Office of Risk Management
Risk Management Policy and Procedure Manual
Part 20 Safety and Loss Control Issues
Subject: Holiday Decorations in University of Wisconsin Buildings
To set forth a Systemwide policy regarding the safe use of natural and artificial holiday decorations in owned and leased University buildings.
There have been questions regarding University policy on holiday decorations in campus buildings. Because of the inconsistency between the current policies and their actual use, provisions have been updated to clarify where natural and artificial decorations may be used on campus, and how holiday decorations can be used safely.
Failure to maintain a safe environment in University facilities could result in negligence on the part of the University should a loss occur. It is suggested that the physical plant personnel be involved in the installation and maintenance of holiday decorations whenever possible.
UW System Risk Management strongly recommends that holiday trees and wreaths not be placed in individual living quarters of any dormitory or residence halls due to the severe life safety hazard that these items present. Final adoption of this policy by each campus rests with the chancellor. Artificial trees of flame retardant material or flame-proofed natural trees may be used in office areas, lobbies, and reception areas only if the following precautions are taken.
The most important factor in reducing the flammability of holiday trees is maintaining adequate moisture content. These guidelines may help reduce the fire hazard:
- Before setting the tree up, be sure to cut the bottom of the tree at an angle at least three inches up from the original cut to facilitate water absorption.
- Place the tree in a stand which allows for at least two inches of standing water.
- Designate an individual to monitor the water level in the tree stand and dryness of needles daily.
- Place the tree away from heaters or air vents which accelerate the drying of the tree. Avoid placing the tree against the walls or ceiling, or in entry or exit ways as this may increase the fire hazard.
- When needles become brittle or fall off the tree, remove the tree from the building.
- Remove the tree from the building as soon as the holiday season ends, or from any building which will be unoccupied for more than three consecutive days.
Only indoor lights may be used on indoor trees. These lights must bear Underwriter's Laboratory approval. Lights should be inspected for shorts, and weak or cracked spots before using and should only be used during regular business hours when offices are occupied. Lights should be connected with a heavy duty extension cord and should be unplugged when unattended. Do not connect strings of different wattage together. Do not use lights on artificial metal trees. Avoid overloading electrical circuits by using power strips with their own circuit breaker. Candles should not be used.
Decorations, including but not limited to, wreaths and tree skirts, may only be of non- flammable or flame-proofed materials and should not be attached to walls or around windows. Natural wreaths have the potential to become extremely flammable as they dry and should only be used for a short period of time.
Instruct area staff of location of the nearest fire extinguisher, how to use it, and how to report a fire.
A great deal of controversy exists over the effectiveness of flame-proofing holiday trees. Many States do not require flame-proofing of trees. Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. does not list any products for flame-proofing because the effectiveness is based primarily on how the product is applied. The National Fire Protection Association indicates that proper care of natural trees, such as recutting the trunk and keeping the tree in water is more effective than flame-proofing.
For these reasons we feel that maximum protection can be obtained by both flame-proofing the tree correctly (or having a knowledgeable person do it for you) and by maintaining a high moisture content as explained in guidelines 1-6 above.
One way of achieving compliance with this policy is to have owners bring trees to one location, possibly the safety office, where they are sprayed and then delivered to their respective location. This method increases control and awareness by the safety department as well as by tree users.
Flame-proofing sprays can be purchased from stores which sell trees, hardware stores, or possibly the local fire department.
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