Safe Electricity and Survivor of Holiday Lighting Accident Share Life-Saving Safety Lessons

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Safe Electricity shares tips for outdoor lighting and decorating safety, and Shawn Miller shares the story of his accident that occurred while decorating his mother’s yard for the holidays.

Shawn Miller, electrical accident survivor

Shawn Miller, electrical accident survivor

I’m lucky to be alive. I want everyone to be careful—be aware of power lines.

Thanksgiving weekend for millions is when the boxes of lights come out and the holiday decorating begins. Unfortunately, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that more than 12,500 people are sent to the emergency room every holiday season because of injuries sustained from lighting and decorating. To keep the holiday season merry and bright, learn from the tragic experience of Shawn Miller who encourages people to educate themselves about electrical safety to avoid tragedy.

“I was just hanging Christmas lights at my mom’s house like I do every year,” explains Miller. “Only this time, I was decorating a new area—the trees that lined the front of the yard.” As he tossed lights up into the trees, 7200 volts of electricity entered his body, traveling from the overhead power lines through his strand of lights. He suffered 27 exit wounds as well as the loss of his left hand and a finger on his right hand.

“Please take note of your surroundings before decorating outside,” Miller urges, “especially power lines and the service connection to your home. Make sure to keep yourself, ladders, and lights far away from them. I’m lucky to be alive. I want everyone to be careful—be aware of power lines.”

“Shawn Miller has a lot to teach us about electrical safety, and we are grateful he has shared his story,” says Molly Hall, executive director of the Safe Electricity program.

Miller worked with the Safe Electricity program to create public service announcements and a video of his story to help others learn from his experience.

“Had I known more before this happened, I might still have two hands and the job I loved,” Miller says. “I want to help people learn from what has happened to me. Safe Electricity is helping me help others.”

Safe Electricity shares the following tips for those who are undertaking outdoor lighting and decorating projects to help them do safely:

  • When decorating outside, look up and look out. Never throw holiday lights or other decorations into trees near power lines.
  • Be especially careful when working near power lines attached to your house. Keep ladders, equipment, and yourself at least 10 feet from power lines.
  • Use only lights, cords, animated displays, and decorations rated for outdoor use. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use them. Use plastic or insulated hooks to hang lights.
  • Cords should be plugged into outlets equipped with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs). Use a portable GFCI if your outdoor outlets are not equipped with them. GFCI protection is very important outdoors, where weather conditions can create dangerous electrical situations.
  • Do not staple or nail through light strings or electrical cords, and do not attach cords to utility poles.
  • Outdoor holiday lights are for seasonal use, up to 90 days. Bring them inside after the holidays.
  • Avoid decorating outside on windy or wet days. Choose to decorate in favorable weather conditions and during daylight hours.

To learn more, visit

Safe Electricity is the award-winning program of the Energy Education Council, a non-profit organization headquartered within University of Illinois Extension that is dedicated to promoting electrical safety and also provides information on energy efficiency and renewable resources. EEC-Safe Electricity members include more than 500 utilities across the U.S. as well as energy-related organizations and educators.

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Kyla Kruse
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