Christmas tree or a safety hazard?
Hamburg : Christmas would not be the same without a beautifully decorated, real tree but what many people forget is that a fragrant Scotch pine in the living room can pose a major hazard to the family health and well-being.
Trees are apt to fall over, dragging down a ladder and anyone who happens to be on it, while trees which are not kept well-watered can burst into flames if lighted candles are not positioned properly or there is a short circuit in poorly maintained indoor lights.
The best way to prevent this is to select a tree that is still nicely green. "You can tell if a tree is fresh by seeing whether the cut is still sticky with sap," said Ursula Geismann from the German Wood Industry Federation in Bad Honnef.
To ensure that the tree does not keel over and ruin the yuletide spirit, either on Christmas Eve or the day after, a little advance planning can go a long way.
Check the tree stand a few weeks before the holiday to ensure it operates correctly. Christmas tree stands come in various shapes and sizes but if you are opting for a larger tree this time around, the previous device may be too small or not sturdy enough to accommodate a taller tree with a larger diameter trunk.
Most stands are variable with adjustable jaws and come with instructions on correct usage. These should be kept in a safe place for future use.
Many people are reluctant to forego the unique atmosphere of real candles at Christmas time yet naked flames pose the greatest hazard of all. "Once lighted, the candles should never be left unattended," warns Ingrid Grimm of a German candle makers' association in Stuttgart.
The candles should never be placed on twigs directly above or below each other but rather in a staggered formation around the tree spaced at least 15 cm apart. It is good idea to have a fire extinguisher in the room or else a bucket of water with a damp cloth nearby. Most stands are designed to contain water and this should be kept regularly topped-up.
To further minimise the fire risk the tree should not be placed too close to furniture or curtains and kept well away from fireplaces, radiators and other heat sources.
"The Xmas tree must have sufficient space around it and should not stand in draught," says Susanne Woelk who works for the "Keep Your House Safe" (DSH) initiative in Hamburg.
Indoor lights are a much safer alternative, especially if there are children and pets in the house. The lamps should be chosen with care, as many of the cheap sets offered in bargain basements at this time of the year do not confirm to stringent safety standards.
"These cheap Xmas lights are frequently faulty," said Lothar Beckmann from the Stiftung Warentest consumer association in Berlin. If a tree is to be set up on a patio or elsewhere outdoors, the lights must also be designed specifically for the purpose. Many sets are intended for indoor use only.
"A faulty bulb in a light set should be replaced immediately," said Beckmann. Each broken or defective bulb increases the amount of electricity flowing to those still working. These generate more heat as a result and could ignite paper and other flammable tree ornaments.
Christmas lights that use light emitting diodes (LEDs) are the safest of all. They use much less power than conventional decorative lamps and the colours are just as vibrant.