Archive for December, 2012

Christmas tree light fright

A magnificent blue-lit frost-effect Christmas tree that was constructed in the Country Durham town of Stanley, was quickly taken down a day after it was switched on by Emmerdale heartthrob Ross Adams over health and safety fears.

The 8ft tree, which cost £10,500 and was to be a beacon to attract shoppers into the town centre, was dismantled due to fears that its 240 volt power supply would electrocute the town folk.

John Reed, head of technical services at Durham County Council, said, “The tree purchased by Stanley Town Council was not safe for use in an unsupervised outdoor public display. Safety requirements specify a maximum voltage for such electrical equipment of 24 volts. In this case the tree had electrics which ran at 240 volts – 10 times the safe level.”

Almost 1,500 revellers turned out to see the switch on of the metal tree covered with thousands of blue lights, however it was fenced off for the duration of the event after Durham County Council realised it did not meet safety specifications.

Council clerk Russell Morgan said, “Modification work has been scheduled for January/February 2013 to ensure that the tree is fully operational in less controlled circumstances for many more Christmases to come and a range of suitable locations is being considered within the council’s wider regeneration strategy for the town centre.”

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Guide to thy perfect light

Fire chiefs across the UK have issued warnings this month over the safe use of Christmas lights.

They have stressed that as last years decorations are unpacked and new ones bought, people need to be careful with festive lighting for both indoor and outdoor use. In recent years, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of people using lights to decorate the outside of their homes, offices and gardens for Christmas, so people need to make sure they don't put their families, work colleagues or homes at risk.

You can do this by following these basic safety guidelines over the festive period:

  • check Christmas lights conform to British Standards guidelines, or have the European CE safety mark;
  • check each set of lights, old or new, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wire or any loose connections;
  • make sure the lights are switched off at the mains before inserting or removing bulbs;
  • only use the correct bulb for that particular set of lights;
  • always use a residual current device (RCD) on outdoor electrical equipment;
  • take care not to overload electrical sockets;
  • do not let bulbs come into contact with anything that might burn easily (such as wrapping paper);
  • only use lights designed for external use outside;
  • fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, walls and fences, out of the reach of young children;
  • always turn off Christmas lights when leaving the house or when you go to bed;
  • double check your smoke alarms are working as you put up your Christmas lights.
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ChRISKmas assessment…

It's that time of year again! Christmas decorations are going up, office parties make sure the year goes out with a bang and minor embarrassment will be experienced by some. But it will be an even better start to the New Year without any new entries in the accident book! Staying safe at Christmas does not mean festivities have to be ruined. Just by following these easy steps you can make sure Christmas at work is safe and fun.

Decorating the office:

  • when decorating the office, use some stable stepladders and not a swivel chair;
  • avoid placing decorations such as tinsel near to computers – accidentally covering a vent could be dangerous;
  • don't place decorations on top of heat sources otherwise you may get a large insurance claim;
  • make sure emergency exits and emergency signs are not blocked by decorations;
  • check to make sure your Christmas tree lights meet modern safety standards and aren't too old, and always turn them off before you leave work.

The office party:

  • make sure office parties are cleared by your employers, they are still liable for accidents and damage after the working day ends;
  • it is a good idea to make sure someone at the party is trained in first-aid but remember, don't force people to attend, some people will not want to go;
  • make sure you know where the nearest fire extinguishers are;
  • if alcohol will be present, check to see if the company has an alcohol policy and follow it if so;
  • equally, if alcohol is present make sure the floor is clear of clutter to avoid tripping;
  • make sure party food is kept in the fridge to avoid any illness;
  • avoid using the photocopier to create copies of your anatomy – broken glass will leave you in A&E and no office chair will be able to counter the discomfort, you'll end up feeling like the angel on top of the tree;
  • move desks and computers safely away from liquids;
  • finally, make sure you make arrangements to get home safely!

These points are very simple to follow and take very little preparation or thought and importantly they do not spoil the fun. Have a safe Christmas.

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Rotten around the Christmas tree

This year, UK Christmas trees have been hit with a virulent fungal disease which could threaten entire plantations.

The mysterious disease, known as “current season double needle necrosis” (CSNN), turns needles brown during the summer before they drop off. It is suspected it was imported from the Caucasus in the seeds of Nordmann Firs, the species that accounts for four in five Christmas trees sold in the UK.

Fortunately, few trees have been hit this year, but there has been a reported surge in cases since 2009. As yet, no fungicide has been found to stop it. More that 150 growers so far have been affected, with the majority reporting damage to up to 3% of their stock. In the worst cases, more than 15% of crops have been damaged, with many losing tens of thousands of pounds in lost trees.

This has sparked fears that the price of Christmas trees, which has already risen over the past few years, could increase even further if there are shortages caused by the disease.

Colin Palmer, an advisor to the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA), has found the disease in some of his own trees growing near Ledbury, Herefordshire. He commented, “The disease is puzzling. It is connected to a fungus, Sydowia polyspora, which has been around for 30 years without a problem. We used to see trees lose their needles after strong sunshine. It was like sunstroke – annoying but not serious. But it has gone from affecting one or two trees to affecting many. For this year we have a very robust market with plenty of trees, but next year could be different.”

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Fancy dress banned by Christmas Squares

Council chiefs have been branded Scrooges after they banned SpongeBob Squarepants from turning on the Christmas lights because of health and safety fears.

Hundreds of children suffered a blue Christmas and were left in tears after the costume of the TV favourite was deemed too wide to walk up five steps onto a platform. Thousands of families turned out to Wolverhampton's Market Square to see SpongeBob, and the council shelled out £2,000 to hire the costume. The plan was for him to appear on the back of a float which would carry him around town. However, he was only allowed to walk around at ground level under the stage, meaning he could only be seen by people at the front of the crowd.

Mark Blackstock, outdoor events manager for the council said, “Unfortunately, the character actor playing SpongeBob Squarepants was unable to climb the stairs on to the stage because of his costume. Health and safety considerations meant we were unable to lift him onto the stage using the tailgate of one of our vehicles because of the high numbers of people around the stage.”

However, Judith Hackitt has responded swiftly to the media coverage of the incident. She countered, “The truth is that health and safety did not prevent SpongeBob Squarepants taking to the stage to switch the lights on. With a bit of common sense and proper forward planning it would have been perfectly possible to get SpongeBob upon to the stage, bulky costume or not. If I could have a Christmas wish for myself it would be that we hear a lot less of these ridiculous excuses in the future. That would be a gift we can all enjoy.”

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