Halloween Safety Tips From the Home Safety Council

Children wearing costumes on Halloween running in park

Meri-K Appy is President of the Washington, D.C.-based Home Safety Council (HSC). HSC is the only national organization solely dedicated to preventing unintentional home injuries. Accidents in and around the home are a huge problem in America. Each year nearly 20,000 people die and more than 21 million are injured in the very place we all want to feel safest - our homes. Young children and older adults are at greatest risk of many injury-related deaths. The good news is there is much we can do to prevent these tragedies.

Meri-K took the time to tell us how to keep our kids safe on Halloween.

Tell us a little about yourself

Through my career I've been lucky enough to appear on many national networks and programs, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, TODAY Show, CNN, Dateline NBC, the Early Show, Good Morning America and HGTV. I also enjoy communicating through online channels like LovetoKnow Kids. It's a great way to share life-saving information with the public.

How old should kids be before they are allowed to trick or treat by themselves?

The Home Safety Council recommends that all children under age 12 trick-or-treat with an adult since they may be walking at night and in unfamiliar territory. Even when children are 12 years old or older, it's a good idea for parents to sit down and go over all the rules with their kids before they go out unsupervised. Arm trick-or-treaters with a flashlight and remind them to stay on the sidewalks and away from traffic. Explain how hard it can be for drivers to see well as the sun goes down. Stay in touch with your kids via cell phone if you can. Only permit trick-or-treating at the homes of friends and neighbors you know well.

What tips should kids follow if they are trick or treating without an adult?

Talk with your children and their friends to work out the basic route they plan to follow. Find out the name of each child going with the group and make a list of cell phone numbers to call in case of an emergency. Also, parents should be sure the children are only traveling in familiar areas and along main roads. Establish a return time before the children leave to go trick-or-treating, so everyone knows the expected time to be home.

  • Let children know to only stop at houses or apartment buildings that are well-lit and to never enter a stranger's home.
  • Tell your children not to eat any treat until they return home and you've examined it.
  • Review appropriate pedestrian rules: walk only on sidewalks, not in the street, walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic if there are no sidewalks. Before crossing streets, look left-right-left again before starting across. Keep checking in both directions for cars that might appear out of nowhere. Use a flashlight as soon as the sun begins to set.
  • Make sure all children in the group carry an ID card that includes their name, address and emergency phone numbers (including area code), in case they get separated from the group.
  • Stress the importance of walking, not running, from house to house, especially after dark. Children should not cross yards and lawns where hidden objects can cause falling incidents.

Where do you recommend kids trick or treat?

Parents should only permit trick-or-treating at the homes of friends and neighbors they know well. You may even want to have your children start trick-or-treating while it's still light outside. Some communities have designated hours for trick-or-treating, which may include early hours for the youngest ones. If your kids have a cell phone, have them call you once or twice so you have an idea of their location. Keep a list of the other parents' phone numbers so you can touch base if the trick-or-treaters don't return home at the agreed-upon time.

What safety issues should parents consider when helping their kids choose a Halloween costume?

Whether choosing or creating a costume, be sure the costume is not too long and allows your child to move and walk easily. If the costume requires altering, sew or tape up a hem at the bottom or even use a belt to hold the costume up. Also, make sure the costume's eye holes are large enough for good peripheral vision to help keep your children safe.

  • Provide children with lightweight flashlights to carry for lighting or as part of their costume. A flashlight can light the way and signal drivers of his or her presence. Never carry candles, torches or other open flames as part of a costume.
  • Be sure that shoelaces are tied tight so they don't present a falling hazard. Pumpkins on neighbors' steps and porches can also trip kids up.
  • Make sure that if your child is carrying a prop, such as a sword, the tips are smooth and flexible enough that they won't cause injury if fallen on.
  • Choose costumes that are light, bright and clearly visible.
  • Decorating or trimming your child's costume with strips of retro-reflective tape (tape that shines the light source directly back to the source) could prevent an accident if your child should happen to slip away, even for just a few seconds.
  • When purchasing costumes and accessories, buy only those marked "flame retardant" or "flame resistant".
  • Avoid costumes made of long, flowing material and accessories that can move or blow over open flames.
  • Avoid costumes that block your child's vision and increase the risk of a fall.
  • To keep vision clear, consider using face paint instead of a mask.

What are some safety tips for inspecting candy?

Parents should examine all treats thoroughly to make sure that they are safe before allowing children to eat them. Throw away open treats or treats that are not in their original wrapping as well as homemade goodies from unknown sources.

  • Slice open fruit to check for foreign objects.
  • Contact the Poison Control Center Hotline if you believe your child has consumed anything hazardous. The national hotline number is 1-800-222-1222.
  • Notify local police of any suspicious candy.
  • Tell children to sit down when they eat and to take small bites.

Do you have any other issues, advice, or Web sites you'd like to share with our readers?

Halloween is a favorite holiday for many kids, but even the most festive and fun celebrations may lead to serious injuries in and around the home. No parent or child wants to trade a night of trick-or-treating for a trip to the emergency room, and active adult supervision is extremely important to keeping children safe. Serious injuries can and do occur during moments when parents and caregivers are not present and paying complete attention to their children.

Whether in your own home or a neighbor's, parents should be aware of any decorations that can pose fire, falling or choking hazards. Spooky decorations may pique your child's interest and make them want to explore, so make sure to keep decorations with small, loose parts out of young children's reach.

When decorating follow the safety tips below to avoid injuries:

  • While children can help with the fun of designing a pumpkin, leave the carving to adults. As an alternative, decorate pumpkins with markers, paint or stickers.
  • Do not use dry ice as a special effect as it can cause severe injury if eaten.
  • Consider fire safety when decorating. As a safe alternative to candles, use light sticks or flameless candles in your pumpkins, as candles can catch costumes on fire, or if knocked over, can cause a home fire. Sylvania offers a great product called DOT-It. These LED lights will stick to any clean surface and can easily be tapped on and off - making them another good alternative to candles.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets with holiday lighting or special effects, and do not block exit doors.
  • Make sure the path to your door is well lighted and your lawn is clear of things that could be tripped over, such as pumpkins, ladders, garden hoses, flowerpots, bikes and animal leashes.
  • Only burn candles when an adult is in the room and paying attention. Put them in a place that is well out of the reach of children. Blow the candles out when adults leave the room or go to sleep. If you have children in your home, store candles, and especially matches and lighters out of their sight and reach in a locked cabinet.
  • Before using a ladder outdoors to decorate for Halloween, choose a location that is well away from all power lines. Coming in contact with live wires can be fatal.
  • Use the 4-to-1 rule for extension ladders: for each 4 feet of distance between the ground and the upper point of contact (such as the wall or roof), move the base of the ladder out 1 foot.
  • Always face the ladder when climbing and wear slip-resistant shoes, such as those with rubber soles.
  • Keep your body centered on the ladder and gauge your safety by your belt buckle. If your buckle passes beyond the ladder rail, you are overreaching and at risk for falling.
  • When standing on a ladder, maintain 3 points of contact: your two feet on the rung, and one hand on the handle or side of the ladder to keep you balanced.
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Halloween Safety Tips From the Home Safety Council