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Keven Moore: Your local haunted house might be frightening, but it’s also potentially hazardous

Imagine that it’s October, the weather has started to turn cool and you have decided to take your family to the local haunted house to have a frightening experience. You pay your admission and wait your turn. As your heart rate begins to increase from the sounds inside, you notice the safety rules near the front entrance. But who reads safety rules, right?

As you enter the haunted house and navigate through the loud, dark and windy mazes, your sense of fear begins to come alive and your family becomes very clingy, clutching your arm and screaming from room to room. Then out of nowhere, a grossest-looking man with a chainsaw appears out of nowhere and begins to move toward you waving the loud chain saw in your direction and you hear the word “Run.”

At that moment, the flight of fear kicks in and your natural instincts take over, and despite the fact that the safety rules said that “no running,” you and your family turn the corner and run as fast as you can down a dark and narrow hallway. In front of you, you hear one of your family members trip and go crashing into the wall with a big thud. You then find your loved one bleeding profusely from a laceration to the face, semi-conscious and with a fracture to their orbital bone just below their eye socket.

There as you attend to your loved one who is covered in blood, you cry out for help to the other guests that are passing by, but they all believe that you are a part of the act at the haunted house attraction and don’t take your plea for help serious, no matter how convincing you try to be.

I have changed some slight details to this story, but this accident actually occurred in a haunted house a few years back. I know this because I was contacted by an attorney representing the family after he had read a previous article that I had written on how to keep your haunted house safe.

Together we reviewed the evidence and facts of his case, and it was clearly obvious that the owner of the haunted house was negligent is so many ways that he had no other option but to eventually settle the claim against him.

The injured party did sustain a fracture to her orbital bone just beneath her eye and also suffered a severe laceration to her face during her fall when she came into contact with a protruding object that was being used to hold up netting, resulting in 50 stitches and a scar for the rest of her life. The time it took for management to become aware of the incident and summons the local EMTs to arrive was disputed, but regardless to the parent it felt like an eternity.

Both parties disputed if the actor actually told them to run, but it was determined that he did use the word “run.” The plaintiff claimed that he said “you better run” and the defense said that the actor said “don’t run.” Either way as a safety and risk management professional, understanding how the flight of fear can disorient a person’s ability to reason and listen, the actor should have been trained to use the word “walk” instead. Yes, that isn’t as scary, but it’s much safer.

At the location where the plaintiff tripped and fell, it was discovered that there was a slight elevational change with a small ramp without any low-level lighting to highlight this very obvious trip hazard.

During discovery the defense attorney learned that the actors, who were mostly volunteers, had never received any formal safety training, and without any documentation to prove otherwise the owner could not dispute this claim. There was an employee/volunteer manual but there was only one small paragraph that addressed safety and it was very limited. The necessary safety rules were posted, but there was some question as to if they were read to the guests prior to entry into the haunted house.

The owner was not entirely negligent and had operated haunted houses for several years, had taken some safety precautions. He claimed that they did conduct daily and sometimes hourly safety inspections, but none of it was documented so he was unable to use this in his defense.

The fact is, Halloween should be harmless and fun, but even a novice safety professional or insurance geek should realize that any time you mix in low lighting, large crowds, elevational changes, blinding strobe lights, fog, sudden noises and fake blood in a confusing maze – combined with the emotions those evoke — you are at high risk for an accident.

Haunted houses and attractions today are generally safer thanks to tough safety and fire codes they must live by, as most local municipalities rigorously inspect haunted houses before allowing them to open. But there are still several haunted houses out there that still do not meet minimal safety standards.

Severe accidents are infrequent, but fire is probably the greatest concern, as most are designed to force traffic into a dark maze throughout the house. Before visiting or working at a haunted house, make sure that the building is equipped with adequate number of fire exits with panic alarms, smoke or heat alarms, emergency lightening and fire extinguishers; have no open flames; and use flame resistant materials, props and decorations.

Other injuries can occur when actors with chainsaws, in fake coffins, and playing parts in bloody scenes are among are part of the equation. Frightened patrons often bolt, pushing other visitors out of the way, into walls or props, or onto the ground.

Another source for injuries is all the different props and hardware that are present. Some props become unstable from repeated visitor contact, and small children are especially vulnerable to becoming injured in these settings.
Haunted houses will often pump artificial fog into enclosed confined spaces, and without proper ventilation and filtration, carbon monoxide can quickly climb to a level unsafe for everyone inside.

All employees should be instructed to avoid people’s personal spaces and to never touch a guest, especially those who appear to be looking for a confrontation. As a guest, if ever touched inappropriately by one of the actors, you should inform the manager.

Over the years, I must admit Jason, Freddie Kruger and Michael Meyers have all left me a bit shell-shocked. As a safety professional all grown up today, I simply cannot see the need for anybody to pay good money to be scared half to death in a haunted house. There are enough hazards and dangers in real life without having to face them in an entertainment venue.

But if you do choose to spend good money to be frightened, please…..Be Safe, My Friends.

Keven Moore works in risk management services and is an expert witness. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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