • Always use a stepladder on a level surface. All four contact points should be on the floor.
  • Do NOT stand on the top step! We know it’s tempting, just don’t do it.
  • Always climb up the front side.
  • Only 1 person on the stepladder at a time (unless you are using a specially designed 2-person stepladder).
  • Keep your hips between the side rails. Never reach more than 1 foot to either side.
  • Remove all materials and tools from the ladder before moving it.
  • Do NOT lean a closed stepladder against a wall. It could slip out from underneath you.
  • When you are done with your ladder, store it in a sheltered area.

Holiday Lighting Safety

  • When hanging lights, follow the ladder safety tips above and use a wooden or fiberglass ladder.
  • Check and test your Christmas lights before hanging them and turning them on. You should be looking for any frayed or damaged wires, damaged sockets, gaps in insulation, and other problems. If you notice any damage, toss them and find replacements.
  • Look for a UL (or similar label) to make sure your lights have been tested and approved by an independent testing laboratory. Additionally, make sure that whatever products you use are rated for the location you plan to use them in (indoor or outdoor). Click here for more safety tips on purchasing electrical products.
  • Use LEDs if you can. Incandescent lights are the classic choice, but they also use a lot more electricity, raising your utility bills and increasing the amount of heat output. LEDs reduce the risk of an electrical fire, use less energy, and last a lot longer than their alternatives.
  • Never drape cloth/fabric over any lights. This is a common practice among children and teenagers to add some dimming or color to the room, but it’s extremely dangerous. Use dimmers and colored lightbulbs instead. You can still set the vibe for any holiday event without creating a fire hazard. Lighting candles is another classic solution for mood setting décor.
  • Avoid open flames, like candles, if you aren’t in the same room. Holiday décor never seems complete with candles at the table, above the fireplace, and glittering throughout the home. However, if there will be children present at any holiday events, it’s important to be extra cautious about your candle placement. Make sure they are extinguished before leaving the room or going to bed, and be sure to keep them out of reach of the young ones during the festivities.
  • NEVER use candles on a tree or near a tree. It looks nice, but not worth the risk. Battery-powered candles can have the same effect as traditional candles when hung on a Christmas tree.
  • Plan your lighting designs around how much power you need for your lights and where your outlets are located; not the other way around. You don’t need to be blowing a fuse because you overpowered your outlets with too much holiday joy.
  • Don’t connect more than 3 strands of lights together. Be careful not to overload your electrical circuits with too many lights and decorations. Learn what not to do from the Griswold family.
  • Make sure no cords are pinched or caught in between doors, windows, furniture, or any place where the insulation could get damaged.
  • Don’t use staples to hang lights. Always use appropriate light mounts and supports so as not to pierce or otherwise damage the insulation. Zip ties are a safe alternative.
  • Turn off all of your indoor and outdoor holiday lights before leaving the home or going to bed. Just because your eyes are closed doesn’t mean everything is safe and sound. Take safety precautions and shut down the holiday spirit before hitting the sack. There’s always the next day.
  • Inspect and test all lights and extension cords before using. If there is any damage or fraying, replace them. Make sure your extension cords and lights are rated for outdoor use.
  • If you are using outdoor outlets, test the GFCI protection first. ALL outdoor outlets should be outfitted with GFCI protection to prevent ground faults. If they aren’t working, call an electrician to come inspect the situation before plugging anything in.
  • When in doubt, follow the manufacturer instructions. That’s what they’re there for!



Click here for Electrical and Heating Safety Tips.

More Holiday Safety Tips can be found on Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFi).

Leaving home for the holidays? Learn how to prepare your home for your departure.


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