As Halloween approaches, registered nurse Donna Bucciarelli from Safety City U.S.A. and Beaumont Children's Hospital in Royal Oak is offering some practical safety tips for parents and their children.
“There are just so many things that the trick-or-treaters can do to protect themselves, and things homeowners can do, too," Bucciarelli said.
Here's how to keep your family safe this Halloween.
Carve the pumpkin (not your hand)
“For many, the observance of Halloween begins with pumpkin carving," said Bucciarelli, trauma prevention coordinator and Safety City U.S.A. education program manager. "Never let your children help in carving or cutting your pumpkins. Instead, encourage them to draw the face on the pumpkin with crayon or marker. They can also help remove the seeds inside the of pumpkin.”
She added, "We don’t let our kids use knives any other time of the year, so this shouldn’t be any different."
Bucciarelli said cuts are the most prevalent injury seen in Beaumont's Emergency Rooms in the days leading up to Halloween, "because that's being done a day or two before."
To help prevent injuries while carving, Bucciarelli said it is wise to invest in a pre-packaged tool set specifically meant for carving pumpkins.
“Those will still give you a good gash, but it’s not going to be the same deep injury as a sharp metal edge. It’s a lot cheaper to invest in a Halloween carving kit than to end up in the Emergency Room and need a handful of stitches.”
Bucciarelli said the packaging some costumes and accessories come in can also pose a danger, and she recommends being extra careful when removing new items from packaging.
Be safe on the streets
On Halloween itself, Bucciarelli said the most common injuries result from tripping and falling while walking from home to home, especially at dusk when kids' eyes are adjusting to the diminishing daylight.
Homeowners should roll up any hoses or other hazards that may be present in their yards and illuminate the walkway, if possible.
Taking care in placing Halloween decorations can also help prevent trips and falls as trick-or-treaters go door to door.
Less common – but far more dangerous – are car vs. pedestrian injuries.
"Cars always win," Bucciarelli said, adding that these accidents "usually occur mid-street, not at a crosswalk."
According to AAA Michigan, the risk of becoming a pedestrian fatality increases four times on Halloween. It’s important that parent and kids be seen at dusk and dark.
Bucciarelli suggests always crossing the street at the corner, even if it means ignoring enticing homes across the street and passing darkened houses that are not giving out candy.
She also suggests kids wear reflective tape on the front and back of their costumes, carry a flashlight or glow sticks, wear a clip-on strobe light or find other ways to make themselves highly visible while walking between houses and across streets.
Talk before you walk
"Parents ... need to discuss possible fire hazards with their children," Bucciarelli said. "This is especially important with the popularity of Halloween luminaries lining some sidewalks. Children need to be told to stay away from open flames. Review with your child the principles of 'Stop, Drop and Roll.'"
Purchasing costumes that are flame resistant or flame retardant is highly suggested, Bucciarelli said.
Using LED tea lights, which are usually less than $1 each, in pumpkins and luminaries can also prevent fires.
If that is not possible, Bucciarelli suggests using small tea lights instead of bigger candles.
"They’re encased in a clear plastic or metal material so the wax isn’t going to escape," she said. "Otherwise, the flame will follow the wax because the wax is the fuel.”
Bucciarelli also encourages parents to speak to their kids about strangers.
"I think that’s the thing about Halloween – you really do get caught up in the festivity of it, and kids’ guards are a little bit down," she said. "Tell your kids, don’t go into houses, don’t get into someone else’s car if they offer a ride."
Bucciarelli added: "I think kids should stay in neighborhoods they’re familiar with, where they know people, so they have a quick way of finding a house they feel safe at. If you go into an unfamiliar neighborhood, then you’re all alone."
Inspect the "loot"
When it’s finally time to size up the prize, children need adult supervision to inspect their goodie bags and make sure the treats are safe.
Parents need to pitch any unwrapped or suspicious foods.
She also suggests abiding by the old adage, "When in doubt, throw it out." "Anything that’s open, you have no idea," Bucciarelli said. "It could be dirty. Things are sealed for a reason. I’ve made it a habit in our house that anything that’s just a twist and open, those get thrown away. It should be factory sealed.”
She also suggested that parents of younger children go through their candy to make sure it is age-appropriate and won't pose a choking hazard.
"Be careful with little ones – kids under 4 – with the size of candies. Especially really little kids, 2-3 years old. Halloween candy is that perfect choking size. Even Skittles – things like that can easily cause problems."
To help keep kids from eating candy before you can inspect it – and to give them the fuel to walk up to several miles – Bucciarelli suggests feeding your kids a high-protein, high-carb, filling meal before they head out.
Keep pets safe
Often overlooked on Halloween are pets, Bucciarelli said.
"As excited as kids are, and with all that’s going on, pets feel that – they sense that. A lot of pets, dogs especially, can be pretty protective. They’re protecting their home.
"With this rush of kids that look crazy, and the door is opening and closing, they get a little agitated and they might act differently than they normally would, and that might include biting.”
Bucciarelli suggested crating your pets during trick-or-treating hours, or confining them to a closed room elsewhere in the house.
"Their instinct is to often protect their owner," she said. "It’s usually the dogs whom you’d least expect it from. It’s all that extra energy and excitement and activity that they may not be comfortable with.”
Send young kids out with a trusted adult Bucciarelli said that, while it may be tempting to allow your older children to take your younger children trick-or-treating, it is always best to have a parent or trusted adult accompany younger children instead of relying on an older child.
"If your child’s young, you have to go out with them," Bucciarelli said. "Some parents think their older kids can take their older kids, and that might be all well and good, but kids are still kids, and it just takes that moment of not looking."
She added that older kids' main agenda on Halloween is usually to get candy, "and they might accidentally not be as attentive" to a younger child.
“We’re pretty busy at Beaumont without the extra influx of things that go on on Halloween," Bucciarelli said. "Nobody plans on an accident. We don’t want to see the extra stuff that comes in that can absolutely be prevented.”
About Safety City U.S.A.
Safety City U.S.A. is the first nonprofit injury prevention/safety education center in Michigan. It is a program of the Level I Trauma Center at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak and Beaumont Children’s Hospital. The emphasis is on “hands-on” safety education to reduce injuries and save lives among children, teens, parents and seniors in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties. Safety City U.S.A. is supported by donations from Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and is located in the Northwood Shopping Center in Royal Oak.
The center includes replicas of a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, family room and an indoor park setting. For more safety information and tips, visit the Safety City U.S.A. website.