HEALTH warnings about the dangers of smoking, fatty foods and booze have become increasingly common in recent years.
But now NHS chiefs in Lothian have added a more unusual public health hazard to that list – flammable sheep costumes.
Cases of pranksters setting fire to those dressed as the farmyard animals has caused so much concern that the health board has now issued an official warning about the fancy dress attire.
And it went so far as to say a highly-flammable sheep costume could prove fatal – following two reported cases of major burns being caused after a sheep costume was set alight in the last two years in Lothian.
Dr Stephen Goldie, a plastic surgeon based at the regional burns unit at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, said he wanted to draw attention to the potentially serious consequences for wearers of combustible fancy dress.
In a recording posted on the NHS Lothian website, Dr Goldie said: “The victims don’t realise the danger they’re putting themselves in by essentially wrapping themselves in a very flammable material, mostly cotton wool glued to their body or other material.”
He said he had been surprised to see a burns victim in the hospital who had been dressed as a sheep, but after speaking with staff and carrying out his own research, he found it was not an isolated case. It is believed that there have been a further six reported cases across the UK since 2007.
He added: “There’s more than just one or two – it’s definitely a recurring theme. I want to draw people’s attention to it so that they think about what they wear on a night out for a fancy dress party.
“I think potentially these incidents have come about from thinking it would be a practical joke to set fire to a sheep costume and they perhaps don’t realise the consequences can be really quite significant for the victim.”
David Morrison, of the Scottish Libertarians, said that careful consideration should be taken before warnings were issued.
He added: “While health and safety is undoubtedly important, individuals should be free to weigh it against other considerations if they so choose. While one person might consider safety to be of primary importance in clothing choice, others may place greater value in fashion, comfort, sense of humour, or one of any number of other factors.
“The NHS often fails to consider these other factors, and focuses only on the negatives of particular choices, even in a situation like this where the number of cases is tiny.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said that while she had not heard of cases of sheep costumes being set on fire, they may not always be reported to the fire service.
She added: “If there is evidence from health professionals that people might actually be setting fire to fancy dress outfits being worn by people that’s very concerning.
“Although it may seem like a prank the risk of inflicting burns on a person or causing a fire to spread are very serious. Hopefully most people would realise the dangers and use their common sense, playing with fire is never worth the risk of injury and damage.”