October 7, 2004 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Halloween activities are exciting and fun for children. However, the weather, darkness and excitement can create dangerous situations for them. As this ghoulish evening approaches, caregivers and parents should remind trick-or-treaters to follow safety guidelines.

Many children are injured on Halloween. Falls from tripping over unstable shoes or costumes that are too long are the leading cause of unintentional injuries. Other common causes include burns from flammable costumes, eye injuries from sharp objects, collisions with motor vehicles and poisonings and other injuries from tainted treats, according to Larry Piercy, Extension agricultural health and safety specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

Fortunately, many Halloween injuries are preventable, Piercy said. Parents can take simple precautions to ensure children's safety. Also, other adults and older youth should be aware of their role to protect children in their neighborhoods.
He gave these guidelines:

Children should not wear poorly fitted costumes such as baggy pants, long hems and oversized or high-heel shoes that could cause them to trip. Be sure masks, wigs and floppy hats do not impair children's vision so they can see where they are going and watch out for cars. Securely tie hats and scarves to keep them from slipping over children's eyes.

Face paint or makeup is an alternative to a Halloween mask. Buy non-toxic, hypo-allergenic products. Always follow label directions and do not decorate the face with products not intended for the skin. Even if face paint or other makeup has a picture of people wearing it near their eyes, the label may state that it should not be used near the eyes.

The Food and Drug Administration advises that people planning to decorate their skin with a product never used before first put a dab on an arm for a few days to check for an allergic reaction, before putting it on the face. This is especially good for people who tend to have allergies.

Remind children to walk, not run, from house to house and avoid crossing yards and lawns where unseen objects or uneven terrain could cause tripping hazards.

"Turn on porch and other exterior lights to help people see, and remove objects from the steps, porch and yard like tools, hoses, toys, bikes and ornaments that could create hazardous conditions," Piercy said. "Keep Jack O' lanterns out of children's way, especially those with lighted candles that could ignite children's costumes."

Look for a "Flame Resistant" label when buying costumes and accessories such as masks, beards and wigs. Fabrics such as 100-percent nylon, polyester or wool will resist burning and should extinguish quickly. To minimize contact with candles and other ignition sources, avoid costumes made from flimsy materials and outfits with big, baggy sleeves or billowing skirts.

Do not overload electrical outlets with special effects or lighting.

A recent addition to Halloween costumes is cosmetic contact lenses, such as those that give the appearance of scary cats' eyes. Improperly used cosmetic contact lenses can lead to serious eye complications.

To prevent problems with these lenses, Prevent Blindness America offers these guidelines. Visit a licensed eye-care professional to be fitted for cosmetic contact lenses.

Always clean and disinfect contact lenses according to instructions.

Be sure swords, knives, spears, wands and other sharp costume accessories are made of soft, flexible materials and have dulled edges and points. Also, avoid masks with sharp points to reduce the risk of eye injuries.

Also, do not give young children lollipops or similar treats because the sticks can cause eye injuries.

Children ages five through 14 are four times more likely to be involved in a pedestrian incident from 4 to 10 p.m. on Halloween than on other days of the year, according to an American Automobile Association analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.

To make children more visible to drivers, choose bright costumes, accessories and "treat bags," or decorate these with reflective tape or patches. Carrying a bright flashlight also will improve children's visibility.

Instruct children to use sidewalks rather than walking in the street and to cross streets only at the corner—never at mid-block or between parked cars. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.

Drivers should watch for children darting out between parked cars and walking on roadways, medians and curbs. Also, carefully enter and exit driveways and alleys.
Pin each child's name, address and phone number in a pocket of the costume. Also be sure children know their phone numbers and have coins for emergency calls. Always have an adult or older, responsible child accompany young children.

Instead of going out into neighborhoods, many children now "trick or treat" at schools, malls, churches or other community-sponsored events.

Teach children that tricks should never be a part of the Halloween tradition.
"Parents and caregivers can take a number of safety measures to prevent poisonings or injuries from tampered treats, or those that are not age-appropriate," said Sandra Bastin, UK Extension food and nutrition specialist.

"Children should never snack while out trick-or-treating," she said. "Giving them an early meal before they go out may help reduce the tendency to snack. Insist that they bring treats home for inspection before eating anything. Signs of tampering may include small pinholes in wrappers and torn or loose packages. Wash fruit and cut it open before allowing a child to eat it. When in doubt, throw the treat out."

Carefully inspect novelty items and toys given to children ages three and younger. Remove choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys.

"Since obesity is a growing problem among children—and adults—parents and caregivers may want to choose age-appropriate treats in lieu of candy and other sweet treats," Bastin said. "If you decide to give candy, choose low-sugar or sugar-free items."

Alternatives may include items for a brown-bag lunch or after-school snack such as peanut butter or cheese crackers, dried or canned fruit, puddings and string cheese or rollups. Others may include small festive note pads, stickers, unsharpened pencils, erasers, pens or coins. Be sure these pose no age-related hazard to children.

"To prevent stomach aches and arguments after children return home and you've safety checked their treats, discuss beforehand how many treats can be eaten Halloween night and stick to this amount," she said. "You can distribute the remaining treats in the following days and weeks, perhaps in school lunches or as after-supper snacks. Although this may sound harsh to children, they will be delighted when they still have treats and their friends' bags are empty."


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736 ext. 257
Sources: Larry Piercy 859-257-3000 ext. 107
Sandra Bastin 859-257-1812