In holiday movies, electrical mishaps and shocks are often played for laughs. In real life, however, holiday electrical hazards are no laughing matter.

From power lines to frayed electrical cords and overloaded outlets, the holiday decorating dangers are real, but they can be minimized by taking precautions, following instructions and inspecting decorations.

VIDEO: Larry Pena, SCE manager of Corporate Safety Policy and Regulations, talks about holiday decorating safety.

VIDEO EN ESPANOLRobert Laffoon-Villegas, del departamento de comunicaciones empresariales de SCE, discute la seguridad que se necesita para sus decoraciones festivas.  

For instance, when decorating outdoors, never place lights closer than 10 feet to a power line and never use metal ladders — which conduct electricity. Use wooden or fiberglass ladders instead, making sure they’re safe by inspecting and replacing them if they’re not.  

About 5,800 people annually are treated in hospital emergency rooms for falls associated with holiday decorations, with more than half of them coming from ladders or roofs while decorating outdoors, the National Fire Protection Association said.

“Electricity allows us to brighten the holiday season through lights and animation,” said Don Neal, SCE director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety. “However, we need to be careful about how we use electricity so that the temporary connections we make to our decorations do not pose a safety hazard. The tips we provide will help ensure our customers enjoy a happy and safe holiday season.”

And never put lights on utility poles, said Larry Pena, manager of Corporate Safety Policy and Regulations at Southern California Edison (SCE)

“Never put anything on our utility poles,” said Pena. “You might be tempted because they’re tall, but that creates a danger not only for yourself but for our own utility workers who have to provide maintenance and have ready access to your poles.”

Meanwhile, inspecting decorations before use is very important since they could have been damaged since their last use. Damaged sockets or lightbulbs, loose or bare wires and loose connections can lead to serious shock or start a fire. And always unplug decorations before replacing bulbs and fuses.

Overloaded outlets are also a common cause of holiday fires. Do not use more than three strands of lights per extension cord and plug only one high-wattage appliance into each outlet at a time. Also, avoid damaging lights and cords by using zip cords when hanging lights instead of staples, tacks or nails.

To protect children, never allow them to play with electrical decorations or cords, cover unused outlets with plastic caps, read the warning labels for decorations such as electric trains and beware of the strangulation hazard posed by strings of light.

Also, only use decorations bearing the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL) labels, which reflect that these independent consumer protection organizations have given them a satisfactory safety rating. If these labels aren’t present, the decorations have not been tested for safety and could be hazardous.