Which? tested a selection of 20 children’s 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.
Two of the Halloween costumes failed the current legal requirements because 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.
“We were shocked to find Halloween costumes that claimed to pass the legal British safety requirement actually failed our flammability testing,” said Alex Neill, from Which?. “While these have now been recalled, we are advising parents to watch out for these costumes being stocked elsewhere.”
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.
So, 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.
In the further testing, three more children’s costumes 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.
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 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.
Following this 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.
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.”
What retailers told Which?
:: 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.”
Advice on purchasing costumes for parents:
:: 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 homemade 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.