25th October 2019

Don’t get a nasty scare this Halloween

CTSI and the Office for Product Safety and Standards have launched a campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers surrounding Halloween costumes.

By Richard Young
A Halloween costume could become the wrong kind of scary if it leaves someone with a permanent scar, either mentally or physically

Halloween is a big deal these days. Whereas in the past people might have been happy to just indulge in a bit of pumpkin-carving or apple-bobbing, it has become an annual festival of consumerism, a dry-run for Christmas a couple of months later, complete with its own foods, toys and costumes. And as with any situation where there is money to be made, Halloween can attract unscrupulous traders out to make a quick buck.

Perhaps because much of what is bought at Halloween is seen as disposable and ephemeral – novelty items that will have been discarded by the first week of November – there is a temptation on the part of consumers to go for the cheaper options, and on the part of certain manufacturers to cut corners. But it should be borne in mind that an item that is only intended to be used once or twice can, if things go wrong, cause injuries that could last a lifetime.

This is why the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) is working with the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) on a campaign to raise public awareness of the dangers surrounding Halloween costumes.

As Joint Lead Officer for Product Safety for CTSI Robert Chantry-Price points out, “There have been some horrific incidents over the years. A Halloween costume could become the wrong kind of scary if it leaves someone with a permanent scar, either mentally or physically.”

The campaign highlights the dangers of counterfeit or sub-standard costumes, particularly those for children, which can sometimes be highly flammable.

It is important that consumers are aware that any Halloween product they buy should meet safety standards. This means ensuring that any Halloween purchases are from legitimate, trusted sources and come complete with the appropriate safety labels.

Any costume or toy should display the CE mark, while all parts of a Halloween costume, including wigs and face masks, should be flame-retardant in accordance with EN71 part 2 – the safety standard for flammability of toys.

Some manufacturers go further than complying with the Toy Safety Directive; items sold in the UK by a member of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) are now likely to have been made to a higher standard of fire safety and are labelled with the words ‘This garment has undergone additional safety testing for flammability’.

Chantry-Price explains, “There are two new voluntary codes of practice introduced recently by the BRC which have even more rigorous flammability standards than the CE mark.

“These requirements, endorsed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), are in addition to the requirements of the Toy Safety Directive and are made available for anyone to use. Good news for anyone wearing a Halloween product made to these standards.

“Many British supermarkets have signed up to stocking Halloween products that conform to these new measures.”

Consumers shopping online are advised to buy from a website based in the UK, to ensure that the costume complies with domestic safety standards

Real-life horror

The dangers of flammable children’s Halloween costumes have been spoken about by the broadcaster Claudia Winkleman, whose eight-year-old daughter was badly burned when her witch costume caught fire after brushing against a candle in 2014. Winkleman told the BBC’s Watchdog programme “We couldn’t put her out. Her tights had melted into her skin. She went up, is the only way I know how to describe it. It was not like fire I had seen before.

“I would like parents on Halloween, just to think about what they’re going to put their kids in because I didn’t, and it cost us”.

Practical advice

Parents and carers are advised to:

  • Check that all Halloween and fancy dress costumes display a CE mark on the label
  • Keep costumes away from fire, lit candles and all other naked flames, which should never be left unattended
  • Ensure children are supervised at all times
  • If fireworks are part of your celebrations, follow the Firework Code
  • Be aware that homemade fancy dress costumes or those not tested to the same flammability standards may ignite easily and burn quicker
  • Ensure children are visible in the dark. Ideally, they should wear something reflective such as a reflective strip or glow stick and carry a torch

Chantry-Price says, “Consumers tend to focus on making sure their Halloween costume gives them an authentic look for a ‘trick-or-treating’ outing. But failing to consider safety standards can make for a frightening experience.”

Halloween can be a scary time – and not just because of ghosts, ghouls and things that go bump in the night. Make sure this Halloween, you and your loved ones don’t end up remembering it for the wrong reasons.

Downloadable resources to support this year’s Halloween costume safety campaign can be found here.

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