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Tricks for Planning a Safe Halloween
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Leigh-Anne Dennison
October 17, 2006

Costumes and candy fill store aisles, and pumpkins are stacked high at produce stands and in patches all around town. The signs are aligned and clear—Halloween is here.

Only two weeks away now, you’re probably getting serious about shopping for costumes and decorations to greet trick-or-treaters or party guests. As black and orange swirl before your eyes and a dizzying array of battery-operated, motion-activated ghosts and vampires call out—literally—to the little ghoul in us all, the America Red Cross encourages you to add one more note to your Halloween shopping list—safety.

Most Halloween-related injuries can be prevented by taking some precautions. Now, not Oct. 30, is the time to start thinking about safety.

To See and Be Seen – A Look at Costumes

Whether your child wants to be frightful or delightful, ghoulish or goofy, costume selection criteria should include how safe it is for the wearer. The Red Cross offers these tips to help keep your little monster trick-or-treating for many years to come:

  • Masks can restrict peripheral vision and hearing. If choosing a mask, ensure it fits well, offers good ventilation and has large eye holes. Or, go with non-toxic face paint instead.
  • Big hats, helmets or scarves can be problematic as well. If you kids must have them, have them try hats on to ensure proper fit and secure hats and scarves well to prevent slipping.
  • Select light-colored or reflective costumes to be seen by drivers. The same goes for props. If necessary, add reflective tape or trim to brooms, swords, scythes and the all-important candy bag.
  • Purchase fire-retardant costumes. Check tags and labels to ensure they are flame-resistant .
  • Large or loose costumes—including billowy skirts, sleeves or capes—can cause falls and may pose a fire risk. Select appropriately-sized costumes and keep trick-or-treaters away from candles.
  • Don’t clown around with oversized shoes. Choose sturdy shoes that fit and be sure that shoe covers will remain secure while trekking around the neighborhood.
  • Check costumes and accessories for loose pieces or parts, such as buttons, that might be choking hazards.
  • Accessorize with care. Look for soft, flexible—not rigid or sharp—toy swords and other props. Select props and costume accessories at an appropriate scale for children.

Since teenagers and adults enjoy dressing up as well, the same basic rules apply for making smart, safe costume selections.

Getting to Know Jack

  • Take proper precautions when preparing “Jack” (O’Lantern) for his autumnal debut:
  • Select a stable, flat surface with good lighting for carving your pumpkin.
  • Use blunt tools with serrations specially designed for cutting thick-skinned pumpkins.
  • Grown-ups should do the cutting, and supervise children at all times during the activity.
  • Draw and follow patterns on the pumpkin instead of freehand carving. Or, forego slicing up Jack and use paint, markers and other materials to decorate your pumpkin—not only is it safer, but it also means less mess from pumpkin “guts” and provides a longer lasting display.
  • Consider battery-operated or electric lights for an interesting and safe way to illuminate your squash creation this year. One-use glow sticks also work well as an alternative to candles.

Avoiding Frightful Accidents Inside and Out

  • Clear porches, lawns and sidewalks of any debris, tools, etc., that could cause visitors to trip and fall.
  • Have a well-lit path and consider adding a temporary fence around decorations—spooky decorative styles are available these days—if you have lawn decorations that could cause a fall, ruining an otherwise ghoulishly good time.
  • Place jack o'lanterns away from doorways or landings.
  • If electronic decorations have short cords, use a surge protector with a longer cord to reach outlets and plug into it, then use care in placing that cord so it is out of the traffic path. Be careful not to overload circuits, and for decorating outside only use items that are rated for outdoor use.
  • Check and discard holiday lights or electronic decorations with broken or frayed cords or plugs.
  • Keep exits and steps clear of decorations and other obstacles.

Treat Visitors to a Hauntingly Safe Time

  • Consider string lights or other electronic or battery-operated lighting in lieu of candles to decorate your haunt. If you do choose candles, keep them away from all flammables (fake spider webs, paper streamers, dried cornstalks, etc.) and never leave burning candles unattended.
  • Plan party menus with care. Avoid small, hard foods that pose a choking risk. While particularly relevant to small children, anyone eating while talking and laughing at a party could find a bite “going down the wrong way.”
  • Select treats that are soft rather than hard candies that can get lodged in a child’s throat. According to the National Confections Association, most kids prefer chocolate anyway!
  • Decorations also need to be age appropriate and hung correctly. Watch not only for objects that children might swallow but also for decorations that could trip or entangle visitors or have rough or sharp edges that cut or poke.
  • Children aren’t the only ones looking to score sweet treats at Halloween. Before, during and after the holiday, store candy, particularly chocolate, where canine family members can’t get it. Even a small amount of chocolate can be fatal to dogs.

A Word or Two to Mummies (and Daddies)

Don’t wait until Halloween to teach children about safety. In the excitement of the costumes and anticipated sweet booty, your pint-sized pirates and princesses may forget instructions if given just minutes before departing. By talking with your children now, you can improve the odds of them remembering advice later. Try associating it with a holiday activity and repeat it often while preparing for the big day…or night.

For example, take a few minutes while…

  • Carving pumpkins to review the rules of stop, look and listen for crossing the street and stop, drop and roll in case a piece of clothing were to catch on fire.
  • Shopping for candy and costumes to talk with children about only going to houses they know with lights on and waiting to eat their candy until its been checked by an adult.
  • Decorating your home or lawn to go over important rules such as not hiding between cars or darting into the street.

Finally, now is the time to learn first aid and CPR. The Red Cross offers child and infant CPR classes that help caregivers recognize and care for breathing and cardiac emergencies in infants and children 12 and younger. Also learn to recognize the signs of choking and the proper steps to help them.

To learn more about Red Cross first aid and CPR/AED classes, visit the “Health and Safety” section of RedCross.org or contact your local American Red Cross chapter. For more information about fire prevention and safety, check out the “Get Prepared” section of RedCross.org.

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