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Surviving the holiday season: Safety tips for Halloween and Christmas

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Surviving the holiday season: Safety tips for Halloween and Christmas

With the weather warming up and the silly season approaching, it’s important to guard against overexuberance and overindulgence that could put you or your loved ones in hospital, or worse.

Follows are some tips to keep you and your family safe and well during Halloween (October 31) and the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Halloween safety

Many Australians are either indifferent or hostile to Halloween, considered by some to be an unwelcome American import.

But those hoping it’s a passing fad will be disappointed: In recent years, the popularity of the celebration, held annually on October 31, has grown.

Even though ghouls and pumpkins don’t hold any cultural significance for the average Australian, Halloween is capturing the imaginations of an increasing number of kids across the country.

With Halloween destined to remain on our social calendars, how can parents keep their children (and their neighbours’ children) safe as they go around the ‘burbs ‘trick or treating’?

Dressing up

Children should wear non-toxic or hypoallergenic face paint or makeup instead of masks during Halloween.

Dressing up in spooky or fantastical costumes is part and parcel of Halloween. While it’s fun to let your imagination run wild when designing or selecting a costume, the material and fit need careful consideration.

  • Choose costumes with flame-resistant fabrics (e.g. polyester or nylon) and bright colours or reflective materials that can be easily picked up by motorists on dimly lit or unlit streets.
  • Wear non-toxic or hypoallergenic face paint or makeup and hats instead of masks, which if ill-fitting can obscure a child’s vision; and outfits and shoes that allow the child to move freely and comfortably.
  • As popular as they are among the zombie set, decorative contact lenses should only be used with the approval of an optometrist. Used inappropriately, these lenses can cause serious eye infections and disorders.
  • Accessories like wands and swords should be short and flexible, to avoid injuring the child wielding it or bystanders.

Walking the streets

One of the biggest dangers during Halloween is suburban traffic. While there are no figures for Australia, in the US children aged five to 14 are four times more likely to be hit and killed by a car on this day than any other.

  • Before they set out, make sure the children ‘trick or treating’ are armed with a torch and mobile phone and know how to call home if they get lost or 000 in an emergency.
  • The children should stick to familiar neighbourhoods and be accompanied by a trusted, responsible person, ideally an adult. If older children are going alone, agree on the route they’ll take and the time they’ll return home.
  • Kids should walk – not run or ride their bikes or skateboards – from door to door, stay on footpaths as much as possible, and make sure they take care when crossing roads. If they’re forced to walk along a road, they should walk single file on the right-hand side, facing the oncoming traffic.
  • If you’re driving around your neighbourhood on the night of October 31, slow down and keep an eye out for excited and distracted children.

Knocking on doors

During Halloween, children should knock on the doors or ring the doorbells only of houses that are well-lit and welcoming.

It goes without saying that there are inherent risks in children visiting multiple strangers’ houses. It therefore behoves parents to make sure their children take the necessary precautions to stay safe.

If trick-or-treating children are invited into someone’s house, they should politely decline and remain at the front door

  • Knock on the doors or ring the doorbells only of houses that are well-lit and welcoming. If the house is shrouded in darkness or there’s not sign of activity, skip it and move on to the next one.
  • Look out for posters on people’s doors stating whether or not they welcome trick-or-treaters, or don’t wish to be disturbed.
  • If the occupant of the home selects a trick instead of a treat, make sure the tricks the children have in mind, if any, won’t cause distress, fear, harm or damage in any way.
  • If children are invited to enter a person’s home – while the occupant finds a treat, say – they should politely decline and remain at the front door.
  • Coach the children on how to respond respectfully to any grumpy or rude responses they receive from householders.
  • Children should never accept lifts from strangers or take short cuts through backyards, alleyways, and parks.
  • If you’re going to be welcoming trick-or-treaters, clear your pathways of things trick-or-treaters visiting your home could trip over (e.g. a hosepipe or bicycle); turn on outside lights to create a safe and welcoming environment; keep any nervous or aggressive pets locked up.

Collecting treats

Check the treats children receive on Halloween and throw away spoiled, unwrapped or otherwise suspicious items.

If a stranger came up to you in the street and offered you a homemade muffin, would you eat it? Probably not. Which is just one reason you should pay close attention to the children’s hoard of treats.

  • Tell the children to bring their treats home so they can be checked by an adult before being eaten. (Get the children to have a light snack before venturing out to curb the urge to fill up on lollies.)
  • Check the treats and throw away spoiled, unwrapped or otherwise suspicious items, including any that appear to have been tampered with.
  • If there are small children in the trick-or-treat party, watch out for and remove choking hazards.
  • Ration the treats for the days following Halloween and encourage your children to drink water and brush their teeth to avoid decay.
  • If you’re visited by trick-or-treaters, don’t offer homemade food; and consider handing out healthy commercial products that are free of preservatives and artificial colours and flavours, or non-food treats such as pens and stickers.

Carving pumpkins

Halloween pumpkins can be safely illuminated using glowsticks or battery-powered candles.

Pumpkins have tough skins, so it takes a lot of work to get into them. Since it takes less force to cut a person than a pumpkin (surprise, surprise), a cautious approach is required.

  • Children will want to help carve the Halloween pumpkins (also known as jack-o’-lanterns). Let them draw the outlines of the eyes and mouth with a black marker before giving the carving duties to an adult. Find out how to carve a pumpkin
  • Consider illuminating the inside of the pumpkin using glowsticks or battery-powered candles instead of the real thing.
  • Place any candlelit pumpkins on a solid table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and keep an eye on them.

Christmas safety

It’s one of life’s paradoxes that, during the Christmas and New Year holidays, when we’re relaxing and having fun in the bosom of our families, the risk of accidents and injuries increases.

Though we’re off work and school-related duties, we get busy and stressed shopping and attending social engagements; we’re confronted with more road congestion; we tend to eat and drink to excess; and we’re more exposed to the dangers lurking in our homes.

While any one of these things in isolation might not be noteworthy, in combination they can set us up for a fall – literally and figuratively.

Climbing ladders

When using a ladder to install Christmas lights, place the bottom of it 0.3 metres away from the wall for every 1.2 metres of rise.

Falls from ladders, tables and other raised services are more prevalent during Christmas, when householders put up lights and decorations. These falls can result in lacerations and broken bones or, worse, serious head injuries.

  • Avoid using furniture and tables to stand on, as they’re not designed for that – use a step stool or ladder instead, according to the height you need to reach.
  • Before using the ladder, making sure it’s structurally sound, its rungs are clean and dry, and it’s set up on a firm and level piece of flooring or ground.
  • Place the bottom of the ladder 0.3 metres away from the wall for every 1.2 metres that it rises up the wall.
  • Wear footwear with good grip and move slowly and carefully up and down the ladder.
  • Don’t drink and decorate as alcohol impairs your motor skills and increases your risk of falling.

Buying presents

You can screen Christmas presents using the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s DIY choke check safety tool.

Christmas presents are designed to bring children excitement and joy, but be careful the presents they receive don’t end in tears and heartache – for them or their loved ones. For the wrong present in the wrong hands can spell disaster.

Be careful the small, coin-sized lithium batteries that may come with older children’s toys don’t end up in the hands – and mouths – of younger children

  • Visit Product Safety Australia’s Recalls web page to check the products you buy your family and friends for Christmas have not been recalled.
  • Choose age-appropriate presents for children, especially items with small, removable parts or strings that could strangle, suffocate or choke a young child. Read the packaging to be sure.
  • Be careful the small, coin-sized lithium batteries that may come with older children’s toys don’t end up in the hands – and mouths – of younger children; if swallowed, they can burn through a child’s oesophagus.
  • If you’re unsure whether an object is a choking hazard, download the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s DIY choke check safety tool.

Drinking alcohol

The federal health department recommends you drink no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion.

Christmas and New Year sees a spike in work lunches, family get-togethers and late-night parties. By drinking in moderation you will avoid a whole host of complications that overindulgence can cause, including family arguments, falls and car accidents.

  • If you’re a teetotaller, you won’t need to worry. But if you do indulge, the Australian Government’s Department of Health recommends you drink no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion (pour your own drinks to keep track).
  • Eat before, and while, you are drinking.
  • Consider drinking low-alcohol beverages, alternating alcoholic with non-alcoholic drinks or switching to water (which will keep you hydrated).
  • Resist the temptation to drink every day of the holidays: Even if you drink responsibly, it sends a message to impressionable children that alcohol is a necessary part of everyday life.

Installing lights

Christmas lights that are faulty or incorrectly installed can cause a house fire.

Many fires are triggered by some failure or malfunction in an appliance or a piece of equipment, including Christmas lights that are faulty or incorrectly installed.

  • Before buying Christmas lights, visit the federal government’s product safety recalls website.
  • At the store, check the lights have an Australian Approval number such as Q12345, V01294 or N12345.
  • Add a safety switch to your switchboard: If the switch detects a power imbalance associated with an electric shock, it will stop the flow of current in less than a heartbeat, potentially saving a life.
  • If you plan your house being visible from outer space, consider getting additional outdoor power points installed rather than overloading existing circuits.
  • Make sure artificial Christmas trees and the decorations you adorn it with are flame-resistant.
  • Turn off your Christmas lights when you’re not home, to avoid them shorting out and causing a fire.

Hitting the road

If you're going on a long road trip during the Christmas and New year holidays, take frequent breaks during your journey (about 15 minutes every two hours).

Australia’s road toll invariably spikes during the Christmas and New Year holidays, when traffic volumes increase dramatically and people travel longer distances on unfamiliar roads, sometimes while fatigued and/or speeding.

  • Ensure you’re well rested before going on a long road trip, give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, and take frequent breaks during your journey (about 15 minutes every two hours).
  • Avoid driving at odd hours of the morning or night, when you would normally be asleep – you may have less traffic to contend with, but you’re at higher risk of having dangerous micro-sleeps at the wheel.
  • Stick to the speed limit. Not only will this reduce your risk of having an accident, depending on the state you live in you’ll also avoid getting slugged double the usual demerit points for holiday-season traffic infringements.
  • It goes without saying that you should not drink and drive. If you’re going to a party, catch a cab or carpool with friends and decide who’s going to be the designated driver.
  • Before going on long road trips, check your fluids, lights and tyres or even consider getting your car serviced; and check any trailer and caravan attachments are secure.