Beware little ghosts and goblins. Those creepy creatures lurking in your alter-egos this Halloween could hurt you.
From frightful contact lenses that can scratch the wearer’s corneas, to ghoulish masks that aren’t conducive to breathing, seems everyone’s trying to take the fun out of dress-up at this time of year.
The U.S. Food and Drug Association’s (FDA) recent warning and announcement of its intent to seize all decorative contact lenses dispensed in violation of federal law, coupled with the annual fears of tainted candy, chilly limbs, and darkened streets, could leave this year’s mischief-making masses shaking in their inherently scary Sponge Bob costumes over the long-term risks of Halloween.
Well, maybe not.
But fun or not, the practice of dressing up in creepy costumes every October 31 does have some inherent risks beyond the razor-in-apple scares. Corneal ulcers, for example, one of the reasons, along with conjunctivitis (an infection of the eye), corneal edema (swelling), allergic reaction, and corneal abrasions, are just a few of the side effects of Halloween that prompted the FDA to issue its warning on contact lenses. And, all in the name of fun, ergonomists, like Ergoweb’s Peter Budnick, are quick to jump on the ruin-Halloween bandwagon as well.
“From the physical ergonomics perspective, we should design our costumes to minimize exposure to such risk factors as force, posture, repetition, contact pressure, and vibration,” says Budnick. That rules out the springy bumble-bee or alien antennae that repetitively smack the wearer in the head, and any Hunchback of Notre Dame costume that doesn’t come with its own hunch.
“Costumes shouldn’t weigh too much,” continues Budnick, “and accessories and tools of death, terror and fear should be lightweight designs with handle designs that minimize grip forces and awkward wrist and arm postures. If you dress-up little Suzy like a queen, make sure the crown isn’t too heavy, placing high forces and torques on her poor little neck. If you dress-up little Johnny like the Texas Chain Saw Massacre guy, select a lightweight chain saw and train him to handle it with two hands, minimizing the loads and awkward postures in his distal upper extremities. Also, make sure vibration from the chain saw is minimized through tool design, or by properly fitted vibration gloves — be sure the model you choose matches the vibrational frequency exposures of the chain saw,” Budnick says.
But if Halloween is supposed to be fun, then the ergonomics of Halloween is merely attempting to make it a more productive and efficient kind of fun. Limping into the office the next day because of a pair of too-tight pumps doesn’t make happy memories for the once-a-year cross-dressing accountant. Not being able to run door-to-door because the Darth Vader mask impedes the flow of oxygen to the brain means less candy. Simple concepts that most reasonable people follow the other 364 days of the year. But when it comes to Halloween, who’s looking for reason?
“I wore a set of Billy Bob teeth last year, which proved to be a very effective costume, by the way,” says Budnick. “By the end of the night the contact pressure to my mucous membranes and lips had resulted in abrasions and irritation. Fortunately, my day job doesn’t require the same kind of contact pressure exposures, or I’d surely have developed carpal lip syndrome by now, if not a case of serious gum disease.”
It’s a matter of creating a balance between common sense and fun. The common sense part means an ergonomically designed sickle that reduces awkward postures for the Grim Reaper. And if the fun part is a mountain of candy parked in the middle of the living room after a big night in the neighborhood, Budnick has suggestions for that, too.
“If you expect a good haul, as every kid does, and every hopeful chocolate fiend parent behind the scenes secretly desires, you need to make sure the carrying method is well thought out. The goal should be maximizing load-carrying capacity. The traditional bag held in one hand isn’t advisable, because it’s an asymmetrical load. [It is] better to have a nice container with good handles that can be held close to the front of the body. Backpacks aren’t advisable for heavy loads either. Kids already carry heavy backpacks to school, so we don’t want to repeat the associated risk factors in leisure activities. I recommend a push cart for the ambitious trick-or-treater. The cart should have larger diameter wheels that will roll easily over the varied terrain inherent to door-to-door solicitations. Be sure to set the handle height between hip and elbow height for best results,” Budnick says.
Budnick’s best advice — not to take too much stock in what Billy-Bob-teeth-wearing ergonomists have to say about Halloween — aside, there is some REAL advice out there for a safe and happy Halloween. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s suggestions on how to keep Halloween safe and fun include keeping the lights on, not wearing dark costumes without reflective tape, staying away from flammable wigs and beards, not eating unwrapped candy, hosting an indoor party, taking the parents out for the fun, and other equally entertaining ideas. Maybe the bright yellow, sit-on-the-shoulders, mask-free smiling Sponge Bob costume isn’t looking so scary after all.
Sources: FDA.gov, CPSC.gov, some yahoo in Billy Bob teeth