Halloween costumes: be aware of safety risks

Experts warn that safety legislation on costumes hasn't improved much since Claudia Winkleman's daughter's terrifying 2014 accident...

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If you’re planning a family Halloween dress-up, do keep your children safe by remembering that some children’s costumes aren’t fire-safe.

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That’s the latest warning from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) and product watchdog Which?, after their 2018 flammability test revealed a costume from B&M did not meet EU and other important standards…

Why is there concern about fire safety and fancy dress?

Children’s fancy dress outfits still aren’t required to meet the same safety standards as other children’s clothes.

Essentially, this means some of the costumes you can buy in shops, supermarkets and online could very quickly go up in flames if they touch a candle, sparkler or naked light. 

Despite campaigns – and the horrific, high-profile story of Claudia Winkleman’s daughter’s shop-bought fancy-dress outfit catching on fire back in 2014 – fancy dress outfits are still classed as toys under British Toy Safety Regulations.

“This means they are less fire resistant than children’s night clothes, and also assume a child is able to move away from or drop a burning toy,” says the NFCC. 

Indeed, B&M have now recalled a werewolf costume and mask after Which? found it failed their flammability test. Fortunately, 18 out of the 20 costumes they tested, found on eBay, Wilko and ASDA among others, passed.

Will the law on fancy dress costume classifications change?

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The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has introduced more stringent flammability tests and labelling for these types of fancy dress costumes, since 2017.

The tests and labelling were endorsed by NFCC (and still are), as well as other prominent organisations like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) and the Children’s Burns Trust.

Many reputable high street retailers and children’s costume manufacturers in the UK signed up to this more robust voluntary code.

(In Which?’s 2018 test, most costumes met this standard, bar one costume from Rubies, an unbranded outfit bought on eBay, and another from B&M.)

Rick Hylton, NFCC Home Safety Lead, also notes: “Although instances of these costumes catching fire are rare, when they do take place the injuries sustained can be catastrophic.

“This is why NFCC want to see improvements to regulations and why we continue to work with Fire and Rescue Service across the UK to encourage people not to use naked flames especially near children.

“NFCC would like to see BRC’s voluntary code acting as a benchmark for legislation so both the fabric and construction of these items are as safe as possible.”

How to buy a safe Halloween costume – fire safety tips

  • Only buy costumes from reputable retailers: very cheaply made Halloween costumes are more likely to catch fire mere seconds after exposure to a naked flame.
  • Keep in mind which outlets we know adhere to BRC’s code of practice, like Aldi, ASDA, Boots, Home Retail Group, John Lewis, Morrisons, Next, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Co-Op, Disney Store, Waitrose and Wilko.
  • Look out for the CE marking (EN71-2) on any costume you buy
  • “You may wish to also look for swing labels which indicate the costume has undergone BRC’s additional tests,” adds the NFCC.
  • “Wear clothes under dressing up costumes, as this means there is a layer of protection between the costume and your skin which can help protect the skin in the event of a fire incident.”
  • Use LED lights rather than real candles.
  • Make sure you child knows how to ‘stop, drop and roll’ – the quickest and safest thing to do if the costume you’re wearing does catch light.
Images: Stock image used

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