Costume & Make-up Safety

Hazardous conditions can arise during the making, wearing, and storing of costumes. Costume designers may be exposed to hazards while operating scissors and other cutting devices, sewing machines, glue guns, and steam irons and when applying chemicals during the construction and repair phases.

The design of the costume and the costume material itself may expose performers to fire, heat stress, and trip/fall hazards while wearing the costumes. The costumes and accessories can pose fire, material handling, and trip/fall hazards during the storage phase. The Performing Arts Code of Safe Practices Matrix identifies the applicable Performing Arts Codes of Safe Practices you are required to read for costumes/cosmetics operations. The first rule of thumb is to never touch costumes or use the equipment until you have been given permission to do so.


Constructing, Modifying, and Repairing Costumes


Before You Start

If you are using the facilities and equipment of another department, such as the Fashion Design Department, be sure you have permission to do so. Also ensure you have received and understand their use directives. As with any tools, it’s important to read the instruction manuals first. Some of the tools to be mindful of are sewing machines, power scissors and cutting devices, and steam irons. Know the purpose of the tools you plan to use and how to use the tool safely. Just as important as knowing how to use the tool is ensuring the tools are safe to use. For that, you will need to inspect the tools prior to use. Be sure you know how to report problems, take damaged tools out of service, and submit them for repairs or replacement. Always wear shoes to protect your feet from dropped and broken needles and pins. Always sweep the floor clean of debris after each work session.


Sewing Machines

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in 2005, 2,700 people were treated in emergency rooms for sewing machine injuries. Of those injuries 60% were puncture wounds and cuts to the fingers. As you can see, it’s not unusual for operators to sew their fingers into the garment they are constructing. Make sure you have received training on how to use the sewing machine prior to use. Remember, not all machines are the same, and some are quite aggressive, such as sergers (also known as merrow and overlock machines) that use loopers and knives to tidy up the edges. Keep your fingers well away from the “presser foot” and “feed dog” of any machine to avoid exposing your fingers to the needles and/or knives.


Scissors and Cutting Devices

Costume design and construction may require the use of various scissors and cutting devices, such as bent fabric shears, paper or craft scissors, embroidery scissors, pinking shears, power scissors, or rotary cutters. Here are a few reminders regarding the safe handling of scissors and rotary cutters:

  1.  Always cut away from your body and hands.

  2.  Keep your hands and fingers away from the cutting line.

  3. Always carry manual scissors with the point toward the floor and with your hand around the closed blades.

  4. Walk slowly when carrying scissors and be alert to your surroundings to avoid trips and falls.

  5. Hand off the scissors to someone else by holding the scissors by the closed blades in a loose grip and offering the handles (known as bows) to the person receiving the scissors.

  6. Remove power scissors from their power adapter prior to using them.

  7. Ensure the power cord is out of the cutting area.

  8. Only use rotary cutters that are equipped with a built in blade guard.

  9. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for changing the rotary cutter blades.

  10. Take dull scissors out of service and submit them for sharpening; remember only personnel trained to do so are permitted to sharpen scissors.

  11. Use scissors only for their intended purpose.

Flat and Steam Irons

The improper use and handling of irons can result in personal injury and property-damaging fires whether you are using a domestic flat/steam iron or an industrial steam iron. Industrial steam irons may be gravity- feed or steam box varieties. The industrial steam irons generate greater heat than the domestic steam iron; therefore, their use requires greater caution. In a gravity-feed steam iron, the steam is generated from a water supply tank suspended above the ironing box. In a steam box iron, the steam is under pressure, and the inadvertent release of the steam may result in painful steam burns. Here are some tips to ensure the safe use of irons:

  1. Never use an industrial steam box iron until properly trained and given permission to do so.

  2. Never set a gravity-feed iron on its back (like a domestic iron); place it on its base plate or rubber heat- resistant pad.

  3. Never leave an iron turned on; turn it off when you are done using it.

  4. Unplug domestic and gravity feed irons after turning them off.

  5. Check to ensure all irons have been turned off and unplugged prior to leaving the area.

  6. Wear Teflon-coated gloves when handling hot steamed garments.

Using Chemicals

Chemicals are often used to alter the appearance of materials used in costume design, such as dyes, stiffening chemicals, glues, and glue removers. The proper use, storage, and/or handling of chemicals can reduce the risk of injury and illness. Controls designed to reduce the risk of injury and illness include proper chemical use and storage; the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE); and the use of engineering controls, such as ventilation systems and capture hoods.

Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and container labels provide information regarding the use, storage, and handling of chemicals. Know where to find the SDS for the chemicals you are using. Always read the label and directions regarding how to handle a chemical prior to using it. If you do not understand the information provided, ask someone to help you. Always return the chemical to the storage location specified.

Costume enhancement is often achieved through the aerosol application of a variety of chemically-based products such as paint and special finishes. Inhalation of chemical vapors and dusts poses a health hazard, so applications that generate dusts and vapors should be conducted within a ventilation booth that captures these contaminants and exhausts them out of the building.

Be sure to wear the PPE assigned even when conducting chemical applications within a ventilation hood. PPE may include, but not be limited to, splash safety goggles, face shields, respiratory protection, chemically resistant gloves, aprons, coveralls, and dust masks. Use, store, and care for all PPE as instructed.

For more information read the Set Construction chapter, and consult your Campus Hazard Communication Program and the Code of Safe Practices regarding hazard communication.

The use of chemicals often results in the generation of hazardous waste. Dispose of waste as directed by the product manufacturer and in accordance with your Campus Hazardous Waste Management Program. You can contact the EH&S Department for more information and guidance regarding hazardous waste management. They will provide guidance regarding:

• Proper storage of the waste until it is collected

• Proper labeling of the waste containers

• Special handling requirements based on the hazard characteristics of the waste


Wearing Costumes

Performers may be exposed to injury and/or illness while wearing costumes. Trip/fall injuries may result from the costume design, such as stepping on a long trailing hem or tripping over the toes of over-sized shoes. Trip/ fall hazards may also be posed by a costume that obstructs the performer’s vision. Conduct an assessment in a low hazard area to determine how the costume moves, how the performers handle the costume, and the performers’ ability to see where they are going.

The risks of heat illness may be increased by the costume. Period costumes with corsets and multiple layers trap body heat close to the skin. Costumes that enclose the performer’s head trap heat and humidity within the costume making it difficult for the body’s cooling mechanisms to function properly. These conditions combined with the hot stage lights can increase the body’s internal temperature. Monitoring performers for signs of heat stress and training them to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol is a critical component of reducing the risk of heat-related illnesses caused by costumes.

Flowing costumes and those coated with flammable treatments increase the risk of fire when open flame is included as a stage prop. The use of flammable treatments and the use of open flame should be reviewed with campus safety and health personnel. The risks of costumes catching fire can be reduced through the use of flame-resistant materials in the construction of the costumes or treating the costume with flame-retardant chemicals at the conclusion of the construction of the costume.


Storing Costumes

Costume storage practices can pose injury and property damage risks. Where and how the costumes are stored may damage fire suppression systems, obstruct exits, increase the fire load in the building, cause falling object hazards, result in falls to other elevations during the storing or retrieval process, or present material handling hazards.


Label the pipes of fire suppression systems with signs like “NEVER HANG ANYTHING FROM THIS PIPE.” Similar signs should be posted below fire suppression sprinkler heads that project horizontally from the wall, stating “NEVER HANG ANYTHING ON THE SPRINKLER HEADS.” Conduct training to ensure all performers and crew understand all materials should be stored 18 inches below sprinkler heads and a clearance of 36 inches maintained on a horizontal plane out from the sprinkler head in all directions.


Exit aisles should be kept free and clear of obstructions. Aisle widths will often depend on the depth of the storage shelves and the room needed to remove materials from the storage shelves. Where rows of customs are hung, ensure aisles at least 24-inches wide are maintained. Nothing should be stored on stairs or landings, and an area the width of the doorway and at least six feet deep should be maintained on each side of all storage area doors to ensure a clear exit path from within the room and out of the area.


Storage shelves should be equipped with some means of preventing items from falling off the shelves, such as shelf guards, cargo netting, or bungee cords. Stored items should not extend beyond the edge of the shelf. Heavy, awkward, and frequently accessed items should be stored on shelves within the optimum lift zone, which is between the knees and shoulders.

Provide step ladders. The type of step ladder needed will depend on the layout of the storage area. If the area will accommodate it, use a mobile ladder stand. A mobile ladder stand is a movable, fixed height, self-supporting ladder that has wide flat treads in the form of steps and has a top step enclosed by guardrails. Ladders used should be either a Type I or Type II industrial ladder. Ladders should be inspected routinely to ensure they are in good condition. Ladder training should be conducted at assignment and periodically to facilitate use compliance.

Conduct routine documented inspections to ensure storage rules are followed.


Stored costumes and props made of materials such as draperies, upholstered furniture, or carpets are subject to damage from moths and carpet beetles. Frequently used and cleaned clothing is less likely to be damaged because the damage to the clothing is actually done by the insect larvae that are destroyed during the cleaning process. The larvae are also destroyed during vacuuming of carpets and brushing draperies.


The use of mothballs and crystals that contain naphthalene is not recommended. The naphthalene is toxic to humans as well as the insects. These chemicals are only effective when the larvae are exposed to high concentrations of the chemical, which can only be achieved when the clothing, draperies, furniture, or carpets are stored in air-tight containers. If the decision is made to use these chemicals, they must be handled in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. In addition, clothing exposed to these chemicals must be cleaned before they are worn. Draperies and carpets exposed to the chemicals must be aired out in well-ventilated areas until the chemical odor is no longer noticeable.

The best means of controlling these pests is good housekeeping. Storage shelves and the floors in storage areas should be cleaned prior to storing the materials and then routinely cleaned thereafter. Carpets and furniture should be routinely vacuumed and draperies routinely brushed.