Hooray! It’s summer! Okay, maybe it’s not technically summer until June 20 – the summer solstice. But here in Wisconsin, the weather seems to have finally turned consistently warm (read: above 70°F every day), and the 2015-2016 school year is almost at an end. That’s good enough for many of us! Which means it’s time to start thinking about summertime safety.
One of the things I personally adore about summer is grilling out. Burgers, bratwurst, barbecue chicken – just throw in some potato salad and baked beans and I’m in heaven. If you’re not careful around your grill, however, you could find yourself in the emergency room instead. So what do you need to know to grill safely this summer?
First, remember that whether you are using a charcoal grill or a propane version, these appliances are intended for outdoor use only. Both emit carbon monoxide when in use, and it doesn’t take much for that colorless, odorless gas to build up and make you sick, or worse. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 16,000 people went to the ER with grill-related injuries in 2014.
Additionally, the open flames associated with grilling increase the chance for house fires when used improperly. The NFPA said that between 2009 and 2013, fire departments around the U.S. responded to nearly 9000 grill-related home fires. Reducing your risk means keeping your grill clean and keeping it a safe distance from your home or other combustible materials, the NFPA said. Also, never leave your grill unattended.
Related to grill safety is bonfire safety. Many communities allow their citizens to use fire pits outdoors in the backyard or on the patio. A 2015 survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) revealed that fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are among the top 10 residential outdoor design trends. But HGTV recommended that all fire pits be kept at least 10 ft. away from your home or other combustible surface. The TV network also recommends avoiding using fire pits in windy weather, as embers can blow into combustible materials and start a fire. Finally, it’s important to consult your local authorities regarding the specific ordinances in your area that govern the use of fire pits. During particularly dry weather, for example, there might be a ban on all outdoor burning as a matter of public safety.
Let’s set all of the fire-related safety tips aside for a moment and focus on that other source of frequent burn injuries, the sun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that you can sustain sunburn with as little as 15 minutes exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunburns increase your risk for skin cancer, as does prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Fortunately, protecting yourself is relatively easy. To begin, find some shade. It won’t protect you completely, but it will help minimize your exposure to UV radiation.
Next, wear clothing that will provide additional protection. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are the best bet, but if you find they make you too warm, then the CDC said to choose clothing made from tightly woven fabrics. A hat with a full brim will protect your head, face and neck from the sun. However, you should avoid hats that allow sun to penetrate to your head or skin. Sunglasses will protect your eyes as well as the sensitive skin around your eyes, the CDC said.
Finally, whether you’re in the shade or wearing appropriate clothing, the CDC recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, especially on exposed skin. Use a minimum of SPF-15, and reapply it if you are outside for more than two hours, have been sweating heavily or have been swimming.
One particular benefit of the nicer weather during the summer months is the opportunity to exercise outside more. Remember that the more you exercise, the more chances you have to injure yourself, so it’s important to be mindful of how to walk safely.
In our November post on walking safely in the winter, we recommended picking a shoe with a waterproof sole in part because it is flexible and better suited to changing terrain. Such advice is valuable in the summer, as well. Just because there isn’t snow and ice to contend with doesn’t mean that you’ll be walking on nice, flat, level surfaces. For example, sidewalks crack, and some walking paths have gravel in some stretches. As a result, it’s important that you choose footwear that will allow you to navigate changing terrain.
Also, be aware that while you and others might be taking advantage of the nice weather to walk more, others might be using their vehicles more. And there will be other vehicles to contend with, like bicycles and motorcycles. Make sure that when you are out walking, you are a law-abiding pedestrian. Don’t jaywalk, and don’t cross against the lights. Avoid high-vehicle-traffic areas if at all possible, and if you live in an urban area, get to know what the traffic patterns are so that you can plan for them. Is there more traffic at some times of the day – perhaps morning and afternoon rush hours – and less at others? If so, plan your sojourns when traffic is light.
No matter the time of day you are out walking, make sure that you wear clothing that makes you visible. Light- or brightly colored clothing will make it easier for motorists to see you. If you choose to venture out at dusk or after dark, it’s especially important that you wear something reflective. Many athletic retailers offer vests and other reflective clothing that will make it easier for drivers to see you.
Finally, if you venture out alone, let someone know you are leaving, where you are going and when you plan to return. That way if you injure yourself off the beaten path and are unable to get help, your friends or loved ones will be able to sound the alarm when you fail to return.
RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA)
· Home Grill Fires - www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/fire-causes/appliances-and-equipment/home-grill-fires
· Tips For Safe Grilling – www.nfpa.org/public-education/by-topic/outdoors-and-seasonal/grilling
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
· Sun Safety - www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm
· Skin Cancer Prevention Fact Sheets -www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/fact_sheets.htm
· Pedestrian Safety – www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/pedestrian_safety/
American Society of Landscape Architects -www.asla.org/NewsReleaseDetails.aspx?id=46048