Summer means lots of backyard braais, outdoor concerts, trips to the beach and dips in the pool. So before you head out for fun in the sun, take a few minutes to remind yourself how to stay safe outdoors.
In and around the water
The number one safety tip is to make sure everyone knows how to swim, says Connie Harvey, a health and safety expert for the American Red Cross.
Children's swimming skills can vary greatly from year to year, she says. "As the season begins, [parents] cannot assume that the kids have the same ability they had at the end of last season," Harvey says. She recommends swimming lessons, but even for kids who've had lessons, close supervision is still needed until they can swim really well.
Flotation devices give parents a false sense of security, she says. Her advice: Stay within arm's reach of any child wearing a flotation device.
Once kids can swim well, Harvey says parents can get out of the water - but still should keep an eye on any kids in the water.
Remind everyone to obey all posted rules and establish your own rules if none are present. For example, if you're swimming at a dam, establish boundaries for your kids' swimming areas.
Other important water rules to keep in mind:
- Always swim with a buddy.
- Don't get too tired.
- Don't swim too far out. Remember, you'll need enough strength to swim back.
- Get out of the water at the first sign of bad weather.
- Stay within sight of a lifeguard.
- Don't swim under piers or docks.
On the food front
"Some of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing food include not washing their hands, utensils and work surfaces often enough and not cooking foods to safe internal temperatures," says Elisa Zied, a spokeswoman for the New York State Dietetic Association. "This puts people at risk for food borne illnesses, which can cause as little as a stomach-ache or as much as an infection or even death."
To keep food healthy:
- Thoroughly wash your hands, utensils and work surfaces with soap and warm water before you begin and during food preparation.
- Keep raw and cooked foods separate at all times.
- Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Pack cold or frozen perishables in a cooler between ice or cold packs. A good rule of thumb, Zied says, is ¾ food to ¼ ice. Store uncooked foods such as meats in well-sealed containers and make sure the juices don't leak.
- Most foods will stay safe outside for up to two hours, Zied says. But, when the temperature goes above 90 degrees, she says food can't stay out for more than one hour.
The skinny on skin
You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. But, says Stephen Pennisi, director of the Lanacane Itch Information Centre, that "doesn't mean you can stay out all day and not have a problem."
If you do get burned, Pennisi recommends a cool bath to reduce the temperature of your skin. Once the skin starts peeling, he says use a topical anaesthetic to control the itch. Don't scratch too much because scratching can break the skin and introduce bacteria to the area.
You also need to protect your skin from insect stings and bites. Mosquitoes, flies and ticks see humans as a food source, Pennisi says.
Bees and wasps don't want to be around us anymore than we want them around, but they will hang around for food, and Pennisi says stings are merely their defensive, protective mechanism.
If you see a bee or wasp, Pennisi says, "Don't provoke it." Trying to swat them away simply provokes them. Just put down the soda or the food the bee is after and calmly walk away, he says.
If you do get stung, check for a stinger. If there is one (and only honeybees leave a stinger), he says get it out as quickly as possible. The longer it's in, the more venom it will release. Pennisi says to use a credit card as a tool, if one's available; if not, just pull the stinger out by hand.
People with bee sting allergies should always carry an Epi-pen kit, Pennisi says. If you've never been allergic before, but start to have trouble breathing after a sting, he says get to an emergency room as fast as you can.
For ordinary stings, expect pain and swelling. The best treatment is ice, but Pennisi says a topical anaesthetic can help.
(HealthDay News, Updated July 2005)