Keeping your children safe on Halloween

Kya deLongchamps shows us how to keep precious little spectres safe and sound without being fun-killing monsters

IT’S Halloween. For young children dressed up in ghoulish character and with the standard limits magically obliterated, this is a thrilling night of barely contained excitement. Flocking with a quivering pack of pals in unfamiliar, shadowy surroundings — attention to the rules is vital, even if it means restricting their freedom.

Costume safety:

Most commercial costumes are made in synthetic, flammable materials. With generous yards for bat wings, petticoats and often at ankle length, they can get caught up in obstacles, trip a child and flow out and into any open flame.

Maurice Buckley, CEO, NSAI says: “Labels on Halloween costumes, such as the CE mark and the flame resistant label (EN-71-2), show that the manufacturer has complied with national and international standards. The label doesn’t mean that these items won’t catch fire, but it does indicate that they will resist burning and they should extinguish quickly once you get them away from the fire source.’”

Be aware, that flammability standard applied to fancy dress costumes is for toys, not for everyday clothing. The fire safety rating EN-71-2 is lower, and consequently a costume may go up in flames more quickly.

No child should be anywhere near a candle, tea-light or real flame fire that is not completely contained. Lanterns can become hot enough to scald. Votives inside pumpkins turned face out, are relatively safe compared to other real flame decorations. Paper lanterns on the ground or hung in trees can be hazardous for hair and outfits. Battery powered LEDs and chemical sticks are safer options.

If the child is wearing a longer wig, be aware of where it is relative to heat sources, and warn them to do the same when visiting friends’ homes.

Many children and their parents will walk around roads after dark, so opt for bright colours and include stripes of reflective material into the design. Hem shop-bought costumes to the correct length for the child at the sleeve and skirt. Check the labelling on make-up as sensitive skin may not tolerate chemical heavy ingredients.

Bernadette Carr, medical director at the VHI says: “I would avoid masks. Instead of obstructing a child’s vision, it’s easier, (and safer) to use non-toxic face makeup”.

Don’t let children bring anything that could injure another child, including long pointed sticks, devils forks, solid swords, blades or authentic looking weapons of any kind.

On the prowl:

Keep to a trick-or- treat ground you know and accompany younger children, even if it’s walking in a group of adults divided to the front and rear of the gaggle of children. Everyone should have a torch if not in a well-lit estate (no laser lights- which can damage eyes if misused).

Walk, don’t run, and ensure children know they are not to disappear into the ether even as a joke. It’s easy to mislay a little vampire with 10-12 identical outfits.

Give appropriate instructions in case someone gets separated from the group. Stay on the pavements, and in rural areas be extremely careful when walking on any unlit roads.

If older children are going out unaccompanied, appoint a leader and reiterate the rules. Remind children and even teens to stay on the streets they know and to only knock on doors where the house is lit (this is generally accepted as an invitation to call). A fully charged mobile phone is a good idea in these circumstances with emergency contact numbers plumbed into the speed dial.

Don’t enter the house of anyone but close friends and family sanctioned by parents — stay in the group on the step. Don’t throw flour, frighten or perform any ‘prank’ on householders. Not only can this seriously annoy but you may unwittingly upset or injure. If children feel uncomfortable (being followed or harassed), ensure they can contact a designated responsible adult who can reach the group in a very short time.

Fireworks and bonfires:

The Irish Fire Safety and Emergency Service Association are all too familiar with the unexpected dangers of the Eve of All Hallows, and point out that even ‘sparklers are far from harmless fun’. Fireworks (category 2) are illegal in Ireland, but every year children aged five to 14 are the most frequently injured in firework-related accidents. Misuse rather than malfunction is usually to blame.

The association reiterates the need for close adult supervision of all fireworks activities. Those sparklers from the bargain store can burn at 650°C and can ignite clothing. Bangers are illegal and packed with explosive, the most notorious for their short fuse being the Chinese-made, Black Cat. The potential in a child’s hand is horrifying.

The Garda put the word out every year about the dangers of stockpiling materials for bonfires. Still, the primal draw continues with festival burns concentrated in the capital with a lethal inclusion of dioxin-laden fuel.

David King, senior executive fire prevention officer with the Cork Fire Brigade, says that most of their troubles surround the bonfire traditions of June 23, but in a Twitter feed, the Dublin Brigade reported over 161 bonfires in the city on Halloween last year. These out-of-control burning piles often include spontaneous flare-ups, spreading sherds of burning debris for several metres.

Why not take the family to a legal firework event? Check out familyfun.ie, mykidstime.ie and your local newspaper will give details for all ages around the great night of Samhain.

* Dr Carr adds a final note of caution: “Choking is a very common hazard among children and eating sweets on the move could be a recipe for disaster. Parents should inspect the sweets so that any sweets not wrapped in their original wrapper or marble sized sweets are not given to children.” n Trick or Treat for Temple Street — invites you to hold a hair-raising party at home, in the workplace, school, creche or pub and raise funds for the hospital. www.templestreet.ie


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