In a May 4 announcement, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a regulation for Christmas lights. The CPSC ruled that some Christmas lights may pose a “substantial product hazard.” The final ruling declared, “The Consumer Product Safety Commission … is issuing a final rule to specify that seasonal and decorative lighting products that do not contain any one of three readily observable characteristics (minimum wire size, sufficient strain relief, or overcurrent protection), as addressed in a voluntary standard, are deemed a substantial product hazard under the Consumer Product Safety Act (“CPSA”).”
While “solar-powered products,” the new rule applies to Christmas “stars, wreathes, candles without shades, light sculptures, blow-molded (plastic) figures, and animated figures.” The CPSC determined that Christmas lights are dangerous:
“A lighting string provided with decorative covers over the lamps is a decorative outfit,” adding, “If not constructed properly, lighting powered by 120 volts can be damaged easily and can pose a risk of electrical shock or fire.”
The federal agency claims that there have been 258 apparently caused by Christmas lights in a little over thirty years, between 1980 and 2013. Even so, the number of Californians who succumb to alcohol poisoning each year is greater than the number of the total Americans killed by Christmas lights in 30 years. Fatal Christmas light deaths have been on the decline: since 2008, fatalities have averaged less than one (0.9) per annum since 2008. The number of people who die of alcohol poisoning in California every year is greater than the number of Americans who have been killed by Christmas lights in the past three decades.
As is the case with Federal regulations, the CPSC verbiage goes to great lengths to define its terms. The CPSC final rule declared:
“Lighting products within the scope of the rule are typically used seasonally and provide only decorative lamination…The products typically are displayed for a relatively short period of time and are then removed and stored until needed again.”
“[Underwriters Laboratories (“UL”), Standard for Safety for Seasonal and Holiday Decorative Products, UL 588, 18th Edition] UL 588 section 2.43 defines the term ‘seasonal (holiday) product’ as: ‘[a] product painted in colors to suggest a holiday theme or a snow covering, a figure in a holiday costume, or any decoration associated with a holiday or particular season of the year."
Even while the CPSC ruling is ostensibly a “voluntary standard,” the makers and sellers of Christmas lights that do not meet Federal standards can still face civil and “possibly criminal penalties” for failing to report products that do not meet the regulation’s requirements.
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