Mascot Safety: Keeping Your Mascot in the Game
Is This Really an Issue?
For most, mascots are as important to a team or an organization as the players or workers themselves. Motivating and inspiring their fellow teammates toward victory and greatness or bringing memorable awareness to a particular cause is their goal. While they focus on others, personal and physical safety and health should also be a consideration.
Typical mascot injuries include neck injuries, back injuries, shoulder injuries, bruises, strains, skin rashes, heat exhaustion, and even death. In 2005, Disney reported injuries that affected more than one-third of their 1,900-member staff.¹
First Things First
Several elements should be considered for a mascot safety program. While it does not have to evolve into a formal entity, key components should be in place. Some elements to consider include costume design, assigning mascot escorts, developing hand signals, mascot practice, frequent breaks, evaluation of the surroundings, and cleaning/laundering the costumes.
Mascot Costume Design
According to veteran mascot Joby Giacalone of Mascot Consulting, costume weights range from 15 to 30 pounds and can weigh more than 50 pounds if they get wet.² Mascot costumes are made of various materials and before selecting one or deciding on a design, some fundamental considerations should be made. First, is the material breathable? Is it flame retardant? Will the mascot work around a body of water? Is it easily removable in the event of an emergency? Will the costume require the mascot to need any special assistance? If the performer does fall down is there anything in or around the costume that may cause injury?
Understanding the answers to these questions helps the organization to provide the appropriate tools and resources to the person wearing the mascot costume.
Costumes can be elaborate and sometimes make it difficult for a mascot to see around themselves. Mascots should always have someone with them to serve as their eyes and ears, especially while walking around and in crowds or near roadways. This person should be clearly identified as a mascot escort or more commonly, a mascot handler. The handler should be trained to identify signs of distress and illnesses associated with temperature extremes and any other hazardous situations. The handler must also be trained to identify and diffuse or otherwise address potentially violent situations before the mascot is exposed to any danger. Without a handler, the mascot may be exposed to hazardous conditions such as vehicle traffic, emotional fans, or other physical distress that may cause severe injury. Hand Signals
When a person attempts to speak while wearing an elaborate mascot costume, the speech may be muffled and difficult for others to understand. Hand signals should be developed and the mascot and handler should be appropriately trained to understand the meaning of each. Developing hand signals so the mascot can communicate with his or her handler may make notifying them of potentially stressful or distressing situations easier and allow for a quick response.
Practice Makes Perfect
Wearing a costume is a physically demanding task. Before a mascot is allowed to don a costume, they should understand the physical requirements and be in excellent cardiovascular health. Once medically cleared, any potential candidate to don the mascot costume should be allowed to practice wearing the costume. The routine should first be practiced without a costume; then the person should practice while wearing the head of the costume to get used to the fit and to get a feel for seeing through the mask or headpiece. Next, the mascot should have an opportunity to practice while wearing the head, the hands, and the feet to identify any costume limitations. Finally, the person should practice while wearing the entire mascot suit. Allowing time to become acclimated to the stresses involved BEFORE they are required to wear the costume may head off dangerous health and safety concerns. It also allows the potential candidate the opportunity to decide if the role is something they are suited to do.
Keeping Your Cool
One may wonder how mascots remain cool and seemingly unaffected while working in sometimes unbearable conditions. It can be difficult to remain cool in mascot uniforms and frequent breaks may be the best option. Others have considered equipping the costumes with fans, makeshift air-conditioning, cooling vests, and other similar items to keep the actor comfortable and cool. Many of these items may help with addressing some of the cooling issues; however, they may also add weight to an already heavy and awkward costume. Wearing moisture-resistant clothing under the costume may be the more suitable option. To ensure the best choice for your mascot, make sure they are included in the selection process when identifying cooling options.
Other Safety Considerations
Because costumes may be worn for several hours in extreme temperatures, care should be taken to ensure the costume is properly laundered to prevent transmitting germs and viruses. An anti-bacterial substance should be used on inside of the costume prior to putting it on and after each use especially if it is being worn by more than one person.
Other training may include appropriate warm-up exercises, back and lifting safety, and ergonomic topics.
Initially taking the appropriate safety steps helps to ensure a happy audience, a motivated team, and a safe mascot performance. Make sure your mascot is a properly cared for, physically healthy, costumed character always ready to deliver a captivating performance for all to enjoy for the long haul.
1 Kassab, Beth. (March 6, 2007). Disney Learns Lessons About Costume Safety. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved November 7, 2008 from http://labricoleuse.livejournal.com/23736.html.
2 Crocker, Robb. (June 17, 2003). Mascot U: Longtime mascot lends advice to Richmond area mascots. Richmond.com sports section. Retrieved November 21, 2008 from http://www.richmond.com/sports-leisure/9750.
Ciker Costumes. (n.d.). Performance Tips and Safety Information. Retrieved November 7, 2008 from http://www.cikercostumes.com/performsafety.htm#Safety.
Street Characters. (n.d.). Street Characters Exclusive 12-Step Mascot Ergonomics System™. Retrieved November 7, 2008 from http://www.mascots.com/mascot_ergonomics.htm.
Toonsuits. (n.d.). ToonSuit Safety Tips. Retrieved November 20, 2008 from http://www.toonsuits.com/safety.htm.