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A safe, happy and healthy Halloween

By Roberta Tolan
SUN Columnist

On Nov. 2, 2012, Liz Haynes, Extension Director for Archuleta County, passed away. Liz was an exceptional person, professional and mother, and made many contributions in her short time here in Archuleta County.  In her honor, here is a portion of the article she wrote prior to her death.

Have fun, stay safe on Halloween

Halloween is an exciting holiday for school-aged kids and many of us kids at heart!  Children enjoy picking out their costume, making special treats, picking out a pumpkin, carving a Jack-o-lantern, attending Halloween parties and trick-or-treating.  When we wait all month for this special day to arrive, we want to make sure the festivities are fun for everyone involved.  Having a safe Halloween will help make cherished memories for both you and your children.

Halloween is likely to rank high on most kids’ list of favorite holidays, but their anticipation and excitement can make them vulnerable to injuries and accidents during Halloween celebrations.  Halloween-related incidents can involve a number of hazards, including burns from flammable costumes that come into contact with open flames (particularly candles used to illuminate jack-o-lanterns); falls and abrasions from ill-fitting costumes, shoes and accessories; and fires caused by burning candles left unattended, near combustible decorations or knocked over by kids and pets.

The following safety precautions have been suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association:

All Dressed Up

• Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes (including robes, capes and gowns) are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.

• Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes, especially if colors are dark, for greater visibility at night by motorists.

• Be more visible by carrying candy in a white or brightly-colored bag. Alternatively, put reflective tape on the bag.

• When making a costume at home, use fabrics that inherently are flame resistant, such as nylon and polyester.

• If a costume requires a mask or other face covering, you should be able to see clearly and breathe easily at all times. Unless the mask is clipped to your hair or costume, take it off when walking between houses.

• Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives.

• Read the packaging before using any makeup, and follow the application instructions carefully. Be especially careful when applying makeup near eyes.

• Do not leave any makeup on overnight. Follow the removal instructions carefully and use the recommended products. Again, be careful when cleaning the area around eyes.

• Wigs and accessories should clearly indicate they are flame resistant. Make sure that scarves, sashes, and hats are worn securely and do not block vision.

• If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child’s costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.

• Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.

• Teach children how to call 911 (or their local emergency number) if they have an emergency or become lost.

Jack-o-lantern safety

• The safest Jack-o-lanterns are those with painted faces.  Kids can use markers, paint, and even glue on embellishments to create a fun or scary pumpkin design.

• Kids under the age of 14 should not do the actual carving or cutting. Have your child draw their design on the pumpkin, but let an adult carve it to avoid accidental lacerations and puncture wounds to the hands and fingers.

• Use special pumpkin carving tools instead of kitchen knives. Pumpkin carving kits are easy to find in most stores in the weeks before Halloween. These tools are usually smaller, less sharp, and easier to control than a kitchen knife and less likely to cause a laceration or puncture wound. Make sure to use a well-lit, stable, dry surface to work on. Keep hands and tools clean and dry to minimize slips.

• Votive candles are the safest type of candle to use in a carved pumpkin.

• Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.

• If you do put candles in pumpkins or paper bags, set them back from the walkway so that long costumes will not fall into the flames.

• Battery-operated flameless candles and other flameless lighting are safe alternatives to traditional candles.  This reduces the chances of decorations catching fire.

Decorating a safe home

• To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and yard anything a child could trip over, such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.

• Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.

• To create a spooky atmosphere, use colored light bulbs or theatrical gels to change the color of your porch light. Do not use plastic wrap because it could melt or cause a fire. If you use cloth, do not drape it over the bulb, and make sure that it is not touching the bulb at all.

• Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.  Also, keep pets and children away from candle lit jack-o-lanterns or luminaries.

This story was posted on October 24, 2013.