Summer is the time to enjoy time away from work, socialize with friends and family and participate in activities we enjoy. Unfortunately, for many people, summer fun turns into avoidable tragedy.
Just as with on the job activities, risk evaluations need to be considered for off-the-job fun. Mowing the lawn in flip-flops? Bad idea. Knocking that wasp nest down with a broom? Ditto. Adding extra charcoal lighter fluid to burning coals? Fuggedaboutit! Doing any of these activities while drinking? Do you really want a quick trip to the emergency room?
Dr. Ryan Stanton, a medical director and emergency room doctor in Lexington, Ky., and spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), says that emergency rooms transition in early spring from visits related to infectious diseases to trauma-related injuries, many of which involve alcohol.
“People jump in their cars with the windows open, tops down, radio blaring and unfortunately, alcohol is a factor. Boating accidents, jet ski accidents … alcohol often is a factor there too,” says Stanton. Other summer injuries he sees in the ER are related to sun exposure, weekend warrior activities like softball and rollerblazding, food poisoning, fireworks and pools.
“A study just came out that indicated that portable pools are just as dangerous as large pools. The number of kids who drown in pools is staggering,” says Stanton. “Portable pools should be drained as soon as you’re done using them and larger pools should have a fence around them that can be locked.
Here are some additional tips from our experts to help make your summer safer and avoid the emergency room.
With more Americans lighting their grills than ever before, it’s important to remember that a fun barbecue is a safe barbecue. “People grill out because the food tastes better and they enjoy it,” says Leslie Wheeler, spokesperson for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (HPBA). “They are grilling out every day, so they need to be reminded of safety every day.”
Remember, anytime you work with fire, there’s a chance of getting burned, so take precautions and don’t be stupid, says Stanton. “Lighter fluid and charcoal… Every man has said, ‘Hey, watch this!’ with lighter fluid and charcoal. We see a lot of barbecue-related burns in the ER,” he notes.
HPBA offers these safety tips to guide you through the grilling process:
Read the owner’s manual – Always read the owner’s manual before using your grill and follow specific usage, assembly and safety procedures. Contact the grill manufacturer if you have specific questions.
Grills are for outside only – Never barbecue in your trailer, tent, house, garage or any enclosed area, because carbon monoxide may accumulate and kill you.
Use your grill in an open area – Place your grill in an open area that is away from buildings, overhead combustible surfaces, dry leaves or brush.
Keep the grill stable – When using a barbecue grill, be sure that all parts of the unit are firmly in place and that the grill cannot tip over.
Use long-handled utensils and/or barbecue mitts – Use barbecue utensils with long handles (forks, tongs, etc.) and wear barbecue mitts to avoid burns and splatters.
Wear safe clothing – “Kiss the cook” aprons are fun, but wear clothing that does not have hanging shirttails, frills or apron strings that can catch fire, and use flame-retardant mitts when adjusting hot vents.
Keep the fire under control – To put out flare-ups, either raise the grid that the food is on, spread the coals out evenly or adjust the controls to lower the temperature. If you must douse the flames with a light spritz of water, first remove the food from the grill.
Be ready to extinguish flames – Use baking soda to control a grease fire and have a fire extinguisher handy. A bucket of sand or a garden hose should be near if you don’t have a commercial extinguisher. Consider placing a grill pad or splatter mat beneath your grill to protect your deck or patio from any grease that misses the drip pan.
Stay away from hot grills – Don’t allow anyone to conduct activity near the grill when it’s in use or immediately following its use, and never attempt to move a hot grill.
Never leave a grill unattended once it’s lit. Many people leave the grill on for a few minutes after the food is removed to burn off grease and forget about it, Wheeler says. “Stand there and wait the 5 minutes it takes for it to heat, take your wire brush and clean it off. Once you’re done cleaning it, turn off the dials and turn off the propane tank,” suggests Wheeler.
She’s heard of a number of people who placed their grills too close to their homes, melting vinyl siding and worse.
“Every year, someone burns down their house because they don’t take proper precautions with their grill,” says Wheeler. “We have a lake house and our neighbors burned down their house because the grill was too close to the house. They took their food off the grill, left the grill on and went in the house to eat. They forgot about the grill, went to bed and burned down the side of their house.”
Time and again, Dr. Edwin Harris, a Loyola University Health System pediatric podiatrist, has treated children who have lost toes or the front parts of their feet in lawn mower accidents.
“These accidents are devastating but totally preventable,” Harris says. “Kids should never be around a running lawn mower. And children under the age of 16 should not be allowed to operate either a riding lawn mower or walk-behind mower.”
The power lawn mower is one of the most dangerous tools around the home. Each year, approximately 200,000 people, including 16,000 or so children, were injured in lawn mower accidents, according to the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Lawn mower injuries include deep cuts, loss of fingers and toes, broken and dislocated bones, burns and eye and other injuries. To prevent lawn mower injuries, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
• Try to use a mower with a control that stops the mower from moving forward if the handle is let go.
• Children younger than 16 years should not be allowed to use ride-on mowers. Children younger than 12 years should not use walk-behind mowers.
• Wear sturdy shoes (not sandals or sneakers) while mowing.
• Prevent injuries from flying objects, such as stones or toys, by picking up objects from the lawn before mowing begins. Use a collection bag for grass clippings or a plate that covers the opening where cut grass is released. Have anyone who uses a mower wear hearing and eye protection.
• Make sure that children are indoors or at a safe distance well away from the area that you plan to mow.
• Start and refuel mowers outdoors, not in a garage or shed. Refuel with the motor turned off and cool.
• Make sure that blade settings (to set the wheel height or dislodge debris) are done by an adult, with the mower off and the spark plug removed or disconnected.
• Do not pull the mower backward or mow in reverse unless absolutely necessary. Check for children behind you when you mow in reverse.
• Always turn off the mower and wait for the blades to stop completely before removing the grass catcher, unclogging the discharge chute, or crossing gravel paths, roads or other areas.
• Do not allow children to ride as passengers on ride-on mowers.
“As we head into the peak of the lawn mowing season, I’m hoping operators of lawn mowers will follow these common-sense precautions,” Harris says.
Beware the Bumblebee
For most of us, an insect sting is annoying at worst. But for those allergic to insect bites, it can be a life-threatening experience.
Experts estimate that 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings. Insect stings send more than 500,000 Americans to hospital emergency rooms every year, and cause at least 50 known deaths each year.
According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, symptoms of insect sting allergic reaction, called “anaphylaxis,” may include hives, itchiness, swelling in areas other than the sting site, difficulty breathing, a sharp drop in blood pressure, hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue, dizziness, unconsciousness and cardiac arrest. Reactions such as these require immediate medical attention.
ACAAI recently published updated guidelines for diagnosing and treating insect sting allergies. ACAAI doctors suggest those who are allergic to stings:
Try immunotherapy – Research indicates that immunotherapy is effective in preventing reactions. It works like a vaccine, exposing you to increasing amounts of the stinging insect allergen to build your immune system’s tolerance to it.
Beware the bumblebee – While considered less aggressive, bumblebees can cause severe allergic reactions, particularly in greenhouse workers, and should be avoided as much as other stinging insects.
Watch out for risk factors – Some people are at increased risk for serious reactions and should make sure they see an allergist. You could be at higher risk for an allergic reaction if you:
• Have a history of severe or near-fatal reaction to a stinging insect .
• Suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure or pulmonary disease and have had a reaction beyond the site of a sting.
• Have asthma.
• Take beta blocker or ACE inhibitor medications.
• Have frequent, unavoidable exposure, including beekeepers, gardeners, etc.
“For most people, an insect sting means nothing more than a little pain, swelling and redness. This is a normal reaction and can be treated at home,” said Richard Nicklas, M.D., ACAAI spokesperson and an author of the updated guidelines. “An allergic reaction is more severe and often includes hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site. These reactions require immediate medical attention.”
Avoidance is the best line of defense to insect stings, adds Nicklas. People with allergies to insect stings should:
• Avoid walking barefoot in the grass.
• Avoid drinking from open soft drink cans, which stinging insects are attracted to and will crawl inside.
• Keep food covered when eating outdoors.
• Avoid sweet-smelling perfumes, hairsprays and deodorants.
• Avoid wearing bright colored clothing with flowery patterns.
Stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are most active during late summer and early autumn.