Which? warns parents to be wary this Halloween, as a snapshot investigation has found some children’s costumes fail to meet fire safety testing standards.
The consumer champion tested a selection of 20 children’s dress-up outfits bought from a range of online and high street retailers, including Asda, Sainsbury’s, B&M, Wilko, Amazon and Ebay, and assessed their flammability against current safety standards, including the British standard and a more robust voluntary code of practice.
Two of the Halloween costumes that Which? tested failed the current legal requirements when the headpieces of the outfits ignited and burned too quickly; this included the mask of a werewolf costume from high street retailer B&M, and the strap of a horned headpiece on a Maleficent costume, purchased from eBay.
Which? tested all of the fabrics and materials that make up the different components of each costume and found that some outfits failed the current British standard because part of the costumes burned more quickly than the current safety requirements allow.
Halloween costumes and fancy dress outfits are currently classified as ‘toys’ under current British Toy Safety Regulations. This means that they are put through much more stringent testing than normal everyday clothing. But Which? is concerned that costumes that pass the legal requirement could still be a fire risk.Open flames inside pumpkins, candles and bonfires around Halloween could all pose a big threat if any of the material on the costume clothing caught fire and a child could suffer burns with horrific consequences if the material melted to their skin.
Which? also assessed the children’s fancy dress costumes against a more robust code of practice initiated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC). This is a voluntary guideline that retailers and manufacturers can choose to adhere to as part of a tougher testing initiative on top of the current legal requirements.
The BRC initiative was started after an accident involving TV presenter Claudia Winkleman’s daughter Matilda in 2014, who was left with severe burns after her Halloween costume caught fire, exposed the need for more “robust” flammability testing.
The stricter BRC code of practice requires that fancy dress costumes will have a maximum burn rate of 10mm per second, rather than the 30mm per second standard that retailers have to abide to by law.
Fancy dress costumes that subscribe to this higher code of practice sometimes have additional labelling or wording stating that the garment has undergone further flammability testing.
Which? is now calling for all retailers and manufacturers to abide to the BRC guidelines so that parents are not left in the dark about their children’s safety when buying Halloween costumes.
In Which?’s testing, three more children’s costumes passed the 30mm per second burn rate in the Toy Safety standard but failed to meet the more stringent BRC safety requirements.
These included the satin part of the skirt of both a Skull Witch outfit from B&M and an unbranded witch outfit bought on Ebay, as well as the seam of a Ghostbusters outfit by Rubie’s, stocked on Amazon.
Even though these outfits pass the legal requirements when Which? tested the seams and linings of these costumes they were found to be much more likely to catch fire and burn at a quicker rate than the outfits that passed both tests.
Following this Which? investigation, Ebay, Amazon and B&M have removed the items that failed the legal fire safety requirements from sale. However, parents should watch out for these costumes being stocked elsewhere.
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Services, said:
“We were shocked to find Halloween costumes that claimed to pass the legal British safety requirement actually failed our flammability testing. While these have now been recalled, we are advising parents to watch out for these costumes being stocked elsewhere.
“Manufacturers and retailers have a moral responsibility to adopt the BRC code as a standard so that parents and families can have more confidence in what they are buying.”
Jeremy James, Group Manager Protection at Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said:
“We want to ensure that those who enjoy celebrating Halloween are able to do so safely. You should only buy fancy dress costumes from reputable retailers and always check the label – clothing will always burn if in contact with naked flames.
“Instead of using candles to decorate a pumpkin, why not choose battery-powered LED tea lights. These are much safer and reduce the risk of burns, which can last a lifetime.
“If you do still find yourself in a situation where yours or a child’s clothes are caught on fire, remember to stop, drop and roll until the fire is out, then cool, call and cover. Cool the burn with running cold tap water for 20 minutes and remove all clothing and jewellery from the area (unless it is melted or firmly stuck to the wound), call for help, and cover the burn with cling film or a sterile, non-fluffy dressing or cloth.”
Notes to Editors:
|Purchased from||Model||Price||Ages available||BS EN 71-2*||BRC code of practice**|
|Asda||Harry Potter – Harry||£15||5-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|Asda||Harry Potter – Hermione||£15||5-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|Sainsbury’s||TU Unicorn with wig||£13||3-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|Sainsbury’s||TU Clown with mask||£12||3-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|Sainsbury’s||TU Purple vampire||£12||3-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|Wilko||Devil dress||£10||5-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|*B&M||Skull witch||£9.99||8-10 years||Yes||No|
|Ebay||Smiffy’s Zombie prisoner||£8.99||4-13 years||Yes||Yes|
|Ebay||Smiffy’s Bat wings||£6.99||4-12 years||Yes||Yes|
|*Amazon||Rubie’s Ghost busters||£19.98||3-10 years||Yes||No|
|Amazon||Christy’s Girls Lil Witch||£9.36||4-10 years||Yes||Yes|
|Ebay||Grim reaper (unbranded)||£6.99||3-13 years||Yes||Yes|
*EN 71-2 is the British standard that covers toys. If an item of fancy dress clothing fails to meet the requirements of this standard, it should not be on sale.
**BRC code of practice: It has had additional testing carried out on the main clothing parts of the outfit. The BRC code does not require testing of any head masks or accessories.
***The mask of this costume failed the British standard. The mask isn’t subject to the extra BRC guidelines. Hence this costume adhered to the BRC guidelines.
What retailers told Which?
B&M was asked to provide an answer regarding the werewolf costume, Amazon and Ebay were approached about the Maleficent costume.
- B&M said that the werewolf outfit has already been recalled and that it’s accepting returns, refunds and exchanges.
- Ebay said that the listing featuring the Maleficent costume has now been removed and it has reached out to the seller to ensure that they contact all buyers regarding this issue and to offer them a full refund. Ebay has said it will be keeping an eye out for any listings which are believed to be the same item, and stated: ‘The safety of our customers is our number one priority and we work closely with trading standards to keep our marketplace safe. We have removed this item and will continue to monitor any listings.’
- Amazon said ‘Customer safety is our highest priority. Third-party sellers are required to comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale on Amazon. When sellers don’t comply with our terms, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers. The product in question is no longer available.
British Toy Safety Standard and EN71-2
- Toy regulations in the UK are governed by a Europe-wide toy safety standard EN71-2 which governs the safety of all toys sold in the UK and within the European Union.
- EN71 covers the safety standards for all toys for children up to the age of 14 – products that are not intended as toys but look like toys (e.g fancy dress costumes) are still included under the directive. It also divides toy suitability into age ranges and warnings for toys that are unsuitable for children under three. The legislation is in six parts and covers aspects of safety that include flammability, toxicity and safety marking.
The British Retail Consortium’s Code of Practice
- The British Retail Consortium (BRC) introduced two voluntary codes of practice guidelines in 2014; this includes testing as well as labelling. The BRC worked with retailers, laboratories and flammability experts to create voluntary codes of practice based on the basic EN 71-2 standard, but with enhanced requirements.
- The following retailers and manufacturers have contributed to the BRC code of practice; Aldi, Asda, Boots, Home Retail Group, John Lewis, Morrisons, Next, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Co-Op, Disney Store, Waitrose and Wilko.
- Details of the BRC Code of Practice and the testing and labelling guidelines can be found on the BRC website: https://brc.org.uk/news/2017/retailers-set-the-safety-standard-for-children-s-halloween-costumes
Fire Safety tips have been provided by the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service:
- Make sure that when purchasing or using costumes and masks that they are labelled as flame-resistant.
- Costumes should comply with EN71 – a European-wide standard, which tests for flammability. It should also have a CE mark, which means the product complies with European health and safety requirements.
- Don’t use flammable materials to make home-made costumes.
- Keep children away from naked flames at all times.
- If your clothing catches fire remember to stop, drop and roll.
- Stop – don’t run, you’ll make the flames worse.
- Drop – lie down on the ground at once.
- Roll – in heavy fabric or a fire blanket to smother the flames, though just on the ground will help.
- Make sure that when in use, candles are secured in a proper holder and away from materials that may catch fire – like curtains.
- Children should not be left alone with lit candles.
- Put candles out when you leave the room, and make sure they’re put out completely at night.
- Keep the wax pool clear of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.
- Burn candles in a well-ventilated room, but avoid drafts, vents or air currents. This will help prevent rapid or uneven burning, sooting and excessive dripping.
- Trim the wick to ¼ inch each time before burning. Long or crooked wicks can cause uneven burning, dripping or flaring.
- Don’t move candles once they are lit.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on burn time and proper use.
- Do not burn several candles close together as this might cause flaring (mainly with tea-lights).
- Use a snuffer or a spoon to put out candles. It’s safer than blowing them out when sparks can fly.
- Think carefully about the fire risks if making homemade lanterns. Place them securely in a purpose-built candle holder away from draughts. Flickering LED candles are safer than real candles.
- Never allow small children to carry lanterns lit by naked flames. The handle could become hot or the child could slip.
- Lanterns should never be made from plastic bottles or other plastic containers.
- Floating lanterns are a fire hazard but also pose a risk to livestock, agriculture, camping activities, thatched properties and hazardous material sites.
- Ensure that the candles are extinguished completely at night or before you go out.
- One of the main issues is fireworks – with around 70 fires in England being started by fireworks every year.
- Our key advice is to:
- Only buy fireworks marked BS 7114 or with a CE mark – this shows that the firework meets British or European safety standards (a reputable shop will know this).
- Don’t drink alcohol if setting off fireworks.
- Keep fireworks in a suitable box.
- Preparation is key: make sure you set a safe perimeter away from people and property and keep a bucket of water nearby
- Never go back to a lit firework – even if it hasn’t gone off it could still explode.
- Always supervise children around fireworks and never give sparklers to a child under five.
- Build bonfires well away from buildings, fences, trees and garden structures.
- Never burn aerosols, tyres, canisters or anything containing foam or paint – many produce toxic fumes and some containers may explode causing injury.
- Don’t use petrol or paraffin to get the fire going as it could quickly get out of control.
- Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby in case of emergencies.
- Never leave a bonfire unattended and keep children and pets away from it.