Home safety and security over the festive season

New interior with Christmas tree, presents and fireplace. Postcard.

It's the most wonderful time of the year, but it's also the most dangerous when it comes to household safety. So it pays to make yourself aware of the most common Christmas-related dangers - and take preventative measures where necessary...

Light up safely
Twinkly lights are as much a part of Christmas as turkey, stuffing and Brussels sprouts, but if you're using a string of lights that was handed down through the generations then it's probably time to retire it in favour of a newer set.

Modern Christmas lights conform to higher safety standards, but even if they're brand new you should still switch them off at night or when you're going out. Water your tree regularly so it doesn't dry out and become more flammable, but additionally a number of people have died from watering Christmas trees with lights on them – so make sure yours are nowhere near the base of your tree.

Be careful with candles
Ask any firefighter and they'll tell you that candles are one of the biggest household fire risks all year round - and that risk increases at Christmas as we drape tinsel, and paper or plastic decorations around our living rooms and prop Christmas cards up on every available surface.

Mix in discarded wrapping paper and perhaps a bit of festive boozing and you've got a recipe for disaster, so either be very careful with your candles or just leave them under the stairs this year.

Don't drink and cook
On the subject of booze, Christmas can be a time of over-indulgence for many – in terms of both food and drink. Most fires start in the kitchen and we all get more forgetful after a drink or two, so be sure not to leave things cooking by themselves. The kitchen is also a hot spot for personal injuries. Stay away from knives and hot oil when you've had a few sherries.

Stick with scissors
Another common cause of injury at Christmas is impatient people trying to open gift packaging with knives, because they can't be bothered to find the scissors. Get the scissors out beforehand and also make sure you have screwdrivers and batteries at hand for toys and other gadgets. Whatever you do, don't raid the smoke alarm for batteries – for all the reasons listed above!

Act on novelties
You might be tempted by Christmas novelty items such as models of Santa or Reindeer, but be aware these are not covered by the same regulations as toys. This means they should not be played with by children, as there is a higher risk of choking hazards, so keep them out of reach – perhaps on top of the Christmas tree or a high shelf.

If there are likely to be young children around at Christmas, you might also want to make sure your Christmas lights don't present a choking risk. If you must have novelty items in your house, be sure to buy them from a reputable source and check whether they comply with fire-safety regulations.

Be burglar aware
Christmas and its build-up is a busy time for criminals, but a few simple precautions can go a long way to deterring burglars from targeting your home. Don't put Christmas presents out on display for weeks before Christmas. They'll make a tempting target for any thieves snooping around. Keep the gifts out of sight until Christmas morning.

If you're going away to visit relatives, take the usual precautions by setting lights and the radio on timer switches to create the appearance of somebody being at home.

Putting festive illuminations on the front of houses is becoming increasing popular, and many people power them with a lead running out of a window. Unfortunately many windows don't have a suitable "lock open" function to allow this, so Christmas lights can be a sign for burglars to come and force open a window when you're not in.

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