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June 28, 2017 - Safety First: Tips for a Healthy, Happy Fourth of July

glowsticks01.jpgWhether you are planning to go to a fireworks celebration, a backyard barbecue or spend the day at the beach with family and friends, it is important to be aware of various safety precautions as Independence Day is one of the most dangerous holidays each year.

“Most of the injuries that we see are related to firecracker use, propane or charcoal grill use, and motor vehicle crashes,” said Dr. Steven Kahn, assistant professor of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine and a burn, trauma and critical care surgeon with USA. “Alcohol is often involved with all three injury patterns.”

According to Dr. Kahn, who also serves as director of the USA Arnold Luterman Regional Burn Center, more fatal crashes occur on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year, with almost half of the incidents involving alcohol use. “The best tip for staying safe on the road is to avoid drinking and driving,” he said. If you have been drinking, Dr. Kahn recommends having a designated driver or using a driver service such as Uber. He also urges everyone to avoid driving at night due to the abundance of motorists that are intoxicated.

Dr. Kahn said thermal burns resulting from propane or charcoal grills are also very common. “We frequently see injuries when someone turns the gas on and can’t get it lighted immediately,” he said. “The delay results in a cloud of propane, which explodes once it is lit.” It is also important to keep grills clean and free of grease and char, which can result in fires if built up on the grate or on the tray below.

Children are also at risk for grill-related injuries, according to Natalie Fox, pediatric nurse practitioner and manager of clinical operations for pediatrics at USA Health. Fox said it is important to warn children that the grill surface will stay very hot after cooking and it should not be touched. “To help keep children away from the grill, try drawing a three- to four-foot chalk border around the cooking area and ensure children understand not to enter the area while adults are cooking,” she said.

Fireworks are the most popular Fourth of July activity and are often the most dangerous. Dr. Kahn said he usually sees 10 to 30 firework-related injuries each holiday. “Many of these are hand injuries that occur when someone is holding a firecracker or firework and it does not go off after they light it, exploding after a delay,” he said. “We also see eye injuries from bottle rockets and Roman candles.”

The best way to keep your family safe is to enjoy fireworks at a public firework display. “Leave the fireworks to the trained professionals, and attend one of the wonderful public firework displays around Mobile and Baldwin County,” Fox said. “Children should wear earplugs or ear muffs to protect their hearing from noise damage.”

If lighting fireworks at home, Dr. Kahn stresses the importance of practicing firework safety with your family. “Only use fireworks in a flat, open and inflammable space,” he said. “Avoid lighting them near buildings or when it is windy. Be sure to only light one at a time, move away quickly after lighting them and always use gloves and eye protection. Keep in mind that alcohol will also increase your chances of suffering a firework-related injury.”

To further avoid injures, Dr. Kahn said never hold fireworks in your hand while lighting them. If for some reason the firework does not light, do not pick up the dud for at least five to 10 minutes. It is also important to pour water over duds and used fireworks before disposing of them in the trash to avoid fires from hot embers.

While sparklers may seem safe for children, Fox said they can reach temperatures of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause clothing to ignite and lead to severe skin burns. “If you want to participate in a fun Fourth of July activity at home try using glow sticks, bubbles and confetti,” she said. “These are great alternatives to fireworks that are safe and worry-free.”

Fox said a trip to the beach also poses safety risks for children during the Fourth of July. Being aware of swimming conditions, sun exposure and water intake are all important factors to consider in order to keep children safe at the beach. She recommends designating an adult “water-watcher” to supervise children at all times while at the beach and ensure no one swims alone.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants younger than six months of age avoid direct sun exposure,” Fox said. “Older children should limit sun exposure during the hottest part of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Hats or protective clothing should also be worn at all times.”

Fox also recommends applying sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater that protects against both UVA and UVB every two hours and again after swimming. Children should also drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Being aware of the warning flags posted on the beach and obeying all instructions from lifeguards is also crucial.

Beach warning flag system:
1.    Green - low hazard; exercise caution and enjoy the water
2.    Yellow - moderate surf and/or currents
3.    Red - high surf and/or strong currents
4.    Double Red - water closed to the public.
5.    Purple - dangerous marine life

For more information about the public fireworks display in Mobile, click here.

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