Halloween: Big Business, Big Fun, Big Risks?
In the USA, a number of us really love our haunted houses—the more frightening and gory, the better, it would seem. One haunted house (The 17th Door, in Tustin, California) requires you to sign a waiver before you enter because it is so shocking. You can end the tour early only if you shout the word, “Mercy!”
Haunted houses are big business these days. Halloween in general is the second-largest holiday in terms of dollars spent—$7 billion annually and growing every year. Haunted houses, like everything else, have gone high-tech, and some are truly terrifying. Many of them aren’t for kids under a certain age. But even if your children (or you yourself) enjoy a really good scare, you do undertake certain risks when you enter one—or work at one.
Hazards for Young Workers
Many teens adore haunted houses. Because they do, they sometimes take on work in one. It’s the perfect teen position: It’s short-term, something they find enjoyable, and can be a place they’ll see their friends, either as visitors or fellow employees. Such work easily fits into their schedule, too, being an evenings-and-weekends kind of job, and it often pays more than minimum wage. But haunted house workers are more likely to be injured than the visitors. Consider the following points before you permit your teen to work at one:
- Visitors can strike out at others when they are frightened and upset. Workers are often hit, kicked, or bitten.
- Visitors sometimes bring items with them to throw, in order to injure workers intentionally. Sometimes visitors even try to set them on fire.
- A worker can be hurt by a co-worker because of a malfunctioning prop or from a simple accident. One employee sustained a gun blast injury from a blank cartridge when the gun was fired accidentally by another employee, who had tripped.
- Hazards inherent in the work environment can cause problems, such as when a young female employee in 2011 accidentally hung herself from a noose (she was saved).
Visitors at Risk as Well
Many features that make a haunted house terrifying can also make suffering an injury more likely. If you visit one, especially with your children, keep these points in mind:
- You can’t see very well in haunted houses, and that’s on purpose, to enhance the shock. Lack of light can mean slipping or tripping on hazards you can’t see, or getting caught on or cut by protrusions such as exposed nails or screws.
- Props can injure you if they come loose and fall over. A number of common props can be heavier than the average child, and some can even be as weighty as an adult.
- Artificial fog can carry carbon monoxide risks if ventilation is insufficient.
- Trains or trams inside haunted houses can run into others not riding in them, or can cause riders to fall out with sudden starts and stops.
- If a group of visitors is startled by something, they might bolt, causing a stampede and with it the potential for trampling injuries.
By far, the most serious risk is fire. In Jackson Township, NJ, a haunted house fire in 1984 killed eight teenagers and injured seven other people. Regulations and laws have tightened considerably since that tragedy, but it never hurts to be careful. Look for smoke detectors, sprinkler systems, and fire extinguishers, and be wary of anyone with an open flame or lit cigarette. Materials inside the house could be flammable.
We at McNeely Stephenson hope that you’ll temper your enjoyment of being scared out of your wits with caution this Halloween season.
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