EHS management doesn’t stop when you leave work. With summer events and vacations come great opportunities for fun and family time. Unfortunately, for some of us, summertime means a trip or two to the local emergency room.
Here are 20 summer safety tips to help you avoid illness and injury, gathered from a variety of sources – including some EHS professionals – as well as some personal experience! With warmer weather comes new hurdles for EHS management, so many of these tips apply to outdoor workers as well as anyone enjoying some time off this summer.
1. Don’t forget the sunscreen! – Sunburn is painful and can ruin a holiday, but exposure to sun can have much more tragic results, such as skin cancer. Reduce your skin cancer risk by wearing sunscreen daily. Get into the habit of applying it every morning, just like you brush your teeth and apply deodorant. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunglasses with UV protection can help protect your eyes, and hats and light, long-sleeved clothing can help if you are going to be outside for long periods of time.
2. Practice fireworks safety – When using fireworks, keep a safe distance once lit and don’t point fireworks toward the face or body. Keep water nearby to extinguish fireworks, and don’t assume a firework is a “dud” if it doesn’t explode immediately. Most U.S. fireworks-related injuries (about 66 percent) occur in the month surrounding the July 4th holiday. The parts of the body most often injured are hands and fingers (30 percent). The head, face and ears were the second most injured body parts (22 percent) and eye injuries were third (15 percent).
3. Be a smart swimmer – Whether you’re enjoying the pool, beach, lake or river, any body of water can be dangerous. Kids should be supervised anytime they are in water. Adults need to be aware of swimming safety as well. Don’t overestimate your swimming ability, particularly in water with a strong current. It’s important to remember drinking alcoholic beverages and swimming don’t mix.
4. Stay hydrated – Dehydration is a primary contributor to heat exhaustion, which ultimately can lead to potentially fatal heat stroke (See #18). It’s easy to become dehydrated when exercising or working outdoors (or indoors) when the weather conditions are hot and humid. In addition, your work or exercise performance may suffer if you’re dehydrated, even if you don’t notice. Keep water nearby and remember to drink 1 cup (8 ounces) of water every 15–20 minutes. This translates to a quart (32 ounces) per hour. Eating foods that are high in water content such as watermelon, cucumbers and lettuce can help you stay hydrated as well.
5. Whatever the weather – Depending on where you live, you might experience more wildfires, tornados, hurricanes or heavy storms in the summer months. Any of these weather emergencies can knock out power and scatter debris. Stock up on bottled water, non-perishable food and medications for you and pets, flashlights, a first aid kit, a battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a change of clothes and blankets and keep them in the location where you plan to take shelter if a weather-related emergency occurs.
6. Bugs be gone! – Mosquitoes and ticks spread a number of nasty diseases, such as West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and malaria, so wear bug repellent when you’re outside. In addition, dump any standing water (kiddie pools, old tires, anything that can collect stagnant water). Avoid wearing perfumes and take advantage of screened-in porches.
7. Don’t rock the boat – Boat rides are the best, but don’t forget to wear life vests, pay attention to weather warnings, refrain from roughhousing on deck, avoid drinking alcohol while driving the boat, stay hydrated and wear sunscreen.
8. Good grillin’! – Most of us can’t wait to fire up the grill as the weather warms up. If you love to grill, be sure to practice food safety (more about that later) and fire safety. Only grill outdoors, at least 10 feet from anything that could catch on fire. Keep kids and pets away from the grill and never leave it unattended. Don’t use gasoline as a fire starter and don’t spray charcoal starter on a fire that’s already burning. Keep your grill cleaned of grease to reduce the chance of fire.
9. Food poisoning is no fun – Who doesn’t love a good picnic or barbecue? You, if you don’t follow some simple food safety rules. Don’t let food sit out all day. Keep it properly refrigerated until time to grill it or serve it. Throw out what doesn’t get eaten and has been sitting outside for more than a couple of hours. Wash your hands before cooking or eating. Make sure you cook food the same day to limit the amount of time bacteria can grow. Viruses and bacteria are the most common causes of food poisoning, which is usually just unpleasant but can send you to the hospital if you’re not careful.
10. Don’t lose those toes! – Wear proper foot protection and eye protection while doing things like mowing your lawn or pulling out the weed wacker to tame some rough spots. (Note to self: flip flops are not proper foot protection.) When using tools like lawn mowers, chainsaws, etc., wear hearing protection (more about that next).
11. Protect your hearing – Summer is a great time to enjoy sporting events like car races, target practice at shooting ranges, concerts, etc. But it can also do a number on your hearing. Loud noises above 120 decibels can cause permanent damage to your hearing. Invest in some good ear plugs and wear them!
12. Don’t forget wildlife is wild – You don’t want to be the person who makes headlines for getting trampled by a buffalo or chased by a flock of angry geese. While it’s tempting to get up close and personal with our feathery and furry friends, they might not appreciate it. Give snakes, bears, deer, birds, alligators, racoons, seals, otters (and pretty much everything) a wide berth.
13. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike! – Bicyclists need to be cautious and pay attention to the road and the rules of the road. Wear a helmet and if riding at night, make sure your bike has a light and reflectors and that you’re wearing light-colored or reflective clothing. However, drivers need to be safe around bikes and pay attention to the rules of the road as well. Make room for bikes. Give bicyclists a wide berth and keep an eye open for them coming up next to you in the curb lane if you’re making a right turn. In many cities and states, bicyclists can take up the entire lane, so you need to be patient until you can safely pass them.
14. Leaves of three, let it be – Poison ivy, poison sumac or poison oak are found throughout the United States (with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska) and cause issues for about 85 percent of the population. Of those, up to 15 percent are extremely allergic. When out working in the yard or spending time in nature, be aware of the plants you’re exposing yourself to, especially if you’re not wearing long sleeves and pants. Even if you are wearing long sleeves and pants, remove them when you come inside and wash your hands with soap and water.
15. Prevent fires – Grills, fire pits, fireworks… There are lots of ways to start an unwanted fire in the summertime. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and a hose nearby to put out any unexpected fires.
16. Watch your step – When you spend time outdoors, don’t forget to wear shoes and watch your step. Summertime is an active time for creatures like snakes and bees as well as other outdoor hazards such as sharp stones, broken glass and metal and nails.
17. Check your car – In the summer, schedules change, there’s a lot going on and it’s easy to get distracted. Check your car before you lock up for any pets or children who may be left behind. When it’s 75 degrees outside it can get to 94 degrees inside a car after 10 minutes and 109 degrees after 30 minutes. When it’s 80 degrees outside it can get to 99 degrees inside after 10 minutes and 114 degrees after 30 minutes.
18. Recognize the symptoms of heat stress and heat stroke – Heat stress occurswhen the body cannot get rid of excess heat. When this happens, the body’s core temperature rises and the heart rate increases. Heat stress can come on quickly and is dangerous if you’re not sure what to look for. If you or someone you’re with outdoors starts profusely sweating, feels faint or dizzy or has a weak pulse, get into a cool area quickly. Stop all activity to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and get into the AC or a cooler place (like under a shade tree). If the person is vomiting, has a pounding headache, has a rapid pulse and/or losses consciousness, dial 9-1-1.
19. Lose the flip flops! – Flip flops can be fun and flirty, but in addition to being a poor footwear choice for mowing the lawn, they can wreak havoc on your feet. Your toes constantly need to grip the shoe to keep them on, which can lead to tendonitis in your toes. Plus, these lightweight shoes offer little to no support, which can cause foot pain and even back pain if you are standing or walking all day.
20. Water can host a lot of gross bacteria – If not properly treated, pools can host bacteria that can cause respiratory, eye, neurologic, gastrointestinal, skin and wound infections. Swimming in untreated water such as rivers and lakes can cause the same issues. If you swallowed water while swimming and feel unwell, or notice a cut or bug bite has become infected, call your doctor.