Nothing says Fourth of July quite like warm, summer sun and a spread of your favorite barbeque foods. Independence Day ought to be a time for celebrating with friends, family and fireworks, but some of the season's most enjoyable activities pose hidden risks. Avoiding these holiday hazards takes but a bit of planning, but a safe summer soiree is worth the preparation.
To help you and your family enjoy the midsummer holiday, we enlisted the help of Dr. Richard Giroux, a healthy holiday expert and emergency physician with Palms West Hospital, Florida.
Read on for safety tips sure to keep the good times rockin' and rollin'.
1. Stay safe in the sun
The midsummer sun is strong, and without proper protection, its warm rays could leave your skin red, raw and more susceptible to skin cancer. Sunburn is more than a temporary nuisance. A 2014 study suggests five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 increase your risk of developing melanoma—an often fatal form of skin cancer—by 80 percent. Even one blistering sunburn in your childhood or adolescent years can almost double your odds of the disease.
Anyone can develop skin cancer, but some are at a higher risk, including those with:
- Fair skin, light hair, blue or green eyes
- Personal or family history of skin cancer
- History of sunburns or indoor tanning
- Skin that burns or freckles easily
If you plan on spending any amount of time in the sun, there are proven ways to protect your skin. Wearing protective clothing and sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 can help safeguard against overexposure. But don't forget to reapply. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest applying sunscreen every two hours, but Dr. Giroux thinks you can never be too careful. "The recommendation is that you put it on at least every hour, but 30 minutes is optimum," he says. He also recommends applying immediately after getting out of the water. You should also reapply following exercise or if you've been sweating.
2. Avoid barbeque burns
No backyard gathering is complete without some burgers from the barbeque, but grilling isn't a hazard-free cooking method. Between 2009 and 2013, an average of 8,900 annual grill-related fires were reported, resulting in an estimated 10 deaths and 160 injuries. These injuries occur most commonly among children, according to Dr. Giroux, so keep kids a safe distance away from the grill.
Take other precautions to protect everyone, like positioning the barbecue away from crowds and ignitable objects and never leaving it unattended. Cleaning your grill before every use can also lower the risk of fire and related injury. Some safety measure vary based on the type of grill.
Charcoal grills should be used outside and with lighter fluid approved for use on charcoal. Never start your charcoal grill with gasoline, since "it lights much faster than you ever can imagine," says Dr. Giroux. At worst, this can cause an explosion.
Gas grills should also be used exclusively outdoors. Before and after every use, tubes, valves and gas tanks should be checked for leaks. If the grill fails to ignite on the first try, turn off the gas and wait five minutes before lighting again. "You have to let the gas blow off before you start again," Dr. Giroux says.
3. Take poolside precautions
Swimming is a cool way to stay active in the summer, but you should take some precautions, especially with young ones around. There were an average of 3,536 annual unintentional drowning deaths in the US between 2005 and 2014. There are aquatic dangers for adults and children, but young ones are especially susceptible to pool-related accidents. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day 2017, 163 US children under the age of 15 drowned in pools and spas—70 percent were younger than five years old.
Dr. Giroux stresses the importance of keeping children in sight anytime you are around water. At home, self-latching fences and alarmed doors can prevent kids from accessing swimming pools without supervision. Flotation devices, like life vests, can help prevent drowning, but even then, you should never leave a child unattended. Parents and supervisors of young children should remain within reach at all times and free from other distractions, since drowning can happen quickly and quietly.
When wading in lakes or oceans, stay near a lifeguard, who can alert you about danger zones and rip currents. Always keep an eye out for the guards at public pools, too. Bear in mind, "larger waves are more exciting, but they're more dangerous for head and neck injuries," Dr. Giroux says.
4. Mind your alcohol intake
In the spirit of summer, you might feel inclined to sip a cocktail or two, but overdoing the booze can have dangerous consequences. Recent statistics suggests Independence Day is among the deadliest US holidays, alcohol consumption plays a part. Drinking can increase your risk for swimming-, boating- and driving-related injury and death. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimate that alcohol may be involved in 60 percent of boating fatalities. If you plan to participate in these activities, reach for a mocktail instead, and encourage other party goers to do the same.
Drinking in the heat also increases your likelihood of dehydration. Frequent urination from alcohol consumption and excessive perspiration from hot temperatures can cause dangerous fluid loss. To reduce your dehydration risk, avoid the bar or alternate alcoholic beverages with nonalcoholic non-caffeinated drinks, like water or seltzer.
5. Don t fool around with fireworks
Fireworks are an important part of this July holiday, but lighting your own could be extremely dangerous.
It is best to leave firework displays up to professionals, opting to enjoy watching them from afar instead. However, if you insist on lighting your own, there are some steps you should take ensure everyone's safety. Before purchasing and setting off firecrackers, check your city and state laws—not all areas allow the activity. Keep the following in mind as well.
- Buy only legal products, and don't attempt to make your own
- Don't let children ever handle fireworks, even after the display
- Don't hold fireworks as you light them
- Point firecrackers away from people, homes and trees
- Light one firework at a time and don't relight a dud
Dr. Giroux recommends keeping a bucket of water or a hose nearby. In the case something does catch ablaze, it can be put out immediately.
6. Stay hydrated to skip heat stroke
The Fourth of July can be so much fun that staying hydrated ends up near the bottom of many of our priority lists. Unfortunately, without adequate hydration, our bodies can't carry out their normal functions, and in severe cases, too little water can lead to heat stroke or even death. Dehydration is characterized by "dry mouth, excessive sweating that slows down as the body's moisture depletes, light headedness and maybe some palpitations," Dr. Giroux says. This can progress to include stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, seizures and loss of consciousness, he adds.
Dehydration doesn't discriminate, but older adults, infants and children, people with chronic illness like diabetes and kidney disease and those who work or exercise outside are at increased risk. Drink plenty of water or other hydrating liquids on hot summer days. Some people, like those with diabetes and kidney disease, have fluid restrictions, so check with your doctor about the right amount of water for you. Wearing light-colored and loose-fitting clothing and finding a spot in the shade can help prevent dehydration and heat stroke. Be especially cautious if you're going to be out in the midday sun; don't overexert yourself and take frequent breaks.
7. Don't forget about food safety
Barbecues and outdoor parties are breeding grounds for foodborne illness, which have a tendency to multiply in warmer temperatures. Despite not being invited to the party, these invisible bacteria all too often make an appearance on your picnic tables, in mayonnaise-based salads and undercooked meats.
Foodborne illness like Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria often cause symptoms like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea, but certain populations—children, older adults and pregnant women—are at a higher risk for more serious complications, including death.
To ensure your guests have an enjoyable day—sans sickness—take the proper precautions.
- Wash your hands before and after handling food
- Thaw and marinade meats in the refrigerator, not on the counter
- Cook food thoroughly, especially meat and poultry
- Keep hot foods at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit
- Keep cold foods at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit
When it comes to setting up the buffet table, Dr. Giroux recommends bringing out food just before you're ready to eat. "Bring [the food] out of the cooler, serve, eat and put the food away," he says.
8. Beware of bug bites
Other unwelcome party guests, including bees, ticks and mosquitoes, can certainly become a nuisance at a holiday barbeque. Not only do mosquitoes and ticks cause red, itchy bumps, they can transmit diseases like Zika, West Nile virus and Lyme disease. These sicknesses, known as vector-borne illnesses, tripled in the US between 2004 and 2016, and there's no indication they're slowing down.
It's possible to prevent tick and mosquito bites—apply an Environmental Protection Agency certified bug repellant that contains at least 20 percent DEET on bare skin and over top of clothing. If using with sunscreen, apply your SPF first and allow to dry before spraying repellant. Wearing pants, long-sleeve shirts, socks and closed shoes can also help keep bites at bay.
Bee and wasp stings are another summertime concern. These insects often build their hives in trees and under roof eaves. Check these areas before your next gathering and avoid playing or congregating if nests are present. Cover as much of your body with smooth, light-colored clothing as possible and skip spraying perfume or cologne when you know you'll be spending time outside. And let us not forget the cardinal rule—should a stinging insect buzz by you, remain still and calm.