While many choose to get their Halloween thrills by visiting a haunted house or taking in a scary movie, nothing this time of year could be scarier to a supervisor than the possibility of an injury in the workplace caused by seasonal celebrations gone wrong.
Halloween is one of the most popular holidays to celebrate in the workplace, as many employees enjoy getting dressed up in costumes, snacking on candy and potentially washing it down with more adult refreshments. Yet, such treats can present a tricky situation for those in charge of workplace safety.
It's probably safe to assume that most Halloween horror stories that come out of the workplace are related to alcohol consumption, but even seemingly harmless celebrations can turn sinister this time of year - a California school district was fined $4,000 by OSHA when a teacher's aide at an elementary school lost her balance while standing on a chair to hang a decoration.
Not every mishap is completely preventable, but many are. By following a few guidelines, you can avoid anything truly terrifying happening during Halloween parties at work.
Halloween is a special time, but it's not a day for disregarding the workplace safety regulations that apply the other 364 days of the year. Decorations and costumes alike should adhere to Federal, State, and corporate requirements, without exceptions.
That means that all decorations should comply with health and safety codes. It also means that whoever is placing these decorations should adhere to proper safety guidelines when doing so. You don't want someone hanging a cutout mummy decoration to find him or herself similarly wrapped up in bandages.
For industrial business, it is also critical that costumes, if allowed at all, meet manufacturing floor safety guidelines. Long, flowing costumes that are easily tripped on or caught in moving machine parts have no place on a factory floor.
"We are keenly aware of the potential safety issues involved with wearing specific costume styles," Matt Preston-Wright, the HR manager for HalloweenCostumes.com, told the Society for Human Resource Management. "Our office includes a large warehouse space which houses heavy machinery, so we follow a strict adherence to the fire and safety codes set forth by our local government and by OSHA. This means no open flames, and no flowing clothing near machinery."
It is also advisable that costumes be flame-retardant and not obstructing to the wearer's vision or overly distracting to fellow workers. And although not explicitly a safety risk, costumes that are overtly religious or political, or uncomfortably explicit in terms of adult themes, are likely to cause offense and lead to complaints. If you are going to loosen the dress code for a day, be clear and specific about what will still be impermissible or considered out of bounds, both for reasons of safety and general appropriateness.
Most industrial workplaces are completely alcohol-free, and for good reason. However, allowances are sometimes made for special after-work events, such as Halloween parties. A recent SHRM survey of Human Resource professionals found that 70 percent believed drinking at work was acceptable during holiday parties.
If you decide to allow or provide alcohol at your Halloween event, there are some important things to keep in mind. The Balance recommends exercising common sense, like not having a pumpkin carving contest if those holding the knives will also likely be holding a glass of spiked punch.
And while employees may appreciate generosity when it comes to company-provided libations, there is wisdom in limiting the prominence of free alcohol, especially if many workers are driving home afterwards or the place of business has staircases or other fall risks.
The surest way to eliminate such risks is to have alcohol-free parties. This is especially prudent if such events are promoted as family-friendly, and employees are encouraged to bring their children.
Halloween scares are only fun if they're fake. Remember to only allow decorations and costumes that comply with health and safety standards, and limit or eliminate alcohol and other hazards from workplace and office Halloween parties, so that you don't have any real-life horror stories to tell around the campfire next year.