Sandy Says: War Zone

July 1, 2011
While others celebrate the Fourth of July with picnics and parties, I stay home with the hose at the ready.

On the Fourth of July, I’d love to go to a picnic, watch my city’s fireworks display, attend a baseball game or go sailing. But I can’t do any of those things. Instead, I stay at home with my terrified dogs as the sound of urban warfare – M80s, dynamite caps and guns – go off all around us.

At times, so many amateur fireworks displays are going off in my neighborhood that you cannot see 25 feet down the street because of the smoke. You cannot drive down main streets because they are blocked by revelers, and you don’t dare leave your house because you might find a smoldering wreck when you come home.

It is June 22 as I write this, and the fireworks already have started in the neighborhood, with a few popping off every evening. They will continue into early August.

Such fireworks displays are illegal,but with thousands of people setting them off, only the most egregious offenders find themselves face-to-face with a police officer.

I love fireworks, but I know how much beer my neighbors consume on regular evenings. On the Fourth of July, the beers are chilling by 10 am and by noon, I know that 25 percent of my neighbors could not pass a sobriety test. Take it from me, drinking and fireworks are not a good mix.

Few employers have to contend with drinking in the workplace, but alcohol consumption can be an issue in off-the-job safety.

In this issue, we focus on summertime off-the-job safety. Senior Editor Laura Walter’s new column on p. 56, The Break Room, discusses the ergonomic issues that are found off the job, particularly the ones associated with increased physical activity in the summer. Dr. Ryan Stanton, whom I interviewed for “Summertime Blues” on p. 49, shares details about the traumatic injury cases he sees every week in the emergency room of a Lexington, Ky. hospital.

Many of these cases, says Stanton, are caused or aggravated by alcohol use. This makes sense: power tools, fireworks, boats, fast cars, grills and alcohol don’t mix. Workers who never would have a beer before operating any kind of machinery at work will pop the top on a beer before (or while) mowing the lawn, bring a cooler of adult beverages on a speed boat or set off fireworks on the Fourth of July after a day spent drinking in the sun.

“Do not operate any kind of machinery while intoxicated,” warns Stanton. “No powered lawn equipment, no weed whackers, no boats, no cars. And no flames or fireworks while intoxicated either.”

Makes perfect sense, so why do so many people risk their lives and the lives of others by accompanying summer activities with a beer or a glass of wine?

“I’ve seen a couple of [alcohol-related] boating accidents already this summer,” says Stanton. “In one, a boat hit a submerged tree and threw someone off and the boat ran over him. A boat propeller can do a tremendous amount of damage to a person. Alcohol was involved and no one was wearing a life jacket. This isn’t the Titanic; you don’t have hours to put on your lifejacket. Put it on when you get in the boat and leave the cooler on the shore. .”

Barbecues and beer often go together, he acknowledged, saying, “Unfortunately, we end up seeing a lot of burns in the emergency room because people were trying to grill out while intoxicated.”

“Drinking,” adds Stanton, “is best done while sitting in a chair, someplace where you don’t have to drive a car or boat or operate equipment.”

As for me, I’ll be sitting in a lawn chair at my house on the Fourth of July, which would be the perfect opportunity to indulge in an adult beverage. I’ll stay sober, though, because I’ll need my wits about me in order to put out any small fires that are started by my neighbors’ overenthusiastic fireworks displays.

You’ve heard of designated drivers? On the Fourth of July, I’m the designated fire watch.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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